Chapter 5: The Heart of a Global City: The Remaking of Singapore's City Centre
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81 5 The Heart of a Global City: The Remaking of Singapore’s City Centre Shirlena Huang Introduction Singapore’s urban landscape is recognised globally as one that has undergone tremendous change in the last half a century. It has been transformed from the status of a “Third World” city to one that is comfortably positioned within the echelons of developed nations. In recent years it has ranked favourably in international city indices in terms of vibrancy, ease of doing business and quality of life. In fact, in 2012, Singapore was deemed the world’s most liveable city in the world for Asian expatriates for the second year running (Teo 2012). The city-state’s accelerated path to become a city of international standing has been the result of long-term entrepreneurial urban planning, enabled by a government that has remained in power (relatively  Singapore is ranked highly as “one of top 20 vibrant cities in the world” according to the 2011 Hub Culture Zeitgeist Cities Ranking; the “world’s easiest place to do business” according to the World Bank Doing Business Report 2011; and the “best place in Asia to live, work and play” according to the Mercer Quality of Living Global City Rankings 2010 (URA 2011). 05 C-Landscapes.indd 81 7/30/13 10:30:56 AM Shirlena Huang 82 uncontested until recently) for over 40 years. The state’s quest to make Singapore a city of world standing, “a new kind of city—the Global City… the world embracing city” was articulated as early as 1972 by then Minister of Foreign Affairs, S. Rajaratnam (1977: 17), soon after achieving political independence in 1965. Since then, the government’s positioning of Singapore as a world city has remained clear and unwavering, with the idea frequently expressed in speeches by ministers and other official pronouncements. While earlier expressions of Singapore’s global city aspirations generally focused on getting Singapore to become a key urban “command and control” node in the global economic system (refer to Chapter 11), later articulations focused on what global city status would also mean for the quality of life of the city-state’s residents. In more recent years, explicit emphasis has been given to ensuring that Singapore remains an endearing home even as it moves closer to its goal of becoming not just a distinctive global city, but the global city in Asia (Economic Strategies Committee 2010). This is encapsulated in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s expressed vision of Singapore as “a vibrant, global city called home” that is able to both attract global talent, investors and tourists as well as “anchor Singaporeans in Singapore” (Lee 2005). Hence, unlike its earlier approach to urban redevelopment, the state more recently came to recognise that its aspirations to transform Singapore into a global city in the ranks of the first league must not be at the expense of its “soul” and that what gives Singapore its distinct personality is its historic past (refer to Chapters 2 and 13). Indeed, “in the immediate post-independence period and for at least two decades after, Singapore’s pre-occupation with constructing a new nation-state based on a vision of modernity required the erasure of traces of the past on the urban landscape”, having just emerged from almost 150 years of British rule as well as the traumatic interlude of the Second World War and its turbulent aftermath, including separation from Malaysia in 1965 (Yeoh and Huang 2008: 201). As such, “‘forgetting’, rather than ‘remembering’, was integral to projects of nation-building and the construction of national identity for the new nation-state” (ibid.). The anxieties of being a small young nation allowed the state to adopt a “rhetoric of struggle for ‘survival’” to justify a top-down and “highly interventionist approach” (Shaw and Ismail 2006: 188) that included draconian compulsory land acquisition legislation in the early days of urban renewal (Chua 2011) and a statutory basis of regulatory control over land use, which still characterises present-day urban planning in the country (refer to Chapter 3). 05 C-Landscapes.indd 82 7/30/13 10:30:56 AM The Heart of a Global City 83 The direction and pace of urban development and change in Singapore continue to be carefully managed by the state through its planning agencies, primarily the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). The statutory powers held by the state over land use, and the fact that a major share of all land in Singapore...