Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Singapore: hub city, or just a little red dot?

The existential imperatives of a little red hub have not yet permeated the psyche of Singaporeans as much as that of a little red dot

A hub is necessarily open, connected, diverse in character (to the point of being messy at times) and borderless in scope. While the dot brings to mind a perfectly symmetrical form, with a clear centre and a closed border.

The two may seem diametrically opposed to each other when citizens of a hub-state face the contending tugs of remaining a thriving, permeable city while protecting core groups within from being swamped by a foreign influx.

It is not just the proportion of the non-citizen component (2.1 million against 3.3 million citizens) but also the size of overall population that has been emblematic of the debate here on growth in the context of a hub city.

But can a hub continue to be "little" to remain useful in a changing world?

And if its unique existence is premised on openness, can its citizens afford to resist accommodation of a cosmopolitan outlook alongside adherence to home-grown cultural and social identities?

These questions clearly need to be addressed by society when contemplating a broad direction of change. Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong told a Reach feedback forum that Singaporeans in the next development phase had to determine the society they want: global or regional, cosmopolitan or purely Singaporean.

When the issue is framed as an economic evaluation, there is no doubt Singapore cannot afford to be "provincial", given the city-state's size compounded by its lack of a hinterland, unlike benchmark cosmopolitan cities like New York and London.

But if Singapore becomes "international" to the extent these conurbations are, there is a danger of Singaporeans feeling like strangers in their own land. Murmurings already have grown louder.
Some feel it is wishful thinking to expect Singapore to be both cosmopolitan in character and yet have a distinct Singaporean centre, with a strong identity and a citizen component higher than 60 per cent. But others ask: Why not?

Singapore can never be an extreme case like Dubai or Abu Dhabi, where native Emiratis are outnumbered by foreign hordes.

What has emerged in the public discourse through forums like the Singapore Conversation is that identity and values matter.

They are the essence of what it means to be Singaporean, in the way that Thailand is patently Thai and Vietnam is Vietnamese to its core. It's clear, therefore, that the Singaporean core needs to be reinforced - definably so - before the people can reasonably be expected to imbibe more cosmopolitan flavourings to their lives and their world. The Straits Times/ANN, Singapore | Opinion |

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