Founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew declared in September 1965, just a month after Singapore had become independent: “Over 100 years ago, this was a mudflat, swamp. Today, this is a modern city. Ten years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear.” Some might have mistaken his words for political rhetoric meant to raise the spirits of the population of a tiny island city-state that had been ejected from its economic hinterland. However, his metropolitan vision more than came true as Singapore developed into a global city on the back of an expanding economy plugged into the rest of the world. The reality of Mr Lee’s plans for Singapore is captured in an ongoing exhibition, “From Mudflats to Metropolis”, which chronicles Singapore’s urban transformation over the years, from housing its people and nurturing a garden city, to ensuring clean water and making Singapore a choice place in which to live, work and play. The exhibition should prove to be an eye-opener, particularly for younger citizens who take their habitat for granted without realising how much imagination, planning and painstaking implementation have gone into the making of contemporary Singapore.
National Development Minister Desmond Lee noted at the exhibition’s launch on Monday that planning in Singapore, the only island city-state in the world, has involved optimising the use of limited land to meet the needs of current and future generations. By definition, optimisation entails the ability to strike tolerable trade-offs. For instance, the early years of public housing meant evacuating many from familiar traditional habitats in order to habituate Singaporeans to the need for high-density vertical living.
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