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Singapore as a City: Public Participation and Resilience

20 Nov Singapore as a City: Public Participation and Resilience

Do we rely too much on top-down planning for our urban environment? Are we building enough resilience in Singapore to withstand shocks?  As part of our Future 50 series, we held a dialogue on 20 November 2014 about the pressures facing Singapore as a city. Participants shared their views in small discussion groups, with expert comments from Mr. Khoo Teng Chye, Executive Director, Centre for Liveable Cities and Ms. Faizah Jamal, a civil society activist with the Nature Society, and former Nominated Member of Parliament.

Public Participation

Participants agreed that all people have a fundamental right to participate in the policy-making and urban planning process. But some cautioned that “participation is not necessarily a good thing”, and “there must be a balance between central planning and democracy”. While public participation should ideally be organic and spontaneous, public participation also needs “rules of engagement”, otherwise matters could get out of hand and stall progress in Singapore.

It was acknowledged that the Singapore government has made genuine efforts to give both the private sector and public a say in the country’s development, for instance holding consultations on the Master Plan. But several participants argued that despite these moves, there is still a sense of cynicism among members of the public. Many people feel that giving feedback in Singapore rarely results in meaningful action.

It was suggested that the media could play a larger role in informing people in Singapore, and Members of Parliament could do more to surface fundamental issues to the public. Singapore could also create more legal avenues for civic organisations to voice their concerns regarding the conservation of green or historic areas, such as a national framework on environmental protection and management.

Resilience has to come from the bottom-up

On the topic of resilience, participants discussed some of the shocks and crises Singapore has faced in recent years, such as health issues like SARS, pollution problems like the haze, and extreme weather conditions like drought and flooding. It was agreed that while Singapore can anticipate some challenges, often we cannot predict what might occur. As such, the government, private sector and community need to think about how we can improve our response to disasters.

The discussion groups agreed that Singapore has a high degree of resilience in terms of physical infrastructure and emergency response plans. However, opinions were mixed about Singapore’s resilience at the people level.

Some participants felt that Singaporeans have a strong community spirit, and would work together to help each other in the event of a crisis. But others argued that Singaporeans, as individuals, are not as willing to endure hardship or inconveniences compared to people from other countries. The problem is that such resilience is something that the government cannot deliberately engineer – it has to evolve from the bottom up, not from the top down.

Future 50 (F50) is an independent effort by the SIIA to consider “the 50 year future for Singapore in Asia and the World”, in light of Singapore’s upcoming 50th Jubilee in 2015. In addition to our own F50 events, SIIA is partnering with SG50 to co-organise talks and discussions as part of the SG50 series. An F50 report will also be released ahead of National Day in 2015.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons