The range of events, planned to wish this year goodbye and welcome the next one, take on an added significance in what has been an arduous year. There has been little cause for joy for businesses and workers alike in an economy buffeted by both cyclical challenges and structural disruption leading to job losses and a sense of insecurity among workers, particularly professionals, managers, executives and technicians. The year also has been marked by convulsions on the global scene, such as Brexit, and ghastly urban attacks in Nice and Berlin that brought home the proximate agency of terror in the everyday life of civilised nations. Few would regret the retreat of 2016 into the calendar of contemporary history.
There is no assurance that 2017 will be better. Yet, the ritual passage of one year into the next at midnight offers a transitional moment of celebratory hope. Vicarious perhaps and certainly psychological, but no less emotionally sustaining for that, the arrival of midnight embodies the possibility that times can get better because no one is fated to live in the past. It is in that spirit that Singaporeans will congregate today to put an uneasy year behind them. With customary gusto, they will breathe in the festive air at several venues, including the Marina Bay Singapore Countdown 2017. For the first time, the celebration will extend to the Civic District, which will be closed to traffic on New Year's Eve to make space for the revelry.
This reclamation of roads for pedestrians' use may play a small but an important part in the national effort to become a car-lite society. Festive occasions dramatise what could become second nature every day, one day. This is the reality that, in a small and densely populated city-state, cars represent a geographical and environmental luxury, not an existential need. Admittedly, the absence of traffic is easier to contemplate when people turn out in large numbers to soak in the holiday atmosphere, than when they are hurrying to or from work. Yet, practice makes new habits perfect. It would be a boon if Singaporeans, who are able to navigate their way through the New Year crowds and get home on public transport, transfer some of those attitudes and skills to moving away from cars in their daily lives. Of course, public transport standards would have to rise to answer to the new demand.
The road closures also are a motif of living safely in dangerous times. Anywhere, large gatherings on iconic occasions attract the attention of terrorists with heinous plots for attacks whose numerical casualties might be multiplied by the significance of the occasion. To cancel countdown parties would be to bow to their ability to alter a nation's way of life. However, it is essential that Singaporeans keep their wits about them and stay vigilant, even as they lose themselves in the celebratory spirit of the moment.