Singapore in the next 50 years

It might seem too long a span for people to wrap their imagination around, but a call for ideas on Singapore in 50 years' time is a natural follow-through when looking ahead is part of the nation's governing DNA.

It is not a case of crystal ball gazing. The future is indeed unknowable, but it is not unimaginable, as economist Ludwig Lachmann noted. In that spirit, this is a chance for present generations to be postmodern pioneers, laying a foundation of aspirations and resources for the young who will in due time be celebrating diamond, platinum and titanium jubilees. Inspiration is what Education Minister Heng Swee Keat is after - the kind that can drive the young to improve on what already is.

A bright future is no sure thing, of course. A look at nations in the West and East that once led the world but are now in decline provides a salutary lesson. Like them, Singapore is today older, richer and better educated than at independence. Expectations have also risen, even as economic growth slows. Hence the need to fight the urge to coast along on the spoils of the past, and to strive instead to innovate and reinvent oneself to stay ahead.

Governments and multinationals may be old hands at scenario planning and projecting ahead, but a country's future cannot be wrought through planning alone. It will take the passions of individual citizens - their hopes and dreams for their families - to breathe life into a common vision of the future.

Besides, nation building in the next half century will be less about the people following the lead, and more about citizens helping to initiate change and working with government to bring it about. Public involvement will be a way of life, vital to both harvesting ideas and building consensus. Citizens should thus participate with open and eager minds in this latest exercise to envision the nation in 2065. They must dare to stray beyond received ideas and beliefs but temper expectations with realism.

Optimism is key. No country can succeed if its own people lose heart. A Straits Times survey in mid-2012 found that 79 per cent of Singaporeans believed their children's standard of living would be better than theirs, and 58 per cent said their offspring would have a better shot at success than they did. That is a healthy state of affairs. Social policies must aim to keep the Singapore Dream alive, especially for the poor.

The old-guard ministers and pioneers who built today's Singapore had no script to follow. They faced down an uncertain future with courage and determination. For those who have inherited the gleaming city they built, there is no better way to honour their efforts than by displaying that same spirit in imagining and fighting for a bright future.