As plans emerge for the Tuas mega port, they draw attention to the scale of the continuing reinvention of Singapore, even after half a century of remarkable growth. Tuas represents the latest incarnation of Singapore's long-time role as a global port city. The importance of that role can be seen in the maritime sector which contributes about 7 per cent to the GDP and employs more than 170,000 workers. Consequently, the migration of port functions from Tanjong Pagar, Pasir Panjang, Keppel and Brani to Tuas South will be a gigantic step. The move will occur progressively from 2021 and be completed by 2040. Its success would constitute a fitting tribute to Singapore on the diamond anniversary of its independence.
Indeed, Tuas might evolve beyond being a global maritime hub into something of a local lifestyle hub as well. There are plans to house cafes, retail stores and a jogging track on elevated spaces so as to optimise land use. Thinking out of the box would not be unprecedented in this sector. Decades ago, the Port of Singapore Authority's initiative in turning disused warehouses into exhibition centres was to prove instrumental in the growth of the exhibition business. Changing port functions had nudged the port authority into optimising land use, which helped to put Singapore on the global map of the conventions and exhibitions industry. That took on a life of its own and, today, the industry is taken for granted.
The broad thinking of the present Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore - reflected in the fusion of port operations, warehousing and distribution, as well as lifestyle activities - is a reflection of how the limitations of size can be overcome. Being small need not condition the responses of younger generations. Some might think that there is less scope for massive projects on a tiny island. But the infrastructural reinvention of Singapore is not limited to the mega port. The relocation to Tuas will free up about 1,000ha of land - thrice the size of Marina Bay - for development in what is envisaged as the Greater Southern Waterfront.
Elsewhere on the island too, big plans are afoot. Land reclamation will give the equivalent of two Toa Payoh towns to Pulau Tekong. And Paya Lebar and Jurong East will add commercial depth to Singapore. The latter will fulfil an important regional function as well, as the Singapore terminal of the high-speed rail line from Kuala Lumpur. None of these is being based on past templates. Instead, present and future needs, and the ideas of younger Singaporeans, will play a key part in determining the shape and vibrancy of spaces.
As these developments are built, they should reinforce what the present iconic facilities have shown - that Singapore is defined, not by its scarcity of land but by the imagination of its planners and citizens.