The Straits Times says

There's no end to imagining Singapore

One of Singapore's successes has been its ability to widen the physical, and deepen the psychological, remit of urban existence by redefining what it means to live in a city. It has created space within itself through extensive townships imbued with their individual character - in what remains an island city-state after all. These townships are defined primarily by the Housing Board precincts that shape and populate them, but also by a novel mixture of natural features and concrete amenities. In saying recently that Singapore has yet to reach the physical limits of its development, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong reiterated that the redrawing of the lived landscape is work in progress that will continue awhile. This reminder should help reassure Singaporeans, particularly the young, that they have a role to play in the re-imagination of Singapore as a habitat, a nation, and a way of life.

Mega-projects in the pipeline underline the ambitious nature of incessant self-renewal through the expansion of economic space. Changi Airport's Terminal 5, the Tuas mega-port and Jurong Lake District attest to a vision for creating something out of almost nothing, a something that will redefine national aspirations from then on. The Dempsey area and Pulau Tekong are other candidates for exploration as Singapore seeks to push against the physical limits of development. Perhaps the best index of transformation from the 1980s is the MRT: What was a possibility then is a reality now. The MRT opened up spaces on the island previously untapped and once difficult to reach, creating opportunities for homes, work and play.

Aspirations of development could seek a way back to the tropical plenitude of nature where possible, as with a garden-community concept for Bidadari and a forest-town identity for Tengah. Singaporeans are being encouraged to stop moving mindlessly towards an ecological bane of modern living: over-reliance on cars that pollute the environment and congest the roads. Public transport optimises the use of scarce space, allowing it to be put to better social use. Once cars are seen no longer as the moving yardstick of economic status, it is possible that Singaporeans would opt for a more balanced national lifestyle that privileges environmental sustainability over private wants.

The contentious issue of population numbers could be seen in this light. Instead of worrying that Singapore's final population - whatever it is - might outstrip its ability to handle new numbers, it is important that Singapore has in place the physical and social infrastructure that could absorb those numbers. A Smart Nation would provide the technological multipliers that generate the economic opportunities that this population both would tap into, and expand. Singapore must remain an expansive act of imagination.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'There's no end to imagining Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe