Singapore "cannot just bulldoze and build" as it embarks on its next 50 years. Instead it has to infuse the old with the new, to instil a strong sense of belonging in its people, said Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung yesterday.
At a seminar where Malay-Muslim youth discussed Singapore's future, Mr Ong shared the three characteristics he would like to see in SG100 - attachment to country; as well as to family, friends and fellow countrymen; and a national team spirit.
He said that Singapore is unique when compared to other major cities in the world. "New York has America, London has United Kingdom, Mumbai has India, and Shanghai has China. Singapore has, well, Singapore. This is all that we have."
And that is why the country cannot just focus on economics, but must also build history, memories and identity. "This is our collective national project."
To foster that sense of belonging, it is important to preserve memories and heritage. Mr Ong, who is also an MP for Sembawang GRC, highlighted his constituency's plans to develop the Sembawang Community Hub, which used to house rubber and pineapple plantations and the old Chong Pang market. Today, it is a forested hill where Admiralty House, a gazetted national monument that was home to the British admiral that oversaw the Sembawang Naval Base, still stands.
"It will be a mistake to clear the entire hill and build it up - it will be full of facilities, convenient and utilitarian, but it will have no character," he said at the event at Suntec City Convention Centre.
But more important than an emotional attachment to places is the emotional attachment to people, said Mr Ong, and this includes fellow citizens. Common experiences such as schools, National Service, and overcoming crises together help develop these bonds.
Fostering a national team spirit involves going through difficulties together, and sharing prosperity.
Mr Ong, who is also Senior Minister of State for Defence, said: "When we grow our economy and create jobs, it has to be for everyone, or as many Singaporeans as possible. We do not grow the pie just for 1 per cent or 5 per cent (of the population)."
He addressed worries about technology replacing workers with robots and computers. "(The) steamship, automobiles, airplanes, exploitation of oil and gas to power machines, computers, Internet, smartphones - have been transforming our lives and the economy for a long time," he said. Each time old jobs were destroyed, many more new ones were created.
On why he was optimistic about the future, Mr Ong said: "Because I know that your generation is better educated, more technologically savvy...I know it is a generation with a strong sense of fairness and justice... I know it is a generation which will not judge the success of a person just by the income earned, but by the impact (on) the people around you."
The seminar, organised by the People's Association Malay Activity Executive Committees Council, involved 500 young people who exchanged views on technological influences, among other topics.
Dr Faishal Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development and Education, who chaired a plenary session, said: "The challenges we faced and overcame will be strong reference points and invaluable learning experiences for the younger generation to do even better for Singapore in the next 50 years and beyond."