Residents near Bukit Gombak MRT station, where the stick lay, remarked on it only because it was there for days, with cleaners seemingly oblivious to it.
In September 2013, about a year before that rally, Singapore's ambassador-at-large Chan Heng Chee and the Centre for Liveable Cities held a day-long conference to commemorate founding premier Lee Kuan Yew's 90th birthday.
Beside being an ambassador-at- large, Professor Chan also chairs the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, a think-tank at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. The centre turns four this month.
The focus of that conference was on how exactly Mr Lee and those who worked with him managed to transform Singapore's surroundings so fast and so well, albeit tweaking their ideas constantly along the way.
While Mr Lee himself was not at the conference, some of those who led this transformation were, including former civil service chief Peter Ho; engineer-turned-corporate chieftain Liew Mun Leong, who helped build Changi Airport; and Mr Khoo Teng Chye, the Centre for Liveable Cities' executive director and former PUB chief who turned monsoon drains into public oases.
I was among the 200 people at the conference and marvelled then at the wealth of insights from all the speakers, including Mr Ho on Mr Lee's approach to planning, which was "hard-nosed, with an economy of effort and a view to the long term".
Happily, the book of that conference, which PM Lee launched at the World Cities Summit on July 11, captures faithfully the eight key speakers' candid and evocative memories.
It takes readers into the minds of some of Singapore's sharpest bureaucrats and thinkers, yielding stories for the ages.
Its bonus is the Aug 31, 2012 interview which Centre for Liveable Cities chairman Liu Thai Ker had with Mr Lee, which gave the book its title.
When Mr Liu asked Mr Lee what about developing Singapore pleased him most, he said: "That we redeveloped the city when there was a chance to do it… That was a chance of a lifetime."
FIVE QUESTIONS THIS BOOK ANSWERS
1 Why were many Singaporeans against making the Republic a Garden City at first?
2 Why is it highly unlikely that anyone could clone the city of Singapore elsewhere?
3 Why should policy-makers really listen to what Singaporeans want before shaping their future?
4 How might Singaporeans get along even better with foreigners who live here?
5 How should Singaporeans prepare themselves for a future in which 40 per cent among them are elderly?
Just a minute
1. This book is chock-a-block with rare insights on how clear-eyed and persuasive Mr Lee Kuan Yew was in working with Singapore and international professionals to turn an island of slums and kampungs into a globally coveted jewel. From clean rivers to all-in-one housing estates to manicured parks, transforming the landscape here is the one legacy of Mr Lee's which everyone in Singapore can see, feel and be moved by every day.
2. There is very little jargon in this book, which is quite a feat in a tome of such technical complexity. Instead, each of its commentaries comes across clearly, concisely and personably, and the tone is often heartfelt.
3. This book rose from a day-long conference in September 2013 to commemorate Mr Lee's 90th birthday. In that conference, each speaker was paired with a commentator who would add to, or critique, the speaker's remarks. That warts-and-all approach has been captured in the book, with sociologist Chua Beng Huat, lawyer Simon Tay and diplomat Burhan Gafoor as the commentators.
Chua, notably, proves to be the book's conscience. His incisive musings on why Mr Lee decided on certain directions in developing the city, and where these directions would likely take Singaporeans in the long run, are required reading. Witness, for example, Chua on the biggest drawback to life in HDB estates, which were meant to level the playing field: "The unfortunate thing about the homogenisation of daily life in HDB estates is that, because inequalities had become invisible, there was also a progressive neglect of poverty. It is only in the 2010s, when the inequalities had become so pronounced that poverty became a public issue. In my judgment, it's because we did too good a job of covering it up, that is why it has taken so long for it to become obvious."
1. The vital cog in the engine that is the city is public transport. This book gives it only glancing mentions, such as why the MRT system, Area Licensing Scheme, Electronic Road Pricing and certificate of entitlement came about.
1. The book's perspectives would have been rounded off well if there was a firm acknowledgement in it that the miracle that is Singapore today was possible because it was simply small enough to overhaul and reshape quicker than most other cities. Doubtless, Mr Lee's strong political will was integral to making that happen, but, in general, political will is not the linchpin in developing cities.
Fact File: Learning from Singapore's Renaissance Man