There we go again! Another world-class landmark, with "super trees", "flower domes" and a kick-ass long skybridge that leads to nowhere! All these, Singaporeans, are the fruits of your labour and tax-payers' money. This garden, this wonderfully sculpted public space, belongs to you for… $20. Okay, fine, $18 if you are lucky enough not to be born with boobs and were stupid enough to get that card during the mass-psycho BMT talk.
The funny thing is, these days, nobody seems to be proud of the shiny new contraptions that are popping up in our skyline every few months. We've paid billions of dollars for these things, and we are like little kids turning their noses up at rotten parsley. And yeah, thanks world. We all know the Marina Bay Sands is an architectural heresy for $8 billion.
Let's take our pride in our landmarks, for once. Resort World Sentosa? Ask American Michael Graves to design it! Our largest mall, VivoCity? Here comes Toyo Ito from Japan to the rescue! Marina Bay Sands? Sorry, that's by that cocky Israeli architect Moshie Safdie. Gardens by the Bay? Call in our colonial masters for help, will you? Thing is, landmarks these days aren't even built by Singaporeans themselves. Good ol' foreign labour (and 'expertise') did the trick. These days, we might as well just call the world to help build and design our homes - we don't even bother asking Singaporeans to design and build our own landmarks that grace our skylines.
Why is it an issue then? These public spaces that we enjoy and experience by all Singaporeans is a fundamental reflection of national pride and national identity. It feels special to be in a landmark or public space that was sculpted and designed by a fellow countrymen of yours. It makes you feel proud. Otherwise, I might as well walk in any other random city in this world, and feel like it's nothing special at all.
It's not built by my countrymen. Why should I care? I am just going to use this space for what it is intended for. Do I feel proud of this? Why should I be, this foreign contraption in this place. Okay fine. You get the idea.
It IS about the money, money, money.
To compound the problem, they charge you. A public space, built with public money, has now become a private plunder. It recedes its significance and role of being a socially inclusive space, one where Singaporeans of all classes can mix and hang around, mingle and socialize. Even at the certain areas where one can avoid paying sky-high prices ($500 for a room at MBS, anyone?) like the MBS boulevard, one inevitably gets stared at if you walk along there shabbily dressed. Certainly no migrant worker will like the prospect of being viewed like a curious animal exhibit at a Zoo as he passes the well-heeled restaurant patrons enjoying their $25 pizzas and exotic wines. The brave few that do appear there sit silently by the stillness of the dark night, with the bustling noise and blinding lights behind, staring enviously at the almost obnoxiously decadent luxury boutiques floating in the darkness of the bay's waters. Not my idea of social inclusiveness either.
In fact, I shan't say more, and point to a well-written article by my friend's friend.
How To Put It Right
I mean, at the end of the day, I don't think I have too much of an issue with our landmarks and public spaces being man-made. I really don't! I would like more land to be conserved and not allow every other park to be converted into an ABC project, but yes, I still think that the new Marina Bay Gardens looks great.
What I am saying is, simply, give us more time to enjoy these spaces. To allow these spaces to grow into us. Honestly, how is anyone going to have any memories if they can't even remember what color their block of flats were? And do we really need another renovation of that hawker centre when it was only last revamped 6-7 months ago?
Each time we do that, we do 4 things:
1) unnecessary waste of public funds
2) pollution generated during construction (noise, dust, etc.)
3) increase in cost of maintaining these new amenities
4) increased costs of business, and to a certain extent, an increased cost of living for heartlanders.
We don't have to try very hard to foster social inclusiveness and build our national identity with our public spaces and landmarks. It should be socially accessible (that means free. If the British Museum can be free as well, I don't see why the Gardens cannot). It should not be upgraded unnecessarily, built or designed by Singaporeans, so that we can have landmarks and spaces that we can identify with, and to feel ever more proud that only in Singapore, will we have such spaces to call our home.
Someday, I want to look upon our Singapore skyline and go :
"For this is where, I know I'm home."