2 July 2014

Moving beyond Marina Bay Sands

Today was the first official day of the trip and involved an extensive introduction into not only the Singaporean housing policy, but also aspects of culture and politics. This contrasted immensely with our first afternoon which was spent swimming in the pool overlooking Marina Bay Sands. However, such a rigorous introduction afforded unique insight into the ‘real’ Singapore and the history and dynamics of this unique city-state beyond the fa├žade of tourist attractions.

We spent the morning at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) where we were lucky enough to be given a guided tour of the Singapore City Gallery. One factor that really stood out to me, and is something of paramount importance to housing policy, is the fact that Singapore is a city-state. The miniscule area of 716 square kilometres requires intricate urban planning and control, and permeates all aspects of Singaporean public policy. Changes in their economy to a services based industry, quotas on cars - which involves residents requiring a permit that can be in excess of $60,000 – the reclaiming of land and a Master Plan which plans years in advance the urban development of the island opened my eyes to the pervasiveness of Singapore’s size on all aspects of Singaporean life. This contrasts greatly with policy and the economy of Australia and is a factor that will dictate the direction of our research in the next two weeks.

A model of the city at the Singapore City Gallery
In the afternoon we were given a tour of parts of the city and a public housing apartment by Daniel, a professor in sociology from the National University of Singapore. Being offered unparalleled insights into Singapore from a local opened my eyes to cultural aspects of the city. For example, Singapore’s ‘Chinatown’ was gentrified by the Singapore Tourism Board which included the building of a large outdoor theatre and even a new temple, with actual Chinese residents moving out of the area into apartments behind Chinatown. Daniel highlighted that the somewhat artificial tourist areas were separated from the actual Chinese community that remained by the ‘invisible barrier’ of the outdoor theatre. With Daniel’s insight and help we were able to recognise such barriers and were given new perspectives into the true culture of Singapore – as well as knowledge of the cheap eateries called Hawker centres away from the tourist hotspots. I am excited to continue exploring and understanding the ‘real’ Singapore and know that comprehension of this economic powerhouse will benefit my career prospects in business as Southeast Asia becomes increasingly important to the global economy.

A highway near Daniel’s apartment, notice how clean and orderly the streets are (the up to $1000 fine for littering is definitely working!)
This blog was originially published on Sydney Life: Student experiences at the University of Sydney.

Alexandra Meek
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School and participant in the New Combo Plan, a short-term interdisciplinary field school in Singapore where students work together to understand and analyse the Singapore government’s housing policy

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