I just caught 20mins of the first episode of Living Cities “documentary” (shown on Channel NewsAsia) about my home – Singapore. It was so bad that it spurred me to write this post.
This show was a brain numbing and shallow boring brochureware. Maybe useful to numb the audience before going for the investment sales pitch. My introduction may sounded harsh. Maybe, but it is necessary to be critical in order to start a conversation to uncover Singapore’s distinctive contribution to the living cities discussion.. Not rehashing the familiar formula of Dubai/ Doha but Singapore – an Asian global business city.
Comment 1: Lack of diversity amongst its panel commentators/ experts
Throughout the show, almost all commentators/ experts are Caucasians (I could only bear to watch the first 20mins before I turned off my TV) constantly heaping praises on Singapore. The Singapore I know certainly does not suffer a dearth of locals/ Asians experts living in this country that are capable to comment on the development of this Asian city. Having commentators mainly from a particular ethnic group meant that the content would only engage and connect audience of similar heritage. Furthermore, by having a wide range of commentators from different parts of the world which are able to make critical assessments, it adds to the credibility to the overall theme of the show that Singapore is a truly open global city that welcomes people and business from all over the world.
Comment 2: Lack of focus on the city’s Asian character
Singapore is a special place in the world because it is a developed city-state with an Asian identity. This quality enables it to be an effective bridge between the West and the rest of the developing Asia. It is silly to play down our inherent character. Singapore is relevent to the world because we are an easy Asian proxy for the other parts of the world. Therefore we should focus on how Asian characteristics can be adopted to address modern city living.
To respond to the show’s theme of”Living Cities”, it should have gone deeper into the challenges of urban living and how Singapore overcame them. Instead, the show went on into a litany of clichés – young professionals in a CBD, yuppie life, fast moving cars, shopping malls, gentrified heritage buildings that turned into cafe + galleries, frequent showing of foreign workforce and labelling it as progress. What is Singapore’s unique contribution in the living cities discussion?
Does the existence of such clichés actually resembles a living city? No. Our modern world is now searching for a new model of development. A new model of a living city where economic opportunities are plentiful through its connection with to the world. In the same breathe, its domestic residents must also feel a sense of connection, a belonging to the environment in which they live in. A model city is where its residents feel responsible and desire to make the society a better place, occasionally with the authorities’ involvement.
If the presenter wants to present Singapore as a model of a living city, there is a need to look and highlight such Singaporean examples. When that’s achieved, would the show give the city and its viewers a real insight into the living cities discussions.