Travel to Singapore: Singapore Modern
It's a small island--maybe 30 miles across on its longer, east-west dimension. It was mostly swamp when the Sultan of Johor in 1819 ceded it to the East India Company in the person of Stamford Raffles. Within five years, Singapore had risen from a fishing village of 150 people to a free port and trading center of 10,000. The British finally left in the 1950s, and after a brief, unhappy marriage with Malaya Singapore became an independent nation in 1963. Since then, there's been no looking back, thanks mainly to a government as determined as Raffles to create a place favorable to business and economic growth.
Departures at Singapore Changi: Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, France, the Netherlands, and more.
The upshot: downtown at dusk, January 2001. That's a densely forested park in the foreground. The Singapore River winds just this side of the tallest towers, preeminently the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) and United Overseas Bank (UOB).
Thirty years ago, the river's right bank was lined with shophouses (samples are upcoming); now it's lined with Maybank (Malaysia), Standard and Chartered, the Bank of China, the UOB, and the OCBC. They all stand on what Raffles had designated as part of the "Chinese campong."
A view from the river.
A bit farther out. The foreground building was opened in 1928 as the general post office; in 2001 it reopened as the very high-end Fullerton Hotel.
Tourist Central: that's the octagonal Marriott (formerly, Dynasty) Hotel on Orchard Road, which takes its name partly from the nutmeg plantations established here in the 19th century and partly from a Mr. Orchard, who lived here. Victor Savage and Brenda Yeoh, authors of Toponymics: A Study of Singapore Street Names (2003), write that in 1900 Orchard Road was "a well-shaded avenue" reminiscent of "Devonshire lanes."
The same leafy corner, from ground level. The trees are no accident. Here's President Lee Kuan Yew, in 1980: "Singapore can become a green, shady city filled with fruits and flowers; a city worthy of an industrious people whose quest for progress is matched by their appreciation for the beauty of nature." Lots of national leaders could mouth such platitudes. How many could make them happen?
The creme de la creme: a courtyard at the Raffles Hotel. In the mid-1980s, plugging a radio into the wall unleashed a cloud of sparks and a small but dramatic fire. Investors might have knocked the place down; instead, they embarked on a massive renovation project. Today, sparks fly only when guests get their bills.
In the 1930s, Singapore had a population of about 600,000 people. Most lived in kampongs that planners described as squalid and fetid. Fair enough: a sixth of all the deaths in Singapore in those days came from tuberculosis. Little was done until 1960, when a massive program of public housing began. Today, about 85% of Singapore's 3,000,000 people live in apartments built by the government over the last 40 years. The quality of those apartments has risen steadily over the years: here, an early version.
Between 1947 and 1959, 21,000 housing units were built by the government, particularly in the neighborhoods of Alexandra and Queenstown. Then a Master Plan was undertaken. It was finished in 1955 and adopted in 1959. The boom in public housing began in 1961, and by 1970 120,000 units had been built. That meant that 37,000 squatters had been moved out. Between 1970 and 1983, another 75,000 left. Their compensation: S$800 million, calculated very precisely. Examples? S$27 per house, S$20-40 per coconut tree, S$740 per hectare of vegetables. In 1964, a Home Ownership Scheme began encouraging purchase of the apartments.
The scale of things grew large--by most accounts, too large. Here's an example from Chinatown, near People's Park.
Fortunately for Singapore, the British had bequeathed to their successor 44% of the island's land; moreover, the Land Acquisition Act of 1966 permitted compulsory acquisition of land needed for any public purpose--with compensation calculated without regard to the development value of the land.
Land was available for more construction, and apartments grew larger, too: in 1971, for example, 5-room apartments were introduced. New towns were established: settlements like Clementi, Bedok, and Woodlands, each with housing for 200,000 people. Rather than create Stalinesque monstrosities, the government began experimenting in the 1980s with pitched roofs, overhanging eaves, and tall windows. The results don't compare with the luxurious private housing in neighborhoods like Bukit Timah or Katon, but they're impressive. Here, starting with this picture, is a tour at Boon Lay, near the industrial center of Jurong, at the southwest corner of the island. There are other such regional centers, too, including Woodlands, Tampines, and Seletar.
Not so great?
A bit cheerier?
At least you can find your building.
Jumping a few miles to Choa Chu Kang, south of Woodlands, in the north-central part of the island.
A bit tonier.
Just a reminder: don't rent a car in Singapore and go wandering around these neighborhoods at night. It's easier to drive in Cairo or Istanbul than to get out of these cul-de-sacs and loops. Think the signs help? Ha!
Singapore in any case actively discourages motorists. Among the tools at its disposal: license fees and parking restrictions. The subway is the way to go--and the way the planners keep traffic moving. Here, a subway station--above ground outside the central city.
Short walk from apartment to station.
Residents have access to shopping that can't be matched within many thousands of miles. How's this: a meat department with nothing but organic beef.
A mall adjoining the Intercontinental Hotel. A street of shophouses has been conserved and roofed over.
Leisure? Somewhere in the chapter called "colonial heritage" there's a picture of the Singapore Cricket Club. Here's the north end of that club's grounds, with an athletic club backed up by a string of hotels along the marina.
Want something less glitzy? This is in Chinatown, near People's Park. It's got to rank among the world's biggest fast-foot complexes, and the vendors are all independents.
A block or two away, an older generation of public housing has been upgraded into pastel-central. The trees are part of Outram Park.
* Australia's Northern Territory * Austria * Bangladesh * Belgium * Brazil (Manaus) * Burma / Myanmar * Cambodia (Angkor) * Canada (B.C.) * China * Czech Republic * Egypt * France * Germany * Greece * Hungary * India: Themes * Northern India * Peninsular India * Indonesia * Israel * Italy * Japan * Jerusalem * Jordan * Kenya * Laos * Kosovo * Malaysia * Mexico * Morocco * Mozambique * Namibia * Netherlands * Norway * Oman * Pakistan * Philippines * Poland * Portugal * Singapore * South Africa * Spain * Sri Lanka * Sudan * Syria * Tanzania * Thailand * Trinidad * Turkey * United Arab Emirates * United Kingdom * U.S.: East * U.S.: West * U.S.: Oklahoma * Uzbekistan * Vietnam * West Bank * Yemen * Zimbabwe *