Sunday, August 13, 2006

National Day Offerings

From First World to Next Stop
Singaporeans share their views on Vibrant, Global City

Derrick A Paulo
9th August 2006

GOING by events of the past year, one thing is becoming clear: First World is so passé.

Singapore's next objective is to reinvent itself into a Vibrant, Global City. Last year, we hosted the International Olympic Committee. Next month, we welcome the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and some protesters.

But as Singapore peers into its future, complete with one of the great shopping streets of the world, two iconic integrated resorts and three world-class gardens, how excited or worried are its citizens about the transformation of their homeland?

To get a feel of their pulse, Today conducted a poll of 201 Singaporeans. We asked them to rate the developments coming to our shores and about the depths of their roots in Singapore.

One thing that the average Singaporean was emphatic about was that he wasn't about to up and leave the country for good.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most appealing, the average Singaporean gives emigration a 4.0 score. It was the lowest score of 14 items on the survey in total using the scale.

Respondents gave the highest score — a 7.26 — to the possibility of keeping their roots here while having more opportunities to live and work abroad.

They gave a 6.53 score to the option of living in a Singapore that promises to strive to become vibrant and global.

If you can’t have the opportunity to work abroad, then, I guess the next best thing would be to transform Singapore. This will require less ‘adjustments’ than say, emigration.

The appeal of that promise seems to be very much linked to the confidence we have in our city-state's chances of succeeding in its Global City goal. Here, the survey pointed to a confidence factor of 6.52 on the scale of 10.

From the buoyantly upbeat to the downright pessimistic, the survey captured the opinions of ordinary people on this particular issue.

The more optimistic put their faith in the Government's ability to deliver results.

"Singapore is an oasis for calm, stability, high performance, excellent governance, reliability and consistency. Short of a prolonged worldwide recession, natural calamity and revolution, I have every confidence we can make it," said retiree Ho Kong Loon, 59.

But whether they believe Singapore can make it or not, a common thread to the comments we received is that the buzz of a global city must come from its people much more than from its physical developments.

Product manager Gary Chan, 31, said, "Transformation doesn't happen simply when we complete projects or bring in talents and attractions to add to Singapore as a product. Transformation needs to happen in the hearts and minds of the people before Singapore can truly become a vibrant, global city that competes with the best."

In the same vein, several respondents commented that the upcoming developments in Singapore would succeed only if Singaporeans take to them well.

"All these developments are largely external and the effects of these projects will only last as long as people are excited by them," said analyst Chin Yingwen, 24.

So, how excited are Singaporeans about the various plans in store for our city-state?

Our survey results say that the Garden City at Marina Bay — including three gardens, watersports and a giant Ferris wheel — gets the best response from the public, out of nine types of developments designed to bring the world to Singapore.

Coming in second is the Sports Hub at Kallang and the possibility of Formula 1 racing coming here.

The Integrated Resorts ended up at the bottom of the Excitement Factor. "It shows we've got our priorities spot on," said Mr Tay Kheng Soon, principal partner of architectural firm Akitek Tenggara. "The Gardens by the Bay really represent the things that people can participate in – its festivals, its green loop for people to jog, the water sport activities there. And sports at number two? That's public participation, too, whether the active or spectator sort."

Rounding off the top three most exciting developments in the eyes of our respondents is the Intelligent Nation 2015 Masterplan, which aims to transform Singapore into an "intelligent nation and global city powered by infocomm", including a faster broadband network, by 2015.

Dr Ooi Giok Ling, associate professor of humanities and social studies at the National Institute of Education, is not surprised that it edged out the "rejuvenation" of Orchard Road among our respondents, two-thirds of whom hail from the post-65 generation.
"I suspect they will shop on the Internet and they will shop from everywhere," said Dr Ooi, who is also an Institute of Policy Studies adjunct fellow.

"We're one of the most globalised countries in terms of SMSing, Internet usage, the number of overseas telephone calls. We are so hooked up, and these networks are so central to us … and the Internet space is also the new civic space."

The IRs had their supporters, too, like undergraduate Lim Wen Ying who is excited about "lots of tourists, investors and jobs" coming this way.

Others were less upbeat. "To make Singapore more attractive to tourists, the developments must be innovative. Singapore needs to get an edge over other countries, but this cannot be possible if what it is developing already exists in other countries," said Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim, 40.

In a way, it seems our thoughts about Singapore as a vibrant, global city depend largely on what we view as the most positive or the most worrying aspects of these developments, and how likely we will feel the impact.

Our survey respondents rank a stronger economy and a higher GDP as the most promising impact of all the changes planned. More than 56 per cent of them had this in their top three choices and almost 32 per cent put it as number one.

A close second, and also in the top three of more than half of the respondents – and number one for 18 per cent of them – is the prospect of a greater variety of lifestyles.

On the flip side, the average Singaporean worries most about cost of living rising faster. This is the top concern of close to half our respondents and one of the top three concerns of about 83 per cent of them.

About 16 per cent of them rank a more stressful rat race as their second biggest worry, with close to half of them ranking this in their top three.

Dr Kevin Tan, president of the Singapore Heritage Society, said that on the surface, our respondents seem to be "thinking along municipal lines".

"It seems people are fairly parochial and haven't caught on to the vision of a vibrant, global," he said.

"People must feel that like the global city is part of their country and not to a country where someone else calls the shots. A global city must benefit them, be within reach and is worth having. The more organic it is, the more these two factors will be satisfied."

According to architect Mr Tay, the biggest challenge will be to expand the scope and benefits of a "global city sector" so that most people do not miss out.

In the ride to Destination Global City, most respondents mentioned the need to adapt to changes, to work hard to keep our values.

But as NIE's Dr Ooi pointed out, global cities are such. "No one is going to say life in New York is laid back and sedate. It's just go, go, go. With globalisation, there's no help for that and Singaporeans will have to get used to it. But I'm quite confident they can be resilient. After all, look how much we've changed over the years."

I love statistics.
To borrow the quote that wert left the other day in one of his comments to my blog entry:
"Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital"
~Aaron Levenstein

According to the TODAY survey, the Singaporeans polled had placed emigration in the bottom of a list of 14 items in the survey (emphasis mine).

It is not clear what the 14 items are. But, it is not difficult for any item to be ranked top of any list, or for that matter, bottom of any list. Simply come up with a list of items where all of these items are 'inferior' (or 'superior') to the item you want to rank against. Voila, you will then have your item ranked top (or bottom) of the list.

It is also not clear how much difference there is between the item ranked in the 14th place and the one ranked in the 13th place. Depending on the size of this difference, it might or might not be significant in statistical terms. For example, I could have earned $20,000 last year, better than my neighbour who earned $19,999.
Sure, I did earn more than my neighbour.
But, I would be delusional if I considered myself better-off than my neighbour.

It seems the respondents ranked the top option as 'keeping their roots here while having more opportunities to live and work abroad'.
Surprise, surprise!

All things being equal, one would expect any rational person to want to have the best of both worlds. People want to have the cake and eat it too, if they can help it.

And so, what do we find?Lo and behold, the option of keeping our roots here but being able to latch onto the dynamism in the region comes up tops.

Actually, those were not the biggest piece of news to me.
I reserved that for the finding that 'Intelligent Nation 2015 Masterplan' was ranked 3rd most exciting amongst all the developments that will bring the world to Singapore (emphasis mine).
The Integrated Resorts was ranked last.

That is BIG news to me.
I had not known Singaporeans to be so knowledgeable.
I heard that many people had trouble identifying their MPs and Ministers from photos. Yet, all of them knew enough about an IT plan to rate it 'more exciting' than the Integrated Resorts?Who had they been polling?
The IT technicians and programmers working on the project?

Now, who was it who had recently complained about our Intelligent Nation Masterplan?
Whoever that was - you are WAY out of touch with the public.

Ok, enough said.
I think I shouldn't be so critical.
To be fair, TODAY did have a brush with MICA over some column just last month, and today being National Day, does seem like a pretty auspicious day to make the appropriate offerings.

Peace be to all.
Happy National Day, Singapore.

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