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There is a lot to learn from them
Kota Bharu (Malaysia), July 30th 2009

Gradually we are accepting in the west that we do not have certain things under control anymore. Poverty, degeneration, criminality, pollution, tensions between population groups and congestion of the traffic are examples of things that we have over time accepted as parts of modern societies. Some people think that these developments are insuperable in big cities, and for that reason, that they are not solvable. Even stronger, some people are of the opinion that it is an acceptable part of society and that it gives the city extra character or personality. Living is a city with social problems is cool and it gives you extra adrenaline when you ‘survived’ another day in the concrete jungle. Some people like to say that they live in an area where there are no-go zones, that their bicycle is stolen once in a while, that they have to step over drug addicts to reach the metro station, that their local supermarket is robbed again or that they are everyday for two hours in the traffic jams to reach their work.

That this is bullshit proves a city like Singapore. With a population of 4.5 million people (approximately five times as big as e.g. Amsterdam), it can be called a big city. But the problems as mentioned above are non-existent in Singapore. The public transport is safe, punctual and free of graffiti. You can walk safely everywhere at any time of the day, you do not have to be afraid to be robbed and asocial behaviour is an exception. Besides that, the city is clean, the people well-mannered and traffic jams are unheard of. Keeping things under control led to an image that Singapore is a dull and sterile city. And again, this is bullshit. Everybody who will take some time to get to know Singapore a little bit better, will see that the city is a strange mixture of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Western cultures. It is a tasty cultural stew that is everything except boring.

Being in Singapore, you will notice that the government will do everything to keep the city liveable and accessible. The infrastructure is world-class. They have an extensive and efficient metro system and for the parts of the city that are not served by the metro, they have a detailed bus system. The networks are integrated and you can pay everywhere electronically with a kind of bank card that can be topped up in every station. Car use is discouraged and to control the traffic intensity in certain parts of the city, an electronic system is introduced to charge road users based on their use of the roads. There are different prices for different kind of vehicles, for different streets or parts of town, and for the different periods of the day. Every vehicle is equipped with an electronic device that communicates with electronic gates in different parts and streets of the city. This advanced system is already operational in Singapore while for example the Dutch government is already talking for more than a decade about introducing it in The Netherlands, where the traffic is already out of control for many, many years. Also the social behaviour of the people of Singapore is unprecedented. Everybody in this multicultural society has found its place and there are no signs of any tensions. Asocial and shrieking behaviour is absent, there are no groups of useless youth causing an unsafe feeling and the noisily mobile phone culture did not reach Singapore yet. It seems that everybody in Singapore behaves himself in a way that they do not disturb others.

Does this mean that Singapore is the model for all other countries or cities? In many ways it indeed is, but in some ways it isn’t. After all, Singapore still is an autocracy where there is for example no room for freedom of speech and press. There are some signs that the government is given her population a little bit more freedom, but it is still minor. Singapore is not the state anymore where chewing gum is prohibited, where it is impossible for lovers to walk hand-in-hand and where the distribution of alcohol is strictly regulated. But, there is still a long way to go for Singapore. But that does not mean that there aren’t certain things that we can learn from them.

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