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Smart Nation, Smarter Nation Building

When mentioned, Singapore conjures up the image of the perfect city. Unbelievably clean and safe, the tiny island nation is known as the Little Red Dot to all those who hold it close to their hearts. With subsidized housing, free education, and great social security, it is no surprise that Singaporeans are fiercely patriotic and the passport is one of the most sought after. 

As an international trading hub, Singapore is one of the world’s busiest port cities in terms of tons of cargo handled (World Factbook). The city-state ranks in the top ten for the highest GDP per capita, ahead of the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong. With four main languages (English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay), and citizens with Chinese, Indian and Malay heritage, it is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse states. Daily, Singapore welcomes an influx of immigration from around Asia to bolster the working class. The expatriate, or foreign-born, population of Singapore is very distinctive and one of the largest in the world. As compared to New York City and Los Angeles’ foreign-born population, which total to 40 percent, Singapore reaches a staggering 47 percent (CATO Institute)

Since splitting from Malaysia on August 9, 1965, Singapore has advanced by leaps and bounds. Lee Kuan Yew, one of the most revered Prime Ministers and Founding Father of the nation, recognized the need for independence and discipline in Singapore. He ensured that Singapore was not dependent on Malaysia for its water supply or other natural resources. By opening water desalination plants and investing in ingenious solutions that allow advantageous use of limited resources to best serve the population, the country was able to take dramatic steps into sustainable independence.

Continuing on this trend of growth and self-sustainability, Singapore is one of the first countries to begin its “Smart City” journey. Defined as technological advances and improvements that enhance the quality of government processes and citizen welfare (IoT Agenda), Singapore is rapidly adapting into a smart city through automating and transparency in hopes to increase efficiency and living standards.

There are many active measures being taken to upgrade the city. In a presentation by a Singapore HR industry leader, Chief HR Officer Dr. Jaclyn Lee, at an event led by the Singapore University for Technological Design at UC Berkeley, the eight aspects of a successful Singapore were revealed. In 2018, Singapore was named the Smart City of the Year, with the board claiming that, “Singapore has undoubtedly become a global beacon of the urban transformation and how to implement smart urban solutions in a meaningful manner that not only enhances the city’s functioning but also improves the services provided to its citizens and through them their quality of life.” (Smart Cities Connect) Due to its “thriving business ecosystem, urban planning success, quality of internet, and its effort towards clean energy,” (Forbes) modernization has been effective and  rapid. For example, all major highways are equipped with Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), which not only automatically deducts toll charges, similar to E-ZPass, but also provides updates the Land Transit Authority about traffic and accidents on the roads. Hence, it is very rare to see traffic jams or blockages due to car crashes. Additionally, with the advent of electric cars, Singapore has been reducing the number of cars on the roads, keeping in mind the air pollution that comes with greenhouse gas emissions, through heavy taxes on licenses and cars (Innovation is Everywhere). Through its new technological advances, Singapore is racing ahead to outpace a thoroughly modern world, yet only time will tell if future measures will prove as effective.

In terms of an export-oriented development, The People’s Action Party (PAP), Singapore’s primary political party, has ensured that Singapore is inviting more foreign investments to give the city “a competitive advantage.” In the 1970s, Singapore implemented a “Two is enough” child policy, which was revoked in 1977 when the fertility rate fell far below sustainable numbers. Currently, immigration restrictions are less strict in order to invite more expatriates into the country to not only stimulate the economy but also build on the labor force. The PAP is very heavy on its stance against corruption, demonstrated when the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau was given greater roles in eradicating corruption. Singapore is also very proud of the educational measures, including the bilingual policy that was implemented in 1966, and ensures that all local children learn English and their Mother tongue, which describes the multiracial tolerance that Singapore attempts to exemplify. Furthermore, the Housing Development Board provides Singaporean citizens with heavily subsidized housing, reducing the homeless problem in the city. The Economic Development Board promotes economic growth through increases in employment and shifts towards technological and capital-intensive industries, as opposed to labor-intensive (Jaclyn Lee). Given the historical advancements that Singapore has employed to better standards of living, it is no surprise that it continues to pursue the same.

Given the benefits that come with progressing towards a Smart City, many cities are attempting to follow in Singapore’s footsteps. There are many specific aspects of Singapore that allow the perfect condition to bloom efficiency and advancement. According to the Dean at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, Kishore Mahbubani, “despite employing policies that may have been deemed somewhat harsh, people supported the state because they could see rapid improvements. […] The government was honest with the people and made sure they knew they were facing hard choices. Singapore was able to facilitate a multiethnic environment by instituting a meritocratic system and tolerant policies, such as creating four official languages. […] Any state that incorporates meritocracy, pragmatism, and honesty will succeed” (Successful Societies). Many believe that the Singapore model is not scalable, as it is fit for a cosmopolitan for a few million residents. Yet Sadanand Dhume, a prominent columnist on Asian affairs and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, describes that even Deng Xiaoping, former Chinese leader, listened to and learned from Lee Kuan Yew and eventually transformed China.

The implementation of the Singaporean model of advancement is quite complex and tough to accomplish. Given the innate self-sustaining and high-efficiency mindset that has been woven into the very fabric of the society, the potential to extrapolate a similar type of Smart City is slim to none. However, cosmopolises that are able to replicate some aspects might be taking their first steps towards increasing efficiency and living standards.

Featured Image Source: Forbes

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