Singapore – It is 47 years since Singapore became an independent city state and a swamp was transformed into an economic powerhouse.
Fostering a sense of identity among Singaporeans was key to its early development, which is why city planners in the 1960s made public housing a priority, giving 80% of the population a place to live.
Today the building continues as the trading port, once an important stop on the Silk Route, is one of the three busiest in the world and welcoming more shipping each year.
If trade and a maritime history have made Singapore what it is today, the city’s planners are already looking to the future and other industries to keep its economy in check. Tourism has joined hi-tech and precision manufacturing as priorities for the government with long-term plans for growth.
“What they have done well is to think many steps ahead,” says Tai Hui of Standard Chartered. “Not only for the next 3 to 5 years but sometimes 5 to 10 if you look at the way they shaped the tourism industry to integrated resorts.”
But if shaping the economy has been a priority for the government of Singapore, it has also caused some problems for a population that have grown to depend on it.
“The first two or three decades, where the government delivered something this, developed a habit that whenever you have a problem you look to the government for a solution,” says Singapore’s former chief planner Lui Thai Ker. “I think this kind of culture needs to change so people look to themselves to solve their personal problems.”
To help foster creativity and wean a population off state-backed initiatives the government hasn’t completely let go of the reins. It has set the agenda by prioritizing trade, finance and tourism as sectors to grow and challenged the population to fulfil their potential.