Nominated MPs: A flashback of Rita Soh

Nominated MPs: A flashback of Rita Soh
File picture of Ms Rita Soh

Take out the self-criticism, toss in many memories. That way, we will love Singapore more.

What else should be in the love potion to endear Singapore to Singaporeans?

Architects ask for a lighter touch with some parts of the physical landscape, so memories and affection can evolve.

Ms Rita Soh, director of RDC Architects, notes that the authorities are a bit too concerned about "sprucing up" places.

Balance this, she says. "Let there be some chaos. It's interesting, the juxtaposition of new and old, organic and man-made."

Architect Khoo Peng Beng of Arc Studio, who designed the Pinnacle@Duxton, says Singapore is constantly "reinventing" itself and adding new features to the landscape. However, "less haste" in parts of the city is a good idea.

"Let the character grow," he counsels. Moreover, Singapore is a very young nation. It takes one or two generations for people to "grow with their space".

So have patience - and hope. "As a city or community ages, the social memory gets transmitted from generation to generation," he says.

Many are aware that loving Singapore is not so easy in a land of mobile citizens and many foreigners.

As Hong Kah GRC MP and Mayor of South West District Amy Khor points out: "Our rootedness could weaken if we do not put in significant effort to endear Singapore to Singaporeans."

Doing nothing is not an option, so she suggests: "Inject a 'wow' factor into our physical landscape without diluting our distinctly Asian heritage to make it memorable."

A "good start" has been made with various exciting projects, from park connectors to the new Marina Bay.

"These are all part of what urban planners call 'place making'," says Mrs Khor, also a Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Environment and Water Resources).

Still, it is not just what policymakers do to the cityscape. Just as important is that citizens take a new attitude or look at Singapore with new eyes.

Mr Robert Garman, executive director of property group Hongkong Land, says his family loves Singapore and makes an effort to explore it. Having two small children aged two and four creates the incentive to do so, he feels.

For Ms Soh of RDC Architects, less "self-criticism" should do the trick. We can remove our "coloured filters" and relish Singapore instead.

The recession is a great time to discover and feel for Singapore again, she says. "The slowdown is a time for soul-searching."

Indeed, soul is the elusive ingredient in loving Singapore.

Mr Khoo says the fact that National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan is talking about rediscovering and loving Singapore shows he is "going beyond the physical and finding the soul of the city".

"It is an interesting direction," he says. "It's necessary to relook ourselves, where we are and where we are going."

In the same vein, Dr Khor says: "We run the risk of losing a bit of our 'soul' in the grand pursuit of success if we do not make an effort to reflect on issues like what would 'bind' us to Singapore."

As chairman of Reach, the Government's feedback arm, she will pick up the discourse on soul and loving Singapore, for instance, by tapping the Reach website.

Her own opinion is that loving Singapore is not just about feelings but also requires an "act of will".

Meanwhile, developer Philip Ng, the man who prompted Mr Mah to reflect on the concept of loving Singapore in 2005 (see main story), has a bright outlook.

Five years ago, he said at the Urban Redevelopment Authority's annual corporate seminar: "Love must be encrypted into the DNA of urban planning... and transmitted into the artifices, buildings, road systems and hardware, which then tells the people that this is a city that you can love, and one that loves you back."

Asked for an update of his prognosis that love is a missing ingredient in Singapore's quest for the X-factor, he replies: "In the last five years, Singapore has indeed become not only a liveable city, but a much more loveable city."


This article was first published on April 24, 2009.
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