City's intellectual vibrancy

Speaking of which, I would be remiss not to mention the importance of intellectual life, from book talks to global policy lectures. The Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore (where I lecture) hosts multiple experts who give presentations literally every day. Renowned professors from America to England to South Korea and Australia have covered topics from innovation networks to Chinese foreign policy.

The Singapore Institute of International Affairs is experimenting with casual weekend presentations and debates. (Last weekend, I recounted my 2012 trip to North Korea at one such event.) This type of public conversation model needs to be adopted far more widely across the city; businesses, malls and restaurants can all cleverly get involved.

All of this is for the benefit of the public and civil society at large, not just for tourists in transit. A vibrant Singapore of, by, and for Singapore's residents is naturally the kind of place ever more people would want to visit. The two go hand in hand.

There are difficult decisions involved as well. Much of Singapore's population lives in functional Housing Board enclaves that feel devoid of the vibrancy they could exhibit if HDB ground floors were made available for shops. Many Singaporeans remark on how mature estates with their markets and hawker stalls at the town centre, as well as shops around the "void deck", have a character and life lacking in newer estates, which are designed without "void deck" shops, and often do not have a clear town centre.

Yet the charm and diversity of traditional street life should be amplified. This is a mark of sophistication. We cannot just talk about promoting local entrepreneurship and creativity; we must unlock and enable it.

The campaign to promote Singapore's sophistication is therefore a public-private effort. Everyone can find a way to participate - but then let the rest of the world talk about it.

The writer is director of Hybrid Reality and a Senior Fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA).

By Invitation features expert views from opinion leaders in the region and Singapore.

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