Archive for the 'urbanscape and environment' Category

Ourselves through Istanbul

Galata Bridge

Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn

This spot on planet Earth has been inhabited for well over two thousand years — as Byzantium, Constantinople, then Istanbul — and was a great cosmopolitan capital city for 1,500 of those. Merchants and scholars from all over the then-known world flocked to it.

I can’t say, however, that it is cosmopolitan any more, certainly not by the standards of London, New York, Paris or Sydney today. Or even Singapore. Istanbul has a cultural homogeneity that our more nostalgic romantics might wish we had. Continue reading ‘Ourselves through Istanbul’

Flats are not houses, think hospital beds instead


Where we go wrong is in our use of words. I have always cringed when Singaporeans use the word “house” to mean their flat. I may be old-fashioned in this respect, but I would only use the word “house” when I refer to a dwelling that sits directly on a plot of land; I would not use it for a pigeon coop in the sky. If one looks at international usage, that’s probably the norm.

The wrong choice of words affects how we think of something. Words come with associations and values. I’d argue that our careless choice of words warp how we think of Housing and Development Board flats — public housing in which 85% of Singaporeans live. Continue reading ‘Flats are not houses, think hospital beds instead’

From words to deeds, attention to detail matters

I see bad English all over Singapore, but because I don’t want to sound like a language Nazi, I hold myself back, seldom writing about it. On the other hand, I don’t think I need to be apologetic about it. Getting language right takes the same attitude — attention to detail — that stands a person in good stead. More generally, a culture or economy that devalues the striving for excellence shortchanges itself. I sometimes think a widespread neglect of language quality in Singapore reflects a neglect of perfectionism, which shows up in a myriad ways from train breakdowns and bus delays to stark gaps in the social safety net. Continue reading ‘From words to deeds, attention to detail matters’

As space tightens, Singaporeans suffocate

It’s taken me a while to think of a theme for this end-of-year post. Just in time, I have it: Space. Or rather, the ever-tightening amount of space in Singapore. The space I speak of is not just physical space, but also expressive space.  Continue reading ‘As space tightens, Singaporeans suffocate’

The importance of wanting trains to run on time

pic_201308_47The post described Singaporeans as a perennially grumpy lot, bitching even about trains arriving 30 seconds late. At first, I gave it little thought. The post was one of many linked from Facebook which I cursorily surfed through while munching my breakfast this morning. I didn’t even keep the link; now I can’t find it any more. It was penned by a Malaysian visiting from Penang who was expressing his amazement at how “advanced” Singapore was, and yet how unreasonable Singaporeans were in not appreciating what we have.

I do recognise however that the remark was really a metaphor for a general state of unhappiness; it was not meant to be taken literally.

But as the day wore on, my mind went back to this comment a few times, and I thought to myself: I don’t see why we should necessarily be ashamed of being demanding. Setting high standards is, after all, the first step to achieving them. I would much rather that we as a people are perpetually dissatisfied and striving for better than be too accommodative of slack. Continue reading ‘The importance of wanting trains to run on time’

Haze comes, government in tizzy


Not only has the government’s response to this week’s haze problem been one of weak-kneed impotency, the absence of any effective solution shows how little has been done to prepare for what has, over the last two decades, become an annually recurring problem.

We knew as far back as middle last year that the El Nino weather pattern was returning for 2013. We knew it would mean a hotter, dryer year than normal, so not only would haze be a virtually certain problem, it may turn out to be prolonged and more intense. And yet, when it hit, it looked as if the authorities were caught by surprise. Continue reading ‘Haze comes, government in tizzy’

Who wants to be a hawker?


Earlier this year, the future of hawker centres was in the news. The chief concern was the sustainability of the institution (if one can call it that), but much of the discussion centred around how to keep food cheap. A side issue was the declining quality, for which a ‘Hawker Academy’ idea was floated. It struck me even then that insufficient attention was being paid to a much more fundamental question: where are hawkers going to come from in the years ahead? All the talk about pricing and training will be meaningless if not enough people want to be hawkers. Continue reading ‘Who wants to be a hawker?’

Time we had real public housing

At last, we have a party that is urging a true public housing scheme for Singapore. It has long been an embarrassment that we do not have real public housing here.

The policy paper put out recently by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) (link) is a bold move in this direction. Leading economist Yeoh Lam Keong called it an “excellent” paper on Tuesday, 6 November, when he was giving a talk — more about this later.

Readers may wonder about my opening paragraph. What do I mean when I say we do not have real public housing in Singapore? Doesn’t the fact that some 85 percent of Singaporeans live in Housing and Development Board flats point to its enormous success? Continue reading ‘Time we had real public housing’

Change we must, by William Lim

Change We Must

William S.W. Lim
12 September 2012


This lecture will be in two parts. The first part will highlight four critical issues why Singapore has to change. The second part will focus on the complex challenges ahead.

Part 1

1.0 Four critical issues

There are four critical issues that Singapore must contend with and are the reasons that it must change. They are:

1.1  Interdependent global conditions today.
1.2  Progress of Singapore not enough.
1.3  Myths and realities of Singapore.
1.4  The misunderstood nature of creativity. Continue reading ‘Change we must, by William Lim’

Middling going on to transport hell

Our mainstream media has a habit of trumpeting country or city rankings that show Singapore in good light. It’s part of their mission to publicise the supreme achievements of the People’s Action Party government.

This ranking below would not make the cut:

Continue reading ‘Middling going on to transport hell’