Written days before today:
On board the plane bound to the US, this 16-hour flight is ending in another 5 hours and I have lost track of time. It is dark and cold. This is the first in a series of three pieces I have decided to write to document the insight gained from my read this holiday – Can Singapore Survive by Kishore Mahbubani. This December as we rejuvenate ourselves for yet another exciting year ahead, I thought it might be appropriate to also consider these possibilities for the country we call our home and where we might find ourselves contributing to the national narrative ahead.
In his book, Mahbubani illustrates his hopes of having car ownership be a “nightmare and not a dream” in 2065. The current reality that cars are an important social status symbol in the ‘Singapore Dream’ is not only unhelpful towards our unique dilemma with land scarcity but also an exacerbating factor compounding Singapore’s already great contribution to environmental damage. Mahbubani refers to the trend of luxury, branded cars attracting much more sales (than relatively cheap but still functional models) as a sign that the appeal of private car ownership is one related to social status beyond convenience. He warns against falling into the trap of massive traffic jams observed in Jakarta and Bangkok. If the appeal of private car ownership (in terms of social status rather than something purely functional) remains, then the demand is likely to bring us to follow the footsteps of these cities. (It’s already happening: Think MCE)
From the privilege of collaborating with Hemispheres Foundation on an environmental service project last year (Office Go Green by Team Washington), the extent of environmental damage Singapore contributes to with our carbon emissions, for me, is reason enough to commit to this cultural change that will fundamentally change the transport system of our nation. It is exciting for me to imagine a reality where Singaporeans get from place to place by carpool (through taxi sharing phone applications), bike sharing (maximizing our park connector routes already in place) and with effective reliance (and not overreliance) on our public transport system. Somewhere in his book, Mahbubani also envisions a rental area for electric cars at every MRT station so that working adults could choose to complete the last leg of their journey by car after taking public transport. I think it would be a pleasant dream to work toward. Size can be our greatest weakness and our biggest strength. Weakness it will be if we lack the foresight to work against the possible development into an overly congested city as Mahbubani suggests, allowing congestion to immbolise us (literally). Strength it could be if we ride on our small size to develop a public transport system made up of not only buses and MRT stations.
(From the book) The former mayor of Colombian capital Bogota said, “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” Then, as Mahbubani convincingly puts forth in his book, let’s work to replace the Singapore dream to the Bogota Dream. In Vauban, a suburb in Germany, 70% of residents choose to live without private cars due to excellent city planning and a car sharing system. Taking inspiration from this dream made into reality elsewhere, I have confidence in our miracle of a First World country (from Third Word in five decades) that we, too, can achieve a “less-car Singapore”.
For those who get the reference, this is for your viewing pleasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Slpz0D35oRI