The problem of public space: Singapore as case study

Commentary / Jul - Aug 2016

The problem of public space: Singapore as case study

by Joshua Comaroff

The Problem of Public Space: Singapore as Case Study
byJoshua Comaroff

While many aspects of Singapore’s development have been described internationally in glowing terms, the island’s public spaces have often faced a cooler response.

But putting aside subjective judgments—such as ugly and boring—are the oft-repeated broadsides against Singapore’s urbanism
convincing? Is the non-appearance of a satisfying pubic realm distinctive to this island nation? And how much of the conventional wisdom on good city form is influenced by a canon that deals mostly in Western examples?

There are several recurrent themes in the criticism of Singapore’s public spaces. A common one, nowadays, is that the public realm is depleted due to lack of ownership. This is a buzzword that comes easily to the public, designers and government. Many feel that for a city to have thriving civic spaces, the citizens must have a sense that they have contributed its design agenda. In Singapore, increasingly, we see rituals of public consultation becoming integral to the planning process. There is a sense that, to love the city, it must be ours, in some way. This is, in many ways, an extremely positive conversation.

But many cities—and many that seem to have the most satisfying public spaces—are not owned by us, in any sense.

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