Many Singaporeans were up in arms when their government announced plans to house a population of 6.9 million by 2030.
Architect Tan Cheng Siong was one of them.
But unlike his countrymen, Tan was also frustrated at how city planners were planning to accommodate the population increase – by reclaiming even more land from the sea. In just under five decades, Singapore had expanded by over a fifth from its original 587 square kilometres through land reclamation. It is a tried-and-tested plan that will generate land zoned into plots for singular uses like residential or commerce. However, Tan, who is also trained in urban planning, concludes that “this method of planning is wrong.”
Instead, he has a better solution: Reclaim land from the skies.
Singapore is just over 700 square kilometers in size and the government has often raised the specter of limited land to justify its tight control over urban planning. Every inch of the city’s development is prescribed to maintain order and efficient use.
This double-exposure image (above) juxtaposes two scenes at a the open lobby of a building in Singapore: on weekdays, office workers pass here on the way to work, but on weekends, it becomes a studio space for line dancers. This is part of a set of images from Reclaim Land: The fight for space in Singapore, a website my friends and I created for our graduation project in journalism school. We were interested in how people (consciously or not) “reclaimed land” from the state by using space in ways not originally intended for.
Just as how Simone concludes by suggesting the “messed up city then is not simply a mess” and the need to stay open-minded, we also realised that rules on using land maintained a sense of order in the city but also prohibited the emergence of new and unexpected possibilities. This is particularly crucial for a small city like Singapore as the population is expected to grow from 5 million to 6.9 million in the coming years. How can Singapore balance a need to use land efficiently while accommodating a growing diversity of land users and users? It’s not just a question crucial to the city’s economic progress, but the cohesion of its society too.
———– Written for Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi’sCultural Theoryclass at D-Crit in response to “Introduction: Enacting Modernity” by AbdouMaliq Simone