Thursday, 20 May 2010

Singaporean lab rats and preserving the city’s heritage

Progress requires experimentation. Some experiments are innocent enough, requiring limited risks. Others are slightly more risqué and may have adverse long term consequences. Medical tests characterize the more risky variety while experimenting with colour combinations on daily clothing is not so perilous.
"As an urbanised Asian city with nearly five million inhabitants and a strong research community, Singapore offers a conducive environment for companies to hatch new ideas and test concepts."
Arguably, treating Singapore as a living laboratory for urban solutions is no bad thing. Never mind that the notion makes all Singaporeans into lab rats!
It's all about going green and conserving the environment, creating eco-friendly cities and townships for the future. Surely, being on the cutting edge of green technologies must be a competitive advantage for the local economy.
Traditional house in a kampong on Pulau Ubin. Can you spot the solar panel for generating power?

Of course, being green is no longer about a protester chaining herself to a tree in order to stop a park from becoming a parking lot. The Greenpeace environmental movement has graduated to become a multi-billion Dollar corporate enterprise.
Investors can purchase specialized green technology mutual funds focusing on renewable energy or water technologies. Private equity funds and venture capital firms abound in the green technology space.
All that being said, for me conserving the environment is more about preserving national heritage of the sort found in museums and buildings.
Let scientists research how best to recycle rain water or reduce electricity consumption. However, is there anyone looking out for the interests of the wet markets or the old National Library building? Who determines whether in twenty years the Suntec fountain should not be demolished to make way for a new shopping mall?
Of course, this is the preserve of some super efficient bureaucrat who has clear guidelines provided to her in the Ministry's operating manual. But the manual's rules can easily be overwritten by a memorandum from a senior in the event that economic progress dictates.

It is time that the mission of the National Heritage Board (NHB), a Singapore government organization, is broadened from its existing aim of "foster[ing] nationhood, identity and creativity through heritage and cultural development."
The mission should include 'the preservation of Singapore's physical and cultural heritage.' Subsequently, formal mechanisms to effectively channel tax dollars towards activities and infrastructure in line with the broadened mission should be adopted and made public. In preserving history, a little money goes a long way.

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