It is part of the job of ministers and senior officials to visit other countries to learn from their experiences and success stories. In a globalised world, this must be the opportunity to seize, especially to learn from other country’s successes as well as failures. But why is it that after returning home, they go back on their resolves for development.
Take, for instance, the recent visit of ministers to Singapore. They came back and resolved to build the tallest building here, and one wonders of the lenses worn by the delegation. Only the niceties of that country are visible to them and then, they promise to replicate them in India.
It’s simple. We often like to hide our failures under the mask of poverty and plenty of people. Were these countries rich from forever? Are they so peculiarly blessed and placed so unrivalled that we cannot even think of achieving and developing along those lines?
The issue is: we see only Mustafa Shopping Centre or Sentosa Island of Singapore, and not beyond them. We only remember the city’s skyline and the skyscrapers. We do not dwell on the systems that led to these developments.
We do not research how Singapore developed from a filthy trawler village to a fantastic international destination for tourism. This transformation, interestingly, hasn’t taken a long time. The country is yet to celebrate golden jubilee of its sovereignty – almost two decades less than our independence.
At a mere 710 sq km, Singapore is smaller than Ahmedabad and yet has a similar population. About 6,000 persons per hectare make it one of the most densely populated nations of the world. Its land, however little, is not blessed with natural resources or topographical features like mountains, valleys, rivers, forests and canyons.
But despite these constraints, Singapore has managed to emerge as one of the leading economic players of the Far-East Asia. The process took time, was ridden with mistakes, but they managed to sail through to where they are today.
Cleaning up the waterways became a priority, as did the public sanitation that earlier passed through people’s living rooms. The island nation then invested in basic infrastructure, constructed ports as a pivotal link from west to east, transformed barren land into manmade forests and developed tourism around their virgin beaches.
The multi-ethnicity of the land simply added to the touristic experience, as did the historic landmarks, public structures and outdoor life. Gopuram of Tamil settlers led to temple tourism, while Indians, Arabians and Chinese created their own little towns away from their mainland.
The nation was also marketed as destination for trade fares and international conventions.
Today, Singapore may be a five-million strong population, but courtesy all the measures taken, it has a tourist inflow of 13 million – encouraging enough for them to set a target of 20 million in the near future. Changi Airport and Singapore Airport offer free city tours to showcase their country. Quite expectedly, then, tourism contributes nearly a quarter to third of Singapore’s economy.
To house the burgeoning population, the island city-state has constructed skyscrapers but hasn’t lost on equally dense green and open spaces.
Singapore has built the swankiest malls but retained its history with strict laws of preservation, and harmony and tradition. About 85% of the population lives in affordable subsidised government housing, and private players are allowed to develop townships as well.
A robust public transportation system runs alongside Limos. Multiple flyovers make commuting a song while under and above them, people avail of several positive urban civic amenities. Students also get to study in world-class institutes offering courses in management, catering, tourism and so on.
Why can’t Ahmedabad do a Singapore? We should learn their systems, strategies for long-term development, and consistence in correcting the course of development; thus, turning constraints into opportunity.
Can we wear a different set of lens the next time we travel overseas, which enables us to look at systems on-ground rather than skylines above? We should try and probe models of development rather than emulating malls and skyscrapers.
Rather than politics, we should concentrate on people that created these spaces.
The author is a city-based architect