Beyond the Developmental City: Communitarian Development and Urban Planning in Singapore

Louisa-May Khoo, School of Community and Regional Planning, International Doctoral Fellow, University of British Columbia


Developing Lands and Cities


A tiny “red dot” of 720 square kilometres without any natural resources, Singapore has transformed itself from a British colonial outpost to a global city in less than half a century. The explanation by urban scholars is because Singapore is a “developmental city state” (Castells 1992; Perry et. al 1997; Olds and Yeung 2004). Reasons offered often fall along the well-rehearsed lines of a comprehensive regime of State social control, authoritarianism and the subjugation of civil society, and the assertion of State capitalism and hegemony in determining the functional form of the city, all effectively galvanized par excellence to build the model city (Shatkin 2015). In tracing Singapore’s development milestones through interviews, discourse analyses, and auto-ethnography, I reflect on the accuracy of the caricatures of Singapore in urban scholarship, highlighting how urban strategies have been mobilized in Singapore towards a more communitarian model of development through State capitalism (Chua 1995; 2017). I explore how over the last two decades, a harnessing of Singapore’s global city standing and investments in technology have ameliorated land pressures to enable urban planning strategies to shift from a bulldozer approach towards a temper of calculated governance and paced transformation in Singapore. Yet, while seeking to attenuate the unequal effects of wanton neoliberal capitalism with a greater sensitivity to heritage and nature conservation issues and a redistribution of wealth through public housing tools, these efforts remain contested with mixed results.

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