The Reinvention of Singapore

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/28/2007 03:19:00 AM
Singapore fears that it may be losing its attractiveness as a destination for highly-skilled global knowledge workers by remaining a dowdy place where sticking chewing gum is a punishable offense. Accordingly, it has tried to become more bling by inviting two large casino operators to set up shop. Also, it has loosened immigration restrictions as birth rates in the city-state fall. Give me your smart, your rich, your Gucci-shod emigres, etc. This article from TIME has the scoop on Singapore's remaking into Las Vegas via Silicon Valley via Monaco of the Orient:
There was something a bit unusual about Lee Kuan Yew's annual Chinese New Year speech this year. The words of Lee, Singapore's former Prime Minister and founding father, are heeded by the public, because they provide a road map for the city-state's economic development. Hewing to custom, Lee spoke dryly of free-trade agreements and strengthening economic ties with the region. But then he started talking about art exhibitions, jazz bands, museums and alfresco dining. In fact, eating outdoors was mentioned no fewer than three times as Lee laid out the government's vision for a multibillion-dollar residential and commercial real estate project located near the downtown core. The Marina Bay development would transform the way people live and work in Singapore, the Minister Mentor said. Electric golf buggies will whiz by diners as they gaze from the water's edge upon the "sailing, boating, windsurfing and fishing." Singapore aspires to be "a tropical version" of New York, Paris and London all in one, Lee said, adding "the Marina will be like the St. Mark's Piazza in Venice."

Say what? It was hard to tell if the architect of Singapore's rise from third world to first was charting an economic course or making a sales pitch for a master-planned leisure community—because he was, in a way, doing both. Marina Bay is just one part of a government-orchestrated effort to change the face of Singapore. This is no Botox job. Work is underway on an epic facelift, one that could within a few years render Singapore nearly unrecognizable: the financial district will have a striking new skyline while casinos and other amusements will dot the city. Even sleepy Sentosa Island, a 500-hectare tourist hangout located 15 minutes from the city center, is slated for overhaul via a 10-year, $5 billion plan to turn it into a world-class playground for the wealthy, with multimillion-dollar seafront homes, a megayacht marina and a Universal Studios theme park. The point of this real estate renaissance: change Singapore's image as a prosperous but rather dull commercial hub into that of a vibrant, fun destination—a place people will want to live in or at least visit on holiday, not merely transit on their way to more exotic Southeast Asian locales such as Bangkok and Bali. "Our entire nation is focused on a self-transformation," says Lim Neo Chian, CEO of the Singapore Tourism Board. "Singapore is changing its image in the eyes of the world."

Change it must. Faced with challenging long-term economic prospects and a flagging birth rate, Singapore's leaders have determined that the future of its 4.4 million citizens depends upon attracting multinational corporations along with hundreds of thousands of ambitious, educated (and preferably wealthy) foreigners to work and live there. Like other Asian tigers such as Taiwan, Singapore is losing high-tech manufacturing jobs—once crucial to economic growth—to lower-cost countries such as China. Manufacturing now provides work for just 20% of the island's 2.5 million workforce, down from 33% a decade ago, a decline reflected in people's paychecks. The poorest 30% of Singaporeans have seen their wages drop consistently for the past five years, according to United Nations data. This economic predicament is complicated by flagging demographics. Younger Singaporeans—the most productive workers—are increasingly seeking employment overseas, while the ones who remain are having fewer children. At the current birth rate, the population will begin to shrink in 2020. And that portends stagnating economic growth and a declining standard of living.

The antidote: open the gates to immigration. The city aims to boost its population by 25% to 6.5 million over the next few decades. Due to the flagging birth rate, that goal can be reached only by admitting up to 1 million foreigners, more than doubling the current expat population of 875,400. Drawing in so many worker bees will require a lot of honey, in the form of good jobs, recreational opportunities, decent housing—the myriad elements that factor into a city's lifestyle. It will also require a certain amount of buzz—and Singapore is not currently thought of as an exciting city. Not that it isn't a model in many ways. It's admired for its efficient government, first-world infrastructure, solid educational system—a real plus if it is to attract high-income talent from overseas—and clean, crime-free streets. Singapore is regularly named in regional surveys as one of the best places in Asia for expats to live. Per capita income last year was $30,900, equal to that of Japan, and the economy is popping; GDP grew 7.9% last year...
Gambling is fine if you've got the time:

The other casino, to be developed by Malaysia's Genting International, will stand on Sentosa Island, which is connected by bridge, light rail and cable car to the main island. Using land it had been reclaiming since the 1970s, the government several years ago began auctioning Sentosa plots to the private sector, but only to be developed under its careful guidance and marketing. Beaches that ringed the island were spruced up, and two golf courses modernized. Thirteen hotels containing about 3,500 rooms are planned, providing lodging for tourists drawn to the beaches, the casino and a Universal Studios theme park, which is also being built by Genting International and is slated to open in 2010.

Then there's what is arguably the capstone of the Sentosa initiative: Sentosa Cove, Singapore's first waterfront property development and also its first gated community. Each of its approximately 600-sq-m lots will soon sport luxury homes costing up to $20 million, each with infinity pools and private boat berths. Mixed in with the single-family homes will be four condominium complexes, a five-star hotel and a megayacht marina.

Pretty racy, but Singapore won't be Brisbane. Big Brother still wants to charge you a fee for gambling. I don't think this regulation will sit well at all with casual gamblers if it is enforced. It seems that the controlling instincts of Lee Kuan Yew cannot be fully eradicated:
Singapore's government has said it will not offer another casino license for at least a decade. It also says the casinos will be heavily regulated, and is imposing measures to curb problem gambling, including a 100-dollar-a-day levy on citizens and permanent residents entering the gambling rooms.