Monocle’s July/August 2010 issue commented on Singapore’s global ranking of the world’s most liveable cities (p 19): “Dropping from 18 last year, small-scale Singapore could do with devoting some money to culture and creativity instead of casinos and shopping malls“.
The comment opens up the old wound of funding culture, the arts and especially that enigmatic thing called creativity. It also propagates the stereotypical view that Singapore is dominated by casinos and shopping malls. Lets take a quick look at these issues and why it leaves us less than satisfied.
First the two casinos are, by planning decree, less than 10% of the total built-up area of the two respective multi-billion “integrated resorts” and are not allowed to predominate the development; ie no Las-Vegas-style neon signs, and no lavish entrances. The Marina Sands Integrated Resort, designed by Moshe Safdie, has a 2,560-room hotel, a 120,000 sq.m. convention-exhibition center, an Art & Science museum, two Theatres, six “celebrity chef” restaurants, two floating pavilions and a 340m-long “SkyPark”. The Resorts World Integrated Resort, designed by Michael Graves, has 6 hotels, a Universal Studios theme park and Marine Life Park, which includes the world’s largest oceanarium. The casino parts are not conspicuous, contrary to sensationalisation by the media. In any case both IRs have been developed by private business consortia.
Second, the shopping malls are private developments in response to market demands and business opportunities of the local and global retail trade. Like the IRs, malls are not in a zero-sum game with promoting culture and creativity; they are separate and independent issues.
Third, contrary to the impression made by the Monocle comment, Singapore has one of the world’s highest public funding for the arts and design. For example, public funding for the annual Singapore Arts Festival is about S$8m which approximates S$2 (US$1.50) per capita of population. The global survey by Cambridge University for the UK Design Council reported in 2009 that Singapore has the highest level of funding for design worldwide after correcting for size. Not many cities have anything close to these. Moreover, the Singapore government has consistently devoted its prized building to the arts and culture; the old Parliament House as an arts centre, the City Hall and Supreme Court as the new National Arts Gallery. Perhaps the Monocle comment is about non-government devotion of money to culture and creativity?
The relativity argument of the Monocle comment — of malls and casinos in lieu of culture and creativity — is weak. The implied case of Singapore’s lack of culture and creativity is a different matter. let alone if they can be improved by “devoting” more money — a subject for a future blog.