Friday, August 27, 2010

If the whole world was designed like Singapore... could fit the global population into an area the size of Texas.

That's the concept behind the government's 1,000 Singapores pavilion at the international architecture exhibition at the Venice Biennale.

The government believes that it can comfortably fit 6.5 million people into Singapore's 710 sq km (although the current population is around 5 million and I'm not sure the citizenry necessarily share the goverment's desire for another 1.5 million residents).

The projected population of Singapore is roughly 1/1000th of the world population so, using the Singapore city planning model, you could fit the whole world's population into an area of 710,000 sq km  - roughly the size of Texas, a fifth the size of India and a tenth the size of China.

While the idea of rolling out identikit Singapores around the world may fill some with dread, I always found Singapore to be a very nice place to live in terms of urban planning. Only a third of the total land area is built up and, despite the prevalence of slightly dreary high-rise government housing, there are many pleasant open spaces where you can escape.

But while Singapore can offer many positive lessons for urban planners, particularly in fast-growing and seemingly sprawl-addicted Asia, the Lion City's model is not quite as compact and sustainable as it first appears.

Singapore's land area has grown by 22% since the 1960s because of large scale land reclamation projects that have relied on the at times environmentally, socially and politically questionable import of sand from around Southeast Asia. Likewise, the construction industry has depended on cheap sand and cheap workers brought in from all around the region.

John Donne wrote: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent."

Surely the same is true for, erm, islands.

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