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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Singapore: world capital of the city-dormitory (Part 2)

"Everyone's a hero in their own way, in their own not that heroic way." - Joss Whedon, Zack Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jed Whedon


(continued from Part 1; photos on GEO France's website)

Singapour, capitale mondiale de la cité-dortoir
(Singapore: world capital of the city-dormitory) (Part 2)

"Sports areas, garden for children, fitness area, clubs and social services - nothing is lacking in the attempt to inject a bit of life into the large masses who would consider themselves to be the heirs of the 'Radiant City' imagined by Le Corbusier

A sort of 'radiant city' for an immense middle class, a place protected from depredations, delinquency and ghettoisation. In every HDB block, the social mix is decreed, but the cultural mix is skillfully measured: the habitants are arranged by building according to ethnic quotas. A decision taken by the authorities after the grave disorder which plunged Singapore into fire and blood after Independence... The social body had been shaken by crises of collective hysteria, attributed by the press to a 'disequilibrium between yin and yang'. Today, the anxieties have been appeased, but the cleavages rest intact... An exception: the bankers and brokers meet in the arboreal condominiums which they share with rich Chinese, apparatchiks and businessmen - the well-to-do of the regime.

A symbol of the 1960s, of decolonisation and the grand dream of socialism, the conception of Singapore has been inspired by the futuristic icons of the era of Third World Urban Planning: Chandigarh, the Indian Project of Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris), or Algiers, the laboratory of the HLM of Fernand Pouillon. Above all, it is a homage to the concrete debauchery, the bitumen and the gardens of Brasilia: the South American capital erected by Oscar Niemeyer. The technocrats of the HDB have not safeguarded the Old Singapore except for some folklorish enclaves, stuck like banderillas [bullfighting flags] into the postmodern dragon. These are small neighborhoods of low houses of Chinatown, Little India or Raffles, the 'famous' colonial luxury hotel brought up to standard [?] with spas and fusion cuisine. A concession to nascent tourism, old verdant camps of the British infantry and navy which follow golf courses have become sanctuaries for travellers and Western expatriates who eat brunch on their verandas and buy French or Californian wines and Chinese antiquities in the old shops of the Indian Army"

Addendum: Tim the Great informs us that "HLM (habitation à loyer modéré), French for "housing at moderated rents" or "rent-controlled housing", is a form of subsidised housing in France... lousy hdbs"

"A Chinese Singaporean has become a magician, a profession in vogue with the expansion of the commercial centre which is always in search of entertainment. He raises his bunnies in the kitchen, even though animals are theoretically forbidden in HDB flats"

"At first, in the street, the people are helpful and charming, and all public services and transport function perfectly, the parks are splendid... The reality is less verdant: neither multi-party politics nor a free press, drug trafficking attracts the death penalty, interdiction by decree of chewing chewing gum, CCTVs everywhere, events and gatherings are strictly prohibited... Urban planning has from the start been conceived to control the territory, the streets are designed in grids so that the police and the army could immediately repress the slightest sign of revolt...

They have definitively transformed the City of Dreams into a Global Nightmare Village. A kingdom of appearances, rechristened as 'Potemkin City' by the globe-trotting architect Rem Koolhaas. The ironic reference to General Potemkin, favourite of Empress Catherine II, who had constructured acrpss the steppes artificial villages to convince foreign visitors that Great Russia was prosperous, while the Russian people were suffering the most profound misery.

The city-state, in which life expectancy exceeds 80 years, is not Hong Kong or Dubai, one of the 'Hallucinatory Cities of Neo-Capitalism', as they have been nicknamed by the American town planner Mike Davis, but rather a hardworking hive which regulates itself in a tacit accord between the Powers That Be and their subjects: 'No ambiguities, enrich yourselves!'. A dull world where the 5 Confucian Values revisited - affection, mutual respect, filian piety, solidarity and responsibility - exalted at the same time by the family and the paternal State which largely subsidises housing and education. The result? A society where everyone resembles each other, or at least where one must pretend that this is so.

Every group of apartments is thought identical... Noodle restaurants with smoking corners transformed in the afternoon into sleeping corners for the old and the unemployed."

(To be continued)

Part 3
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