One thing that I think everyone on this trip, or anyone who has ever visited Singapore can agree with is that Singapore really has a love for galleries. Galleries are usually for art, but I have found that there are plenty other gallery subjects over the past week. My association with the word gallery has changed since visiting Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) building as well as their Housing and Development Board (HDB) building. Both of these buildings, aside from having facilities for their designated purposes, have galleries dedicated to their accomplishments and future plans. Can you imagine something like that in Pittsburgh?
The URA gallery was really a sight to see for anyone interested in city planning, urban studies, or even any sort of city residents. The gallery contained not one, not two, but three full scale models of Singapore and Singapore’s center city area. It was really incredible to see. The models show each building in Singapore and also what buildings are scheduled to be constructed in the future. There are many patterns that seem to be coming about in our studies here, and the anticipation of future building and development is one of them. Even when we toured the National Museum of Singapore earlier in the week, we saw that one of Lee Kuan Yew’s biggest campaign promises was always to look ten steps ahead (so to speak) and I think that is a value that Singapore has really maintained. The models were very impressive, but that was just a small part of what the gallery held. There were interactive programs for visitors that allowed us to choose certain urban redevelopment categories and understand city necessities. For example, one of the programs showed what is most important for transportation, housing, green space and recreational areas, commercial space, and more. I think this is important for a public gallery because many city residents probably don’t understand how difficult it is for planners to balance all of these necessities in a small space and be accommodating to populations of 5 million and more. The URA gallery also had a significant amount of displays dedicated to what has already been accomplished. They juxtaposed pictures of what neighborhoods looked like ten or fifteen years ago with photographs of current neighborhoods to highlight the success stories of their renovations. Probably the most entertaining part of the gallery was an interactive game which we all took a hand at. The game allowed us to use touchscreen monitors to construct our own city as a group in 30 seconds by placing city structures and spaces on a small plot of land. It was hilarious and fun to try to get the highest score that we could, and I think we all did pretty well although our city may have had an obnoxious number or Merlion statues. I was so impressed with this gallery and I regret that every 1500 student isn’t able to experience a visit there.
The HDB gallery was equally as exciting for me. This gallery probably sees a lot more traffic than the other because with over 80% of Singapore’s residents living in public housing, the wait time at the HDB can be pretty long and this is located in a place that many people may wander to in order to pass the time. This gallery was a little more interactive and very informative. Parts of the gallery show videos of Singapore citizens that are looking into buying or renting a flat. The subjects range from newlyweds to senior citizens and the videos highlight what the best options are for each of those persons needs. Apart from that, there were other interactive touch screen displays that we could use to choose from all of the new towns on a map of Singapore to learn a little more about each area. The information displayed included statistical facts about whatever new town we chose, including the number of units per town, number of schools, number of shops or restaurants, and facts about the recreational facilities. It is clear that some towns are more desirable than others depending on their location and layout. Pungol is probably one of the most desirable new towns to reside in because of its waterway location and modern appeal. Another great thing about our trip to this gallery was that we had our new Singaporean friends Mandy and Georgie with us. Since here both from the area, they know a little more about public housing experiences. We learned from them that Singaporeans are actually not allowed to purchase a flat until they are 35 unless they are married. Until then, they are expected to live with their parents unless they find their way around this rule by renting from someone which is often to expensive to be possible for young Singapore residents. This information leads us to believe that Singapore is really pushing marriage onto their young citizens, and that was further evident by their overuse of newlyweds as the subjects of their gallery stories. Their promotion of marriage is likely an attempt to increase the birth rate since Singapore’s population is rapidly aging. There was a lot of information to be learned form this gallery, but of course it wouldn’t be complete without an interactive game, right? This game had us compete against others in a sort of pac man/trivia competition. The winner was the first person to navigate to each colored dot out of four and answer each trivia question correctly. Dr. Glass won that round, beating Mandy and I. The end of the gallery had a photo booth where you have your picture taken and emailed to you after answering a few short survey questions about your visit.
The presence of these galleries in these particular buildings is astonishing to me and me to ask many questions. First, where does the city get the money to spend on such elaborate displays? Also, why are these galleries such a high priority for the URA and HDB? And lastly, do the citizens of Singapore actually visit these galleries or is it more of a tourist attraction? I’m not sure who would be able to answer these questions, but it is something to think about. I keep imagining what Pittsburgh would be like if it had the same resources and what Singapore would be like if it lacked them.