Rhetoric and Disconnect: My Conversation with Erica, a Singaporean

Today I parted from the group to meet with Erica, a recent graduate of the National University of Singapore who has a Masters degree in Urban Geography. Dr. Glass put me in touch with Erica as our research interests mesh well. Erica’s main interest as an Urban Geographer include the disconnect that often happens between rhetoric and policy in urban areas. Erica believes that this disconnect is very apparent in Singapore’s waterfront redevelopment, especially though their newest imaging project, Marina Bay. She is also interested in how urban policies move from city to city. Therefore, Singapore’s Marina Bay provides a good case study for her as Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority has adapted other examples of waterfront redevelopment, such as Canary Wharf in London or Battery Park in New York City, to meet the city’s needs. For my individual research, I am interested in how the waterfront developments of London’s Canary Wharf and Singapore’s Marina Bay have reshaped the image of each city. As Erica and I began talking about Marina Bay and Canary Wharf, I did begin notice a great disconnect between official rhetoric of the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the local Singaporean people’s attitudes to Marina Bay.

I asked Erica if Singapore’s Marina Bay is living up to its “Live, Work, Play” motto and she responded that on the surface it is because it has aided Singapore in rebranding itself. However, below the surface is a different story. First, many Singaporeans do not utilize Marina Bay as it is truly geared towards the business elite and tourists. If I were to go there on any given day, these are the types of people I would be most likely to see. Second, I would be very unlikely to see elderly people and those with physical disabilities as the area is clearly geared to a certain type of person. In addition, the mall located at Marina Bay is very high class with a majority of western stores. There is almost no presence of the local aside from a few local companies spread out throughout the bay. Also, Singaporeans are discouraged from utilizing one major feature of the area: the Casino. Erica stated she felt “irritated” by this as she is a tax-paying citizen and therefore should have complete access to the many facets of Marina Bay. Finally, as a student researcher Erica discovered great difficulty in contacting the URA during her research process suggesting that there is something below the surface.

We also visited Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority galleries today where we were presented with the official rhetoric of Singapore as perfect global city of which strives to create the best life for all its citizens. Yet, my conversation with Erica seemed to reveal a much different picture: the absence of Singaporeans from Marina Bay. As I continue to research the area, I will be interested in comparing the lack of Singaporean citizen participation in waterfront redevelopment to the London Dockworker who was pushed aside to make room for Canary Wharf. Tomorrow we are completing a psychogeography activity, which will help me to better understand the ways in which Singapore’s political rhetoric doesn’t quite line up with local perception. On Saturday Erica plans to join me while I observe the various constituencies who choose to spend their day at Marina Bay. I will be sure to post my thoughts regarding my observations and discuss whether Marina Bay lives up to the image it has created for this city state!

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