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Journal of Comparative Urban Law and Policy

Abstract

Singapore is one of the most rational and unsentimental places on earth. Its government prides itself on its pragmatic approach to policy-making, and is not afraid to slaughter sacred cows if they have to. This is perhaps most dramatically demonstrated by the radical modernization of Singapore’s built environment through its various Master Plans and public housing programmes. This massive physical transformation is perhaps modern Singapore’s most visible sign of progress. In such a milieu, ‘heritage’ is viewed more as a commodity to be bargained over than a common good in itself. The discussion over whether a building should be preserved or whether an artifact should be showcased hinges on its marginal utility to two overriding considerations – money and politics. The value of a building is not measured in the vague and unquantifiable terms of historical value or social memory, but in economically calculated utility and opportunity costs. While this model of decision-making may well result in the most rationale choices being made, it also leads to a feeling of alienation and the lack of identity Singaporeans feel for their land. This paper considers the place of heritage in Singapore from the time of its independence in 1965 to the present day and argues that hitherto, pecuniary and political imperatives have reduced the role of heritage in creating a national identity to a subsidiary one. It will also argue that unless this balance shifts to a more even keel, Singapore is in danger of losing both its heritage and its identity.

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