I’ve been here long enough to appreciate the differences between Singapore and Canada, and have noticed a few things Singapore does better. Canada, take note.
Yes, it sounds stereotypical because there are two things everyone knows about Singapore: there are lots of laws and it’s very clean. Having said that, I wasn’t expecting the level of cleanliness I have become accustomed to; being clean is not limited to a noticeable lack of used chewing gum on sidewalks: it’s white shoes that stay white, sidewalks that are swept daily (sometimes more!) by an army of sweepers, and entire buildings that get washed. All of the vehicles look like they just drove off the dealer’s lot because they are so shiny, and I haven’t seen a vehicle which would even come close to inspiring a “wash me” or a “I wish my wife was this dirty” since I got here. That says something about a society that holds cleanliness sacred.
For a country with a population of 5 million but encompassing only 710 square kilometers (only slightly larger than the City of Toronto), Singapore has some amazing green space with over 50 square kilometers of parks and nature reserves. One of the most notable nature reserves is MacRitchie Reservoir, one of my favourite weekend destinations for hiking, running or watching the monkeys; the Tree Top Walk is amazing, and the fitness parks are great for doing situps, pull-ups and any other kind of body-weight exercise. Another beautiful park is the Singapore Botanical Gardens, which has an outdoor amphitheatre with concerts on the weekend and stunning gardens and ponds. It’s a great place to go for a walk and relax and as with MacRitchie, there is no admission fee.
The hiking trail at MacRitchie Reservoir
3. Post-secondary Education
Although I have to say I was biased when I first saw the National University of Singapore’s beautiful campus, the excellence of Singapore’s post-secondary education is not only skin deep. The government makes it much easier to attend post-secondary school by significantly subsidizing tuition fees for both Singaporeans and international students: a Singaporean engineering student at NUS pays only $6,890 SGD ($5,000 CAD) per year (8 months), compared to University of Waterloo tuition of $11,500 CAD for the same program. International students are not subsidized to the same extent as Singaporeans, but the portion of tuition paid by the student is only $11,030 SGD ($8,050 CAD) which is still significantly lower than the domestic tuition at University of Waterloo! These subsidies certainly make education more accessible and less stressful.
The obvious question is, why would the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) subsidize international students? Each international student who takes advantage of government subsidized tuition is obligated to work in Singapore for three years after graduation in order to “discharge some of their obligations to the Singapore public”.
The road outside the Central Library at NUS with shipping yards in the background.
2. City Planning
Besides being known for its laws and cleanliness, Singapore is known as a beautiful city; this doesn’t happen by accident, and the city planning executed by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is spectacular. I had the chance to visit the gallery showcasing the present and future plans for Singapore, and I was amazed at the detail and intricacy of the displays – visiting the URA is like visiting an art gallery of the city.
Part of a scale model of the entire city of Singapore
But urban planning isn’t just about making sure there are enough parks and roadways. The URA also dictates where and how many new apartment buildings are built, and commercial development in the business district. Even credit for the beautiful Singapore skyline goes to the URA.
The Singapore skyline.
1. Public Transportation
With large urban populations, traffic and pollution are two major problems often faced by cities; Singapore has addressed these issues by making private cars prohibitively expensive and by creating a very efficient public transportation system. Although making drivers pay close to $20,000 for a Certificate of Entitlement and increasing car prices by $50,000 is not a reasonable solution for Canada, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has a lot to learn from Singapore’s transit system. One of the most important lessons in change management is this: if you want people to change you have to make it easy. Singapore makes it easy.
First of all, the subway system covers all the important parts of Singapore and what isn’t covered by the subway is covered by efficient bus routes. Second, fares are paid based on distance and are typically much cheaper than the average ride on the TTC: I can get to school for about 90 cents, but TTC charges $3.00 per ride. Finally, the transit system is clean, well-lit and just looks nice; this may seem like no big deal, but it’s hard to make public transit attractive when taking the subway involves having a staring contest with someone’s abandoned candy bar wrapper (or worse!). Taking the MRT might mean I can’t drink my water on the train, but it’s a small price to pay.
Singapore's public transit system