From rhetoric to reality

The Renaissance City concept was theoretically strong and many subscribed to its intentions. The Renaissance City strategy implied a completely different way of operating, but this has not yet occurred. The historical mindset that worked so well for the past has not adjusted. The notion of a creative city implies a level of openness that potentially threatens Singapore's traditions of more top-down action. Nevertheless, this issue is at least being openly discussed. As an instance of how Singapore's traditions are etched into its mindset, the deputy prime minister, in approving the initiative to set up creative quarters, stated precisely where these might go. The local artistic community is especially critical of the emphasis on importing world stars to perform in Singapore without a parallel focus on developing indigenous cultural creativity. They believe their scope for action remains contained.

It now appears that the idea of a 'creative culture' and 'creative capital' is being taken seriously, even to the extent of examining fundamental issues such as censorship laws. Yet the cultural community remains worried that creative capital will be driven by a purely economically driven model. Their focus is on how the cultural ecology of Singapore can develop more deeply - an approach that takes time rather than the 'sledgehammer approach' that solely addresses hard infrastructure. Notions of 'soft infrastructure' are being taken more seriously. Singapore has applied the recognized repertoire of culture and renewal - icon structures, global branding and the talent agenda - and its effective focus is within the Asia-Pacific region. It continues to scan world trends, seeking to be a global nodal point, and currently aims not to slip behind Shanghai, whose global resonance grows daily, and stay on a par with Hong Kong, which is aiming to be the events capital of Asia. It is aware too of Seoul's ambitions to create a digital media city and the intentions of Dubai.

Singapore has always been strong on developing physical infrastructure. In seeking to reach the next level of strategic global positioning, its latest initiative is 'One-North', a more than US$1 billion investment. This project seeks to learn the global lessons of how to establish a creative milieu by combining hard and soft components and applying this to a series of clusters in a park-like environment. Coordinated by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, this 200-hectare zone has two focal points: Biopolis and Fusionopolis/Media Hub. In addition there is an incubator zone called Phase Z.Ro, which focuses on eight clusters: electronics, chemicals, engineering, infocoms, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical devices and healthcare services - all with shared research facilities where upwards of 10,000 people will work. A strong residential component is interwoven and from the more assertive new developments a long meander, or short car journey, takes you past 42 older, smaller buildings and heritage sites. The area, 20 minutes from the centre, is well connected by the metro and other public transport.

Green spaces, mature trees and winding roads have been preserved to allow 'pause for thought and quiet contemplation in the midst of technology and commerce'. The aim is to give contrast, character and a sense of continuity. Between the high-rise office spaces sit hotels, conference facilities, corporate retreat areas and dining and entertainment facilities. They call this a 'DoBe (live-work) and play lifestyle and ... an exceptional place for exceptional people to live and work, relax and learn. Where you can inspire and be inspired to push the boundaries of knowledge and turn ideas into groundbreaking innovations'. It is conceived as a place where imagination turns into action:

Imagine an environment bounded only by imagination itself. Where you can live, work and be inspired by leading scientists, researchers and technopreneurs from around the world. Where groundbreaking ideas are born from a stroll in the park and conventions challenged over coffee at a sidewalk cafe. Where anything is possible. Welcome to One-North - a vibrant place and a lifestyle choice for the most creative minds of the new economy.24

Biopolis aims to be a centre for biomedical sciences in Asia and the world, combining public and private research institutes and commercial lettings, such as the Bioinformatics and Genome Institutes or GlaxoSmithKline, Molecular Acupuncture Ltd or John Hopkins' Division of Biomedical Sciences. It includes the world's first facility for large-scale production of stem cells. It lies close to the National University of Singapore, National University Hospital and the Singapore Science Parks. The names of the buildings indicate the interests with their ancient Greek associations -Nanos, Proteos, Genome, Helios, Matrix and Centros. It also has an arts programme, which bills itself as 'soft art meets hard sciences'.

Fusionopolis, by contrast, aims at an 'uptown' vibrancy:

Embark on a pilgrimage of learning and discovery at the [email protected] Fusionopolis will be a vibrant and exciting place for infocom and media industries to come together, bringing talents, expertise and organizations to create innovations and breakthroughs that are in a class of their own.25

Here there are institutes for micro electronics, high performance computing, a data storage institute and digital media research centres. This is part of an attempt to transform Singapore into a global media city and exchange and financing nodal point with the help of a Media Development Agency.

Phase Z.Ro, the cheaply priced incubator and company startup zone, with 60 office areas, has a far more zany feel. Bright yellow Lego-like container constructions are clustered around a gathering space. Contrasted to the corporate structures of Biopolis around it, Z.Ro has an imperfect, human feel, where you the tenant feel you can shape its future. An interesting growing signage collec tion of past tenants stands tall like a piece of public art. Sadly, though, the space will disappear. Land prices in Singapore are far too valuable for structures like Z.Ro to proliferate, though these buildings' more handmade, organic feel will be missed as somewhat lifeless corporate structures take their place.

Yet a unique design palate could be instigated at this juncture which combines the need to build high with opportunities to individualize and continually transform living and working spaces and which also projects an eco-design concern.

Key to Singapore's success is the talent attraction strategy whereby bright younger individuals and established experts are lured through scholarships and financial inducements as well as a conducive regulatory and business environment and hopefully a 'buzz'. For instance, scholarships are available to more than 500 of Singapore's best and brightest to fund their PhDs at top US and European universities. The investment can run to SGD600,000 (£210,000) per person in return for a guarantee of six years' service to public institutions. Others schemes exist to attract foreigners to Singapore:

We foster and nurture world-class scientific talent . and aspiring scientists who dare to race with the world's best towards the very limits of modern science. Together with scientists we will build up our intellectual capital and our scientific capabilities. That will boost the economic competitiveness of Singapore.26

They see this as happening in 'real space' - the physical location and resources of One-North; 'virtual space' - the communities of interest linked through state-of-the-art connectivity; and 'imaginative space' - 'the limitless possibilities and opportunities of the human imagination and endeavour'.

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