Singapore's population is a matter often in the news, in Singapore. It is a question that is raised again and again.
Presently, Singapore's population is about 4.5 million. However this includes about 1 million foreigners who are working here. The Singaporean government has long voiced the intention, in many news articles, of raising the population in the coming decades to 6.5 million people. I do not know the exact time scale over which this is to happen, but it always appears that they mean this to happen in the near future. That is in the lifetimes of most people now living in Singapore.
Without knowing what Singapore is now like to live in, it is difficult to judge the wisdom, or otherwise of such a number. Firstly, you should know that Singapore is a small island. It is, perhaps, a forty-five minute drive from its East Coast to its West Coast - and rather less from North to South. It is small. Secondly, you should realize that about 80 % of people live in high-rise government flats called HDB (for Housing Development Board). Most of the rest live in high rise private condominiums. Very, very few live in houses. Thus people are tightly packed together. The newer the apartment block, the taller it is. Old ones tend to be around a dozen stories, but the latest ones can have scores of floors.
Recently, I have been confronted with just how many people there are in Singapore. It is easy enough to do: just go shopping. My wife and I went to Orchard Road last night to see a film. Even though it was the evening, and one would have thought that many people would be at home having dinner with their families, Orchard Road was packed. At some places, it was a standing room only, jostling crowd. There was barely enough space to breathe. Yet, despite this evident inability to cope with its own population numbers, the official intention is to raise the population of Singapore by a further 50 % to 6.5 million. I find that incredible.
If you live in Singapore, you never get the feeling that it lacks people. So, why is the official view that it is 2 million short of its target? Well, one reason I read is that a study, many years ago, showed that the most successful small countries have a mean population of...you guessed it...6.5 million. Singapore has understood this to mean that you must have this magic number of people to be really successful. I think this is pure numerology. (Which, for me, means nonsense.) A country may be successful at almost any size. It is just what that country does that counts. It doesn't take a magic number of people to do this. I very much doubt that there is anything that Singapore could do at 6.5 million people, that it can't do at 4.5 million - apart from raise more taxes (and taxi fares - which here is the same thing), from its people. So, the only actual benefit of a larger population would be a larger tax base: nothing more.
There would, however, be considerable down-sides to a higher population. Already the main shopping centres can get uncomfortably crowded at peak periods (despite the fact that Singapore is just one big shopping centre anyway). The buses and trains (MRT) are often too overcrowded to be pleasant. The taxis are now unaffordable for many. Rental rates have doubled in a year (residentially and commercially). Indeed, my employer has complained of an office rent that has risen three
fold, recently. Singapore is becoming a crowded, busy, expensive city. Yet, the official aim is to make it more crowded, more busy and more expensive. (The official policy is, for instance, to keep on raising taxi fares until most people are forced to use buses).
I think Singapore would be just lovely if it had a population of 2 million, not a population of 6.5 million.
People like a little room to live in. No-one likes to be sandwiched against the next person. Yet, if the population really does rise by 2 million, people will be sandwiched together. They will live in even higher rise estates, travel in overcrowded buses and trains and shop in standing room only shopping centres. It won't be pleasant. It won't, actually, be a city that people want to live in.
I think that last observation is what will defeat this population plan. You see, as Singapore becomes more crowded, more unpleasant, and more unlivable, people will just leave. Emigration will soar and, as quickly as new Chinese mainlanders can be persuaded to come here (for they constitute the majority of the immigrants), native Singaporeans and Permanent Residents will be leaving, for less crowded, more hospitable countries.
The effect of this population drive will be to drive away the people who have made Singapore their home these past few decades. For they will have seen Singapore go from poor, to relatively rich and comfortable, to rich but poor in living space and living conditions. These people will leave, finally, for somewhere else - for virtually anywhere else, would be less crowded.
Singapore has a high standard of public infrastructure. It looks clean. Most things work well enough. What it does not have, however, is space. There is very little room, here, per person. I don't think it is wise, therefore, to squeeze a couple of million more people onto this small, but well-formed island. For, as anyone knows, even the best looking small frame, shouldn't really carry too many extra pounds. Singapore needs to slim down a bit, not fatten up, as a nation.
It is possible that many people think Singapore is already too crowded. Why do I say this? Well, because the emigration rate is already rather high. That wouldn't be so, if people felt comfortable here. The matter of crowdedness is, no doubt, only one factor the emigrants would have considered before leaving - but I am sure it is a contributing factor. Let us hope that Singapore does not become more crowded still - for otherwise I can foresee that many more people will seek living space, elsewhere.
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Labels: crowds, emigration, government policy, immigration, living space, overpopulation, population, Singapore, Singaporean environment