The best city in the world?

MARCH 19 — Singapore has the best infrastructure in the world according to the Mercer 2016 Quality of Living rankings.

Every year the guide ranks over 200 major cities worldwide.

Of course this same ranking/guide also consistently points out we are among the most expensive cities in the world, but at least we are getting our money’s worth.

Now personally I’m not entirely convinced we really do have better infrastructure than Frankfurt or Stockholm, and it must be kept in mind this ranking is compiled for expatriates which means it might not fully reflect the experience of ordinary

Singaporeans. But it is impossible to deny that our infrastructure is impressive.

Yes, there are jams and I still don’t think our MRT system is anywhere near world beating but from Changi’s super-efficient airport to the simple park connectors and the more flamboyant Gardens By The Bay, this is a pretty slick place to live.

Of course the best infrastructure alone doesn’t mean the best city; Singapore is at 25th place overall in the world cities league. It leads other Asian cities but is behind European and Australasian high performers like Vienna, Copenhagen and Auckland.

But rankings aside, I really enjoy living in a place where I can honestly take simple things like drinking the tap water, smooth transport to office, safety and connectivity for granted. This is a real privilege and something that Singaporeans should genuinely be appreciative of and thankful for.

While many of us are quick to criticise the government in terms of its policies on population, race, culture and transparency we do have to keep in mind that we enjoy a world leading infrastructure base.

But I guess the question is — now that we are Number 1, how do we put this amazing infrastructural advantage to best use and how do we go forward and really establish ourselves as the global benchmark for urban infrastructure?

Fireworks seen at Marina Bay during New Year celebrations in Singapore on January 1, 2017. — Reuters pic
Fireworks seen at Marina Bay during New Year celebrations in Singapore on January 1, 2017. — Reuters pic

It is a real challenge. As a country we are rich with considerable reserves, the government is stable, powerful and with no shortage of policy tools but what do you do for the nation that has everything?

Recently, to be honest, I’ve noticed that authorities are building more rain/sun protection walkways and while these are convenient I do sometimes worry that the government might have run out of ideas regarding how to spend our money.

I think to really maintain our position and keep forging ahead, it is time to go beyond covered walkways and go deep into environmental and cultural infrastructure.

It is time to cling to our wild spaces and to ensure our forests and waterways are accessible while staying pristine. Free public wifi would be impressive value-add and Korea beating internet speeds, though somewhat of an academic matter (our internet is still fast), may also help secure our status as a cutting edge nation.

The development of cultural hubs — performance spaces, accessible galleries, music studios in the city’s hinterlands — will also help us shake off that pesky reputation for sterility.

The government supporting ride sharing, transport apps and upgrading of bus systems would also go a long way. Later hours on the MRT or perhaps 24 hours — at least on weekends — would be nice too. I think we could also put our waterways and the sea to better use in terms of transport with river boats and more regional ferries.

More ferries along with the upcoming high speed rail line to Kuala Lumpur and the delayed but much anticipated MRT links to Johor Bahu would take our regional connectivity to the next level and really secure our position as Asia’s leading hub.

Of course this is an arbitrary wish list for a privileged nation but it is also a real necessary imperative; we need to think big and think differently to really take the our Little Red Dot to where it ought to be — unquestionably the best city in the world.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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