Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, Singapore
Singapore as a shopping paradise? This may have been the case 10 years ago, but frankly the slogan no longer rings true. I have just returned from Hong Kong and was shocked by how much more choice was on offer. For sure, I can find just about any designer goods here, but while this may have been exclusive to Singapore a few years ago, all the luxury brands now have branches all over the region.
Two years ago, the Economic Review Committee recommended, among many other things, turning Orchard Road into 'one of the greatest shopping streets of the world'. True to form, a senior minister recently coined the same phrase, saying 'more than just a preferred retail hub, we want Orchard Road to be one of the greatest shopping streets of the world, a lifestyle destination in Singapore'.
As details have yet to be released, my curiosity was piqued and I decided to fish out the old report to see what is on the cards. You see, I actually live on Orchard Road, so I feel I have a stake in seeing the street's numerous problems improved. Besides the constant and exhausting peak-hour congestion, the pavements barely contain the crowds (I swear the entire population chooses to amble down the road for fun on weekends). Some of the shopping centres are interesting enough, but you do feel like you have seen it all before.
The committee had suggested inviting renowned architects to propose an integrated scheme for the street 'encompassing improved connectivity and landscaping', 'implementing a network of underpasses and covered walkways to enhance pedestrian friendliness' and encouraging the upgrading of older buildings.
Unfortunately it would appear that, at this stage, the government is more interested in releasing vacant sites and car parks for yet more shopping centres, rather than for green spaces.
However, all those big plans to transform Orchard Road into the Oxford Street of the East (although any savvy shopper would stay away from that overrated London street) could hit a problem if the number of aggressive touts, surveyors and people thrusting flyers into your hand continue to multiply.
It also seems that another group can now be added to the list - the increasingly visible presence of prostitutes. Working girls are often blamed for all Singapore's social ills - now they are supposedly spoiling the shopping, too. The women no longer confine themselves to Orchard Towers - described as 'four floors of whores' by the Lonely Planet travel guide. Mind you, it could be an original way to keep the husbands occupied while the women shop.