The X factor

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2005, 12:00am

Singapore is rightly proud of its achievements. It is the second most competitive country, globally, after the US; the second most globalised nation; has the best business environment in the Asia-Pacific region; is the least corrupt in Asia; second in personal safety among the world's top 50 cities - and the list goes on. (In fact, there is a whole webpage dedicated to it).

Singapore can also proudly claim that it was selected as having the best quality of life in Asia in 2003. Yet, does it have the 'X' factor, that little something to put it on a par with New York, London and Paris?

Soul searching is often a collective exercise here and, last week, a panel of movers and shakers addressed the issue and concluded that it would probably take another three decades before the city-state achieved its goal of becoming a truly top-class city.

As Philip Ng, chief executive of the property company, Far East Organisation, put it, Singapore is more in the 'wannabe' group alongside Melbourne, Amsterdam and Milan than the 'great cities' category (London, Tokyo), the 'special cities' category (Barcelona, Sydney, San Francisco) or even the 'just global cities' category, like Hong Kong and Berlin.

The main handicaps are its lack of history, the humid weather (which makes all-day parties a very sweaty affair), and its small population of 4 million. The lack of unique architectural masterpieces - besides the Esplanade - is another downside. One only has to see how already outdated the yet-to-be-finished new Supreme Court building is (with an ugly, coloured marble, reminiscent of the 1970s) to see that architecture needs to be given a serious rethink.

Yet all is not lost, the experts concluded. Singapore can still compete if it pushes its garden-city reputation, its strength in waterscapes, as well as its ethnic diversity and great food.

In its everlasting search for renewal, Singapore does have a few aces up its sleeve. This time next week, the government will probably give the go-ahead to an integrated resort with a casino. This will be the opportunity for a grand architectural project, facing the Esplanade and the new business district, which could become a symbolic beacon for the new Singapore.

Local newspapers are already whetting my appetite with talk that a Guggenheim museum could be a possibility, or it may be a permanent home for the Cirque du Soleil. The impact of the much-maligned casino will be multilayered on society. Constructing an amazing 21st-century resort could be the perfect chance for Singapore to increase its culture and X factor, and bypass the 'just global cities' to become a 'special city'.