Abstract from Singapore Dreaming Conference presentation by William S. W. Lim
Climate change is today one of the most pressing concerns globally. Today, we are swamped with affordable and applicable green ideas and technical solutions, as well as critical contributions from and in social media. Yet, the big question lies in whether we will and can take action quickly enough to avoid a climate catastrophe, and whether the political leadership and the elites will accept the necessary drastic changes. The twenty first century sets out a challenging task for us. To achieve what is seemingly impossible needs a fundamental re-orientating of politics, and an acceptance of critical alternative voices as essential instruments for pivotal change.
Singapore Dreaming is a two year project by Asian Urban Lab where leading artists, academics, professionals and other thinkers across diverse disciplines share and explore alternative visions of a Singapore that is sustainable, creative and vibrant. Dreaming allows us to think the unthinkable, and to formulate new possibilities. Singapore Dreaming attempts to identify, analyse and connect the multidisciplinary interactions of sustainability beyond the physical and environmental issues to include the dynamic changes of values and lifestyles, as well as the impact and complexity of creative sustainability and urban vibrancy.
In the 21st century Singapore is confronted with three new interlocking challenges that it must come to terms with. First, the expanded research data of historical narrative has broadened and deepened the understanding towards the island’s historical rootedness from the late 13th century, and which has stretched for 700 years. Second, credible benchmarks of Western modernity established over the last few centuries were greatly distorted by exploitative colonialism, and in recent decades, by the aggressive global capitalism of neo-liberal modernity. Major divergence on fundamental issues is increasingly visible, as the Western modernist model must be solely treated as the first among many, and not the only one. Third, with global trends towards slower growth together with the demand of new job profiles, and the negative response of Singaporeans against excessive immigration, there is now a clear sign that the government’s White Paper population growth projection will be moderated.
Presently, the city-state is deeply embedded in Modernity’s dominant modes of understanding reality, with economic and technical systems narrowly defining the logical linear orientated rationality. Reaching sustainability in Singapore is therefore an ambitious target. It will take time, radical readjustments, political commitment and broad-based support of the whole community. Sustainability is multi-dimensional. They are interlocking and unstable in the forward journey towards sustainability. To quote from cultural theorist Sacha Kagan: “Sustainability… is a process of transformation without end, not geared towards a fixed end-state or being, because any image of a perfect, stable and harmonious system is a dangerous illusion.”