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  Today Online 30 Oct 07
People, people everywhere ...
Country's growing population may affect quality of life
Immigration can lead to problems in the long run
Best of the worst?
Stop complaining and enjoy what you have

Letter from SIAMAK ADIBI
Letter from DARREN CHONG
Letter from MARK LEE
Letter from PRITAM PAUL

Today Online 27 Oct 07
Is S'pore getting too crowded?
Or are we just finding it difficult to live with others?
Mayo Martin

AS A foreigner who has lived in Singapore for almost three years, my usual reaction whenever friends complain about the heavy rush hour traffic or weekend downtown crowds has always been that of bemusement.

As they dig out their most impressive hyperbole ("Horrible!" "Terrible!" "Awful!" "Siao liao! (it's mad)"), I'll offer a sympathetic nod before biting my tongue at the point where I'm tempted to retort: "You call this crowded? Try living in Manila ... "

Or any neighbouring city for that matter. Years of training in the urban jungle of my hometown have enabled me to weave through Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok or the motorbike-dense streets of Hanoi with ease. Compared to these places, handling crowds in Singapore is peanuts.

Or so I thought until I took on a new job and experienced my first Raffles Place crowd at lunch break.

As I was swept away by wave upon wave of white-collar workers, a thought crossed my mind.

Is Singapore indeed getting too crowded?

Imagine a measly red dot of an island with a total area of 704 sq km where over 4.68 million people live (and that's still 1.8 million short of the Government's target population of 6.5 million). Add to that the Land Transportation Authority's mind-boggling statistic of some 799,373 vehicles (and counting) plying the road last year.

Of course, for statistically-challenged people (like me), a picture of what's happening on the ground works best.

I turned to the nightspots that always seem to be packed with people.

According to Zouk's marketing manager Tracy Phillips, as many as 3,500 patrons flock to the entertainment complex on weekends — the same number as on Wednesdays, when theme night Mambo Jambo takes place. But while she said the growth in the number of clubbers has been increasing since 1995 — when she first came on board — there's been no "obvious jump" in attendance.

And besides, I thought, what kind of lame club would it be if it weren't crowded?

At Clarke Quay, you've got an average of 40,000 people during weekends and 20,000 on weekdays, said Ms Dawn Tan, centre manager for Clarke Quay Management. But then again, the area has over 62 establishments, with 80 per cent of them F&B outlets and bars. What kind of a sorry lifestyle and entertainment complex would it be if it weren't crowded?

Unconvinced, I dragged a Singaporean friend along for more investigative work.

First stop was Clarke Quay on a Wednesday night, Ladies' Night at most bars — incentive for women (and men) to come down in droves. For three hours, we parked ourselves at coffee joint TCC for a clear lay of the land. From my vantage point, the crowds seemed manageable to me. My friend concurred. We also spoke to Benson, the cafe's manager for the past two years. He said that it gets "very bad, especially after 10pm when the late crowd comes in". I checked my watch — it was 11pm and no heavy crowd. It was time to leave.

On a Saturday, I headed for Parkway Parade, the scene of many "horror stories" from friends who live around the East Coast area. "Trust me, it's going to get crowded, especially during lunchtime," warned my friend.

That same friend left Parkway Parade with a puzzled look on her face after witnessing what seemed like a "normal" lunchtime Saturday crowd. I am pleased to report that walking through the shopping centre did not induce any bouts of claustrophobia in yours truly.

I was getting absolutely nowhere in trying to prove the premise that Singapore is indeed overcrowded. There was one final recourse — a survey.

Replies soon trickled in, a mere half-hour after I had sent out an informal email survey.

Of the 50 respondents — made up mostly of Singaporeans, barring a handful of foreigners who have lived here for quite some time — 38 believed that Singapore was getting too crowded.

Twenty-nine of them said they thought twice about stepping out of their homes (presumably on weekends).

The Orchard Road stretch received the most votes for being the most crowded area in Singapore. A few disgruntled respondents also fingered the Central Business District, Parkway Parade, Little India and several of the heartland malls.

Orchard Road and the Central Expressway emerged tops as the most crowded roads in Singapore. Pan Island Expressway, Bukit Timah Road and Serangoon Road were among the other dishonourable mentions.

Still, there was nothing surprising or out of the ordinary in those findings so far, I thought.

Things only got more interesting when it came to the portion of the survey where I asked respondents to select the reasons for what they believed accounted for this supposed overcrowding in Singapore. What I had thought would garner the most ticks didn't.

Only one respondent thought that the boom in tourist arrivals accounted for the overcrowding. This came despite the Singapore Tourism Board's recent announcement about a record-breaking 911,000 visitors in August.

The proliferation of malls also received a handful of votes. That didn't seem substantial enough.

There were, however, some interesting points raised, including how "kiasu" and "bored" Singaporeans seem to converge at the same place at the same time.

But there was one reason that stood out. Fourteen people — or 28 per cent — blamed overcrowding on the growing number of expatriates and foreign workers living here. Yes, that means me and 1,005,499 of my fellow non-Singaporean and non-Permanent Resident residents — and their families — as recently reported by the Department of Statistics.

Not knowing whether I should wince at this apparent evidence of a siege mentality or hang my head in shame as I am a contributor to my friends' and acquaintances' discomfort, I scrolled down to that other major reason the respondents cited.

"C" said: "My need for personal space. It's not really that crowded…"

It was a wildcard reason I had put to see if maybe, it's all in the mind and a matter of perspective. Fifteen people — that's 30 per cent — felt that way.

Intrigued by this strange result — that it's either someone else's fault or that there is no problem at all — I spoke to National University of Singapore sociologist Chua Beng Huat. Prof Chua doesn't believe the crowd situation here is bad.

Whether it's on the road or on the streets, it's nothing compared to Jakarta or Bangkok or any Indian city, he said.

"The only measure of density is the quality of life. If you find yourself unable to be polite and civil, then it's dense."

Judging from the horror stories shared by the survey respondents — from aunties de-shelling prawns on buses to the ruthless shoving and jostling in trains — could it be that the real question here isn't about how crowded certain parts of the island are getting?

Rather, is the question really about how Singaporeans are dealing with having more people on the island? In other words, are Singaporeans becoming intolerant?

For now, however, whenever someone complains about the crowds, I shall continue to offer my sympathetic nod — and bite my tongue when needed.

That and avoiding Orchard Road during weekends, of course.

Today Online 30 Oct 07
People, people everywhere ...
Country's growing population may affect quality of life
Immigration can lead to problems in the long run
Best of the worst?
Stop complaining and enjoy what you have

Letter from SIAMAK ADIBI
Letter from DARREN CHONG
Letter from MARK LEE
Letter from PRITAM PAUL

I refer to the article "Is Singapore getting too crowded?" (Oct 27-28).

I am a foreigner who has been working in Singapore since last year, and I find that Singapore is getting increasingly crowded.

The infrastructure here may not be enough to support the growing population and if this continues the quality of life of those living here could be affected.

Already the public transport system is stretched.

Another area of concern is medical services.

Despite making appointments in advance, you spend a lot of time waiting to see a doctor in hospitals and medical centres.

Housing is also another problem. This is especially so for foreigners who come here to work. Finding a vacant apartment is becoming increasingly difficult.

I also feel that there is a lack of entertainment and public places.

This could be why Orchard Road and places such as Vivo- City are packed with families on weekends.

If my quality of life worsens, I will leave Singapore even though I find this country safe and friendly. I hope the relevant authorities will conduct a survey to look into these issues.

The increase in population density has put pressure on the existing water supply, electricity and other public utilities.

Our hospitals and government clinics are flooded with people daily. Our MRT trains are crowded. Imagine if there drought or oil crisis hit the country.

A country with a huge population density that does not have vast natural resources to supplement its immediate population will surely feel the devastating effects.

Last but not least, one of the primary factors that causes overpopulation is immigration, and if not managed well, can lead problems in the long run.

Do we need to have the crowds seen in Manila, Mumbai, Bang-kok, Hanoi and Jakarta before we can declare that Singapore is too crowded?

The Government has always expediently compared Singapore with Third World cities to show how good Singapore is, and your article unfortunately has taken the same slant.

Singapore is seldom compared with Sydney, Melbourne, Toronto, Montreal, Copenhagen and the like.

Maybe Singapore will never be as liveable as them, and at best can only be the best of the worst ...

I WOULD like to invite any Singaporean who thinks Singapore is too crowded to visit India.

The roads are crowded, the streets are dirty, we have too many cars, we have power and water shortages, we have cows, dogs and animals vying for space along with human beings on the streets.

Back home people are killed almost every day in New Delhi because of road accidents.

My dear Singaporeans, you have a great country. It is not all crowded. So, all you people out there enjoy what you have (while it lasts) and stop complaining.

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