Thursday, 14 December 2006

Myth #1 - The Value of 'Human Resource'

My wife and I spent the first 25 years of our lives in Singapore. Like most middle-class citizens of this red dot, we grew up in a progressive slew of increasing house sizes, from flats to terrace to semi-d as our parents accumulated financial capital during the industrial/post-industrial era. We then moved to Europe to study and work for the next 20 years. There we were happy in flats, and we seldom moved. We liked stability, familiarity with our surroundings and community. We stayed on the outskirts of a small but sizeable town (one that's been struggling to gain city status but it never quite achieved it). We had two homes. The first was in the town itself, and was a flat in a building over 90 years old, obviously witnessing various world wars. I'm no architect nor do I know the various terms they use, but it has a gothic look I guess (red brick facade), and while it looks 'old', the interior has been refurbished repeatedly over the decades and is very well-maintained. The second was outside of the town, smaller and just over 30 years old, a baby by that country's building-lifespan standard. It too was well-maintained, with modern amenities.

We moved back to Singapore for me to take up a position in one of the universities here. We bought a flat in District 10, near Holland Village, one of our childhood haunts, and thought we could sink our roots here for the next decade or two. The condominium was built in 1989 making it about 15 years old, an ovary by European building-lifespan standards. We renovated the place which took a year (when we were still overseas).

Exactly 6 mths after we moved 'back home', we received news of the enbloc.

They were going to tear down the entire estate (if it sold), and rebuild a new one. One that can house more people, or to be more realistic, make more money for the developers.

Why do this? Developers and the government call this 'urban renewal'. But it points to the first of a number of (urban) myths about Singapore.

MYTH #1:

For years, it has been drummed into Singaporeans by the government, that we have no natural resources. Our human resources are our greatest asset, which is why the heavy expenditure on defence (to protect the citizens from attacks from unknown sources) and education (to protect the citizens from attacks from unknown sources). The people are the most valuable resource in Singapore.

Not true.

Land is the greatest resource.

People? Repopulating Singapore is a matter of either encouraging its citizenry to become baby producing families (done that), or opening the gates for (suitably qualified) foreigners to become citizens (and become baby producing families). Sure our educated classes are not producing the number of babies the government wants (note this applies only to the educated folks), but there's an ambitious drive to recruit foreigners into the country and get them to settle down here.

Land? That's tougher. We can only reclaim so much land and at specific areas of Singapore. Hell will break loose if those estate owners near the coast with their prized seaview suddenly find themselves removed further from the coastline.

And we can't jolly well invade and annex Johore.

LAND more than humans are our greatest asset. And it is this, and its subsequent 'land value', that is the driving impetus for the recent 'en-bloc fever', as developers fight over each other to snap up 'prime land'. Specifically, these are land in District 9, 10, 11 which are near the shopping belt, the consumer heart that is called Orchard Road. Everything real estate around Orchard Road have shot up in land value, and the stellar increase in land prices has trickled down to areas like ours at Holland V, about 5 minutes driving from Orchard.

Which is why people are willing to sell their grandmothers, or at least evict er I mean relocate them, so that they can buy/sell their prized real estate. Doing so can net you the prestige of being called an "overnight millionaire" from dealing with the bullish property market.

So the next time you hear the diatribe about our people being our greatest asset, think about whether selling your grannie is more profitable, or selling your home (especially collectively).

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