Diversity: Let lower-income earners stay in districts 9 and 10

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

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In theory, most Singapore children are supposed to grow up with other Singapore children in our schools and then, if they are males, mix around further with boys from diverse backgrounds in National Service –  and somehow end up as products of Jack Neo movies ready to fight for country, family and friends. And not bothered about which school you come from or how you speak.

Whoa, not that straightforward, as we are finding out. We do not even mix around that much. Why?

We want to be different. Start with the fact that it’s our parents who force us to be different. Young Singaporeans have born with names like Davidus, Tiff or Helmsley. And they have been living in condos which pamper to such snobbery. Hence, Singaporeans will pay a lot for places with such names as Elmsdale, Loft and Cove.

They are enticed by property advertising that tells them clearly and blatantly what they love to hear: “Exclusivity IS everything”.

We have been encouraging all this snobbery almost 24/7. I saw this ad on a bus.

The Housing Board has also been promoting all this, with its HUDC middle-class housing and also giving pseudo-classy names to its normal precincts –  Toa Payoh Palm Springs, Tampines Gardens etc (these are unverified names which come out of my head because I do not want to embarrass the residents staying at places with similar sounding names).

While we have been pushing this strange agenda, we never had the political courage to do the right thing and have been dumbing down many parents/residents by never seriously encouraging them to pick up English – which is the real language of progress and real equaliser in the school and workplace. This neglect which has now been cruelly transferred to their children has put the subsequent generations at a massive disadvantage.

Time to take the following out-of-the-box major steps towards promoting real diversity.

Stop pampering to Pinkerton Syndrome snobbery. No special ang moh names for precincts which very few people can even remember in the first place. Asian or local names are better equalisers. Nothing wrong with Yim Kin Court, if we have to strive for identity. Or Ismail Garden or Fernandez Place.

If we are genuinely concerned about diversity, extend this policy to private property.

Reserve more plots in the better districts for HDB development. Mix everything up a bit, disrupt the cosy setup. Let others less affluent have the chance to stay in the more attractive places.

Making such moves now and then has the effect of shaking things up so that future generations can start all over again – and again – and again. It offers hope for future generations so that their aspirations will not forever be denied. Society should not be so stultified, that we have a situation where only the rich have the privilege to reside in districts 9, 10 or 11.

Outside property, private social clubs should not allowed to be too exclusive. Perhaps 10 per cent should be reserved for members who will pay a much lower membership price. More diversity, better mix. It is not just the price factor. It is the social message that the community will not encourage exclusivity.

More grassroots events should be held at 5-star hotels. This gives more Singaporeans the chance for residents to enjoy such facilities in their own country instead of always seeing foreigners at such establishments or having to fly to other countries to stay in them.

Finally, scrap all the different language TV channels. It has been two or three generations already. Time to be conversant in English, so that no Singaporean will be left behind. If not now, when.

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.