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Singapore, a city of layers built by multiple generations: PM Lee

19 Aug, 2019

Hundreds of years ago, an ancient earth wall, a defensive line, used to stand where Stamford Road now runs, from Fort Canning all the way to the Padang. Alongside the wall was a stream that became the Stamford Canal of today.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cited these faint traces of ancient Singapore to show that the country today comprises multiple layers and imprints of different eras, with each generation building on the work of their predecessors.

The Greater Southern Waterfront, comprising 30km of coastline from Gardens by the Bay East to Pasir Panjang, will add yet more layers to the city, he said, as he pledged to pass on a better Singapore to future generations.

In a National Day Rally speech yesterday delving deep into history in Singapore's bicentennial year, PM Lee recounted how the different communities here had come from different lands over centuries, bringing with them their identities, cultures and beliefs, and their hopes, passions and aspirations.

Touching on the topic first in his Malay speech and later in his Chinese and English speeches, he said 1819 was a turning point in Singapore's history.

After Sir Stamford Raffles arrived that year to establish a free port here, immigrants from South-east Asia, India and China followed to seek their fortunes here, he added.

The Malays, for instance, came in large numbers from around the region while Arabs came from Yemen and others arrived from India. He said their cultural and historical ties had helped to foster understanding with neighbouring countries, while their influence on society helped shape Singapore's national identity as a multiracial country.

In the process, he added, Malays have developed their own unique identity. The story is similar for the Chinese, Indians and Eurasians, who had come here as sojourners but eventually sank roots and developed their own distinct identities, he said.

"Slowly, we wove these strands together to become Singaporeans and to build today's Singapore," he added. "And the layout and the architecture of our city reflect this richness and complexity."

For instance, parts of the civic and central business districts are laid out in line with the first town plan drawn up some 200 years ago. Noting that many colonial buildings from that time have been restored and re-purposed, PM Lee said it is through this process of building and rebuilding that each new generation will leave their mark on Singapore as their predecessors have done.

The new downtown in Marina Bay, for instance, has created a distinctive city skyline, while Jewel at Changi Airport has given Singapore a new gateway to the world. "What we talk about, this Government, we will deliver," he said to applause.

Meanwhile, he added, the planned move of Tanjong Pagar port to Tuas will once again provide a "blank slate" for a new generation to build part of their vision for Singapore.

He listed other major projects unveiled at National Day Rallies over the years, which he said were progressively taking shape but "will not be done in a decade, or even in one generation".

These include the Punggol Digital District, Jurong Lake District, Changi Terminal 5, redevelopment of Paya Lebar Air Base, Tuas Port and the Greater Southern Waterfront. "There will be space for successive generations to fill with their hopes and dreams," he said.

Tracing some of the key developments across 200 years in all three of his speeches, PM Lee also noted that many have marked the Bicentennial in their own ways. These events include the Eurasian Festival to mark 100 years of the Eurasian Association, events in heartland areas like Jalan Kayu, the National Day Parade and The Bicentennial Experience show at Fort Canning.

The exhibition, originally slated to close after the September school holidays, will be extended to the end of the year, PM Lee said.

"All these activities help us trace our long history and appreciate the broader context that has shaped and created modern Singapore."

Wrapping up his speech, PM Lee said that Singapore's progress depends on Singaporeans remaining united and having an honest and capable government "working together with you, for you, for Singapore". "The next few years will be demanding. We have to hand over smoothly to a new generation of leaders and continue to strive to realise our ambitions," he added.

Calling on Singaporeans to work together with his team, he said: "My team will work with you to build this jewel of a nation, so that Singapore will always be a vibrant, thriving city where opportunities are open to all, and our children and their children will have a bright future. Let us strive together to create this future. Let us unite as one nation to build tomorrow's Singapore."

Adapted From The Straits Times, August 19 2019