Our landscape is being changed by the sharing economy

In the early days when Singapore was under new PAP management, the leadership was very, very concerned with how the city looked like. It is for this reason that the roads towards Changi Airport are lined with flowers and palms, our entire city is filled with trees and why we do not have overhead electric cables, even though it costs so much more to bury them underground.

Even the ports at Keppel have been moved to Tuas because the line of queueing ships spoil the beach view at East Coast Park and contribute to water pollution.

When the SMRT was in its early planning stage, Lee Kuan Yew objected to too many overhead railway tracks. In his view, these tracks make a country look backward. It was not until that designs were sketched up was he convinced that these rails can look very good in a city also.

Mr. Lee was obsessed with design, liveability and aesthetics. The waterways were cleaned up and our Marina Bay waterfront was meticulously architected to showcase the beauty that is Singapore.

We cannot look like a third-rate, third-world country.

So when the sharing economy comes up and changes our landscape, I frequently wonder how and if we would still pay close attention to how these technologies change the behaviour and consequently, the environment of our city.

Take bike sharing for example. These bicycles have been spread so far and wide, they are now an infestation. You’ll find them at the weirdest places. I’ve seen some on expressway dividers (TPE to KPE, Lor. Halus exit for example. Been there for months). It ruins our landscape and worse, makes us look like we’re not in control of our transport policies.

It is the same with the proliferation of electric mobility; bikes, scooters and all varieties of strange devices. Together with the increased use of food delivery services, these transportation machines are used everywhere.

The speeds they travel at are too fast for pedestrian comfort and too slow for motorists. Their numbers have increased so much that not having dedicated paths make us appear as if we could not adapt to these machines.

The whole sharing economy changes the movement of people. I’m not talking about AirBnB, it goes much further. People can share kitchens, umbrellas, sofas, computers…gosh, they can share just about anything there is to share and computer programers will throw out these applications faster than you can spell “venture capitalist”.

All this will cause human traffic to move into private apartments, HDBs, gyms, playgrounds. Healthy trade will mingle with unhealthy trade: you have massage therapists, prostitutes and other questionable characters moving in and out of private spaces. In recent times, the government had a whale of a time trying to clean up the sex trade that has moved into HDBs.

Even car sharing and private hire vehicles, such as Grab and Uber has changed the way we organise our taxi stands and pick-up points. Taxis need to comply with strict regulations on where they can pick up passengers and where they can alight them. Private hires don’t and in so doing, it changes the vehicular landscape.

Of course, it is not good to restrict these technologies either. If that’s the way civilisation is going, you won’t be able to stop it. However, it does mean that governments now have more work to do, they have to find new ways to organise, license and enforce this sharing economy.


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