How do we situate nature and the environment within IDEOLOGIES/REPRESENTATIONS AND PRACTICES of urban spaces we have seen? | Politics | Government

How do we situate nature and the environment within IDEOLOGIES/REPRESENTATIONS AND PRACTICES of urban spaces we have seen

? By Chen Enjiao I will mainly discuss the use and construction of nature in both China and Singapore alike as veering on representations of token gesture reflective of a top-down ideology towards their management. This characterization is, in my opinion, hardly surprising given what both countries share in terms of politics and cultural environment. Yet I admit that a mass-driven bottom-up use in China can serve as a sign of good things to come, when situated in a proper wider context. More than 15000 people gathered in a sea of pink at Singapore’s Pink Dot this year in support of freedom to love. This would not have been possible 12 years ago, not until Speaker’s Corner, an area within Hong Lim Park was made available for public activities such as demonstrations and speaking. Its use is bound by Singapore’s Parks and Trees Regulations (Cap. 216, Rg. 1, 2006 Rev. Ed.), the Public Entertainments and Meetings (Speakers' Corner) (Exemption) (No. 2) Order 2011 (S 493/2011) (issued under the PEMA) and the Public Order (Unrestricted Area), a practice that sets the boundaries of purposes that public spaces could be put to, parks included. From my perspective, the nature and the environment are mandated by men top-down with restrictions on its bottom-up use in a typical Singaporean representation, or at least such is the representation endorsed by the state. A few points to bear in mind, the use of this Speakers’ Corner requires the application of a license with Singapore’s National Parks by a Singaporean, while participants are limited to citizens and permanent residents, leaving marginalized groups such as transient workers dependent on the goodwill of natives to advocate their rights. This no doubt raises questions of agency for non-citizens whose daily interactions are affected by policies foreign to them in

the sense that they are one-way commands rather than two-way dialectical processes somehow typical to locals’ experience (even as actual degree of participation remains debatable) – the Speakers’ Corner was established due to persistent ground sentiments. Back to the concern of citizens, in my experience, the park had been largely populated with English-speaking events and crowds, a reflection of different degrees of political power structured by linguistic engagements. The eco-city is prima facie a different ideological representation of nature and its relationship with the city. Yet I continue to find the remnants of Singapore’s instrumental philosophy towards environment to be evident everywhere in the eco-city. With its endorsement of economic growth as a key objective and utilitarian use of nature as an evolving by-process, bushes are planted between roads and walkways to encourage the use of the latter. Rubbish bins are supplied in abundance but there are no effective laws against the illegal disposal of rubbish as would be in Singapore. As was communicated by the team, they had to fall back on marketing to attract people to come stay in the eco-city, admitting that demand is lower than supply at the present moment. This was a very curious point to admit to me, because typical consumer theories require organisations to supply what customers want – to meet a demand – rather than the other way round. Firms like Apple are able to create their own demand through branding and extensive marketing by appealing to people’s need for conspicuous consumption as status symbols, but this is fundamentally different from a settlement decision. I find it intriguing that there was no mention of consultation with any major environmental group/think-tank anywhere as well. That the two governments had decided they could push ahead with these supplies in a green city is no doubt once again reflective of the top-down attitude they bring to bear on the environment. A lot of gestures had been made to signify just how different this project would be – building on wasteland, planting trees before construction is completed (without supplying its practical rationale apart

from being one of symbolic gesture) – and I sincerely hope that this will be a success that can be replicated across China instead of merely serving as a token gesture. At its worst, the city could come to represent – just as the bulldozer and skyscrapers come to symbolize China’s relentless drive to modernize and “compete” with its Occidental construction of the West – China’s paying lip service to its role within an international community and citing this in their refusal to make wide-ranging reforms in industrial practices. The failure of Dongtang, an eco-city meant to be built with Chinese and British cooperation, serves as an alarming case in point. Unlike license-happy Singapore, China interesting features a vibrant and bottoms-up use of its public parks and spaces. We had seen crowds of people dancing/doing taichi in parks, in front of shopping malls, sang karaoke in open air, etc. The Central Government seems content with such recreational uses as long as they do not harbor any political content, yet such gatherings and accumulation of subsequent social capital is the very ingredient of a reawakening, with a proper jolt. Though somewhat unfortunately, most of China’s youths seem happier enjoying the fruits of capitalist consumption – spending their time along Bin Jiang Dao, at pubs and KTVs – than in the midst of nature like these old folks do. Nature as defined by parks seem to be an elderly-driven affair while nature as defined by the wild and China’s landscape can be associated with some of its youths – the famed 驴友 (sounds like “traveling” in Chinese, but literally translated as donkey friend). This is thus reflective of an age difference, and on a deeper level, the lack of support in helping the elderly gain access to greater “plots” of nature (unlike in Korea where I’ve seen more than my fair share of old people doing mountain-climbing). I should like to crudely characterize 2 typical ideologies concerning nature in modern times: One is to view them as instrumental means (Singapore, China), the other is to view them

strictly as ends in themselves (typical Environmentalists often accompanied with an antagonism towards technology). Thankfully, a third way out is possible – technology that learns from and integrates with nature rather than trying to control it (; and it is only my hope that the Tianjin eco-city will be a step in this direction rather than both countries’ walking further along the first path.

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