Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon confesses: he has been to Singapore, and he liked it. The Curmudgeon thinks that Hizzoner, aka DuDu, Lord Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, must have been there too, and liked it. Hizzoner’s decided to try to make Rio over, into a form of Singapore. And the Curmudgeon likes that, except for one small detail.
There are multiple similarities. Singapore is a densely populated city-state, even as Rio de Janeiro is a densely populated city formerly a state (Guanabara). Singapore has been ranked as the greenest city in Asia, and Rio is certainly green.
Singapore is situated on the water, with a bustling port and an oceanarium and a nature reserve and parks and gardens. Rio is situated on the water, once thought of as only good for surfing and sunbathing, but it’s moving towards converting its port area into cultural areas.
Singaporeans ride bicycles and Singapore has limits on how many cars can come into the town center — Hizzoner, bless his heart, wants to create pedestrian malls to the same effect.
What’s different? Let’s start with litter. There are no visible “garis” in Singapore because there is no visible litter. That’s right, you don’t see litter on city streets or sidewalks or beaches or anywhere at all except in the litter bins amply distributed around the city.
One is accustomed to equating the tropics with, shall we say, a disregard for public hygiene by most of the populace — and various places seem to merit this opprobrium. But Singapore is spic and span – imagine a tropical Zurich.
Why? Because Singapore has laws against littering and those laws are enforced by the local gendarmerie. There are cameras and there are police; between the two you will get a stiff fine for littering. Want more? You may also be denounced by fellow citizens if you don’t watch yourself — imagine a tropical Munich.
Singapore has also created decent housing for the less well off. Standardized housing blocks go up where tenements once stood — imagine Brasília.
Areas like Little India off Orchard Street and Little China off Maxwell Street used to be sumps — but you can eat off the streets now. Hizzoner is trying to do some of the same for the “communities” — it’s called “gentrification” by those who don’t like it but its goal is to create more hygienic places for people to live.
Even Brasília has figured out that Singapore is a good role model and has contracted a Singapore consulting firm to do the planning for Brasília’s next fifty years. When you think about it, it makes sense.
After all, tens of thousands of Cariocas moved to the new capital after Guanabara bit the dust. Brasília really does fifty-year plans, just as Singapore has done.
Hizzoner hasn’t done that yet, but he’s planning the bejeezus out of the next three years, because 2016 is coming and if it works, he’ll be elected President.
Summing up, the Curmudgeon applauds anti-littering and popular housing, pacifying favelas, encouraging bicycles, and removing billboards—in short, cleaning up Rio. He has even invented a polysyllabic word for this: “hygientrification” ©.
The “one small detail” mentioned very early on? Singapore is an autocratic state. One party has run it since it became a country in 1963 and what the party says gets done, gets done. That’s almost, but not quite, democracy.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)