Singapore Chinatown

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Singapore's Chinatown is an ethnic neighbourhood featuring distinctly Chinese cultural elements and a historically concentrated ethnic Chinese population. Chinatown is located within the larger district of Outram. As the largest ethnic group in Singapore is Chinese, composing approximately 75% of the population, Chinatown is considerably less of an enclave than it once was. However, the district does retain some significant historical and cultural significance. Large sections of it have been declared as national heritage sites officially designated for conservation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

The rationale for the proposals by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) STB has proposed a plan to revitalize and enhance the future of Chinatown, with a budget of SGD 97.5 million. Firstly, the Village Theatre will be created as a major one-stop focal point to concentrate activities and to draw attention from people like new residents, tourists, street hawkers and other locals. It will be an integrated complex that houses a traditional theatre, a Chinese temple, a teahouse, retail outlets and restaurants. Inside the Village Theatre, people can learn more about Chinese culture, such as food and drinks, wushu (including taiji), traditional remedies, poetry reading, Chinese opera, traditional Chinese music, calligraphy, etc. The Chinatown Interpretative Centre will also be built to act as a cultural resource centre to provide interactive displays and live presentations. STB will then give each street a theme to develop their own unique character, and certain trade and activities carried out on these streets will aid to strengthen the development of the theme. Also, five Elemental Gardens which comprises of five important elements in Chinese culture will soften the hard edges of Chinatown and serve as resting stops besides being mere attraction. Furthermore, Chinatown will also be divided by three regions – Historic Districts, Greater Town, and Hilltown. They will all be color-coded, have different style of signs and street furniture that represents different symbols and the unique character of each district, presented in a distinctive yet unified style. Lastly, greening has been proposed to soften the hard lines of density in Chinatown.

There are implicit rationales behind STB’s proposal to revitalize Chinatown. Shopkeepers have noted a marked decline in sales as residents have moved to the peripheral areas of Chinatown, which resulted in a lack of shopping traffic. STB feels that the reason for this is that Chinatown has a lack of prominent major trades, and hence will focus more of this aspect. A 1984 analysis of the 3.5% decline in tourist arrivals (during 1983) showed that Singapore had lost its “oriental mystique symbolized in old buildings, traditional activities and bustling road activities”, and hence Singapore began a massive overhaul under Tourism 21. Tourism 21: Vision of a Tourism Capital intends to have “a unifying character for existing products”, and this is backed by several models around the world such as Times Square and SoHo in New York, Covent Garden in London, and Montmartre in Paris. Chinatown has potential to have a united character, which promises more tourists and encourages increased expenditure. Should Chinatown succeed in becoming a centre of attraction, shopkeepers targeting up-market niche like tourists can be saved from economic difficulties. It has been argued that Chinatown has lost much of its validity and essence, which is why locals and tourists, over the years, have called for action to address the decline of Chinatown. Hence, the urge for STB to revitalize Chinatown is strong. Another justification is that people feel nostalgia for days when Chinatown bustling and lively, and STB attempts to bring that back to Chinatown by having a focal point, making it a one-stop place for all, and allow Chinatown to be a testimony of the never-say-die spirit of the Chinese migrants who...
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