An article by Vaidehi Shah,

Housing, migrant labour and ethnic diversity were some key issues raised during a recent lecture held in Singapore on whether the city-state could manage to be both a globally competitive, and a socially just city. However, the role of sustainability as essential to achieving this balance between competitiveness and justice was conspicuously absent from the discussion, despite the fact that practices such as energy efficiency, resource conservation and urban greenery help cities achieve their economic and social objectives.

Ignoring sustainability in a conversation about urban planning is a missed opportunity for developing truly holistic and workable solutions to help cities balance economic growth with social inclusiveness.

It is also worrying that such high-level, influential discussions on inclusive urban growth see sustainability as tangential to the equation, when it is in fact, at the core of the issue.

Competitive and just? Or just competitive?

The talk, held on Thursday by the Centre for Liveable Cities, on “Singapore’s dilemma as a city state: Global City or Just City” was delivered by Professor Susan Fainstein, of the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Professor Norman Fainstein of the Connecticut College in the United States.

Professor Susan Fainstein explained to the 200-strong audience her theory of ‘a just city’, which identifies democracy, diversity and equity as the three essential characteristics of a city that ensures justice for all residents, especially low-income groups. She pointed out that the lack of diversity of opinions in the public sphere, and the inequality experienced by groups such as migrant labourers were some of the barriers to Singapore being a just city.

The concept of the ‘just city’ was presented as a remedy to the ills of neoliberal capitalism, which is the political and economic system where growth is a top priority and it is assumed that free market processes will ensure social, political and economic stability.

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