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Urbanising islands
A critical history of Singapore’s offshore islands
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While Singapore is often considered an island city in the singular sense, the nation-state actually consists of 63 islands, with Singapore being by far the largest. Other than Pulau Ubin and Serangoon (Coney) Island, most of the islands lie off of Singapore’s southern coast. This includes Singapore’s Southern Islands group, comprising of eight islands off the Southern Coast of Singapore and the Western Islands group, consisting of seven islands off the Southwestern coast, which are grouped together for planning purposes by the nation’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). While most of these islands traditionally had thriving communities of orang asli (indigenous) communities, all have since been displaced over time dating back to the 1970s as the islands were developed to service Singapore’s needs. Some of the islands have also undergone considerable transformation (through reclamation) to better serve their new purposes. After Singapore was kicked out of the new Malaysian nation-state in 1965, it became a city-state without a periphery to service the core. While this was later addressed through the development of regional growth triangles in the 1990s, an earlier strategy was the repurposing of Singapore’s offshore islands to serve particular functions from landfilling (Pulau Semakau) to oil refinery (Pulau Brani), shipping (Keppel Island) and leisure/tourism (Pulau Ubin, Serangoon Island, Sentosa). This chapter will provide a brief history of these islands, drawing on specific examples which serve to illustrate how Singapore’s offshore islands have been developed over time to service Singapore’s economy, handle its wastes, and provide ‘rural’ leisure spaces for its residents to escape the dense urban fabric. It also notes how the functions of some of these islands have changed over time, in response to changing needs of the urban core. In doing so, the chapter contributes to the volume’s objective of examining how spaces on the urban periphery are deeply bound up with processes of urbanisation, given their important role in processes of urban metabolism.

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