Our philosophy series, the Socrates Exchange returns with the question “What is progress”. Centuries of development have allowed us to live longer and advance in ways we never could have imagined, but with over population, depleted resources, and nuclear weapons, some say we’ve progressed too far. Does progress have an ending point? Is too much progress a bad thing? Can one person’s progress harm the progress of another? Can progress in science, technology and human rights harm progress in religion and morality
More lately, I have been looking at what we determine as signs of progress. This started off as a visual interest in traffic warning signs around construction sites in Singapore, together with artifacts that make up these sites. For me, these signs contribute to an atmosphere of anxiety. And effectively so, I suppose. The colour and repetition of the orange signs, in particular, work to warn and alert. Together with the text inscribed on it - CAUTION, WORKS ACCESS, WORKS AHEAD etc., they convey a necessary message to the surrounding public. Although directly referencing possible dangers around a site, it is infact forewarning a development. In other words, the signs forewarn what might be acknowledged as a positive advancement in terms of new infrastructure. I began thinking about the situations that these signs indirectly reference. So far, this is the following list that I have come up with (and hope to add to):
In a city like Singapore where a stable and progressing economy is signaled by growth in a built environment, I am particularly taken by how these words singularly tend towards a positive addition to a space. More importantly, what interests me is how this ‘positive’ growth can often contrast with the ill effects it has on the quality of life surrounding the site while in the process of its emergence. I no doubt believe that in terms of urban planning, some of these developments are wonderful and should be welcomed with foresight. I also understand that in comparison to a lot of other cities, Singapore enjoys a relatively fast and effective commencement and completion of construction projects, and this is great for any country. For example, I learnt from Neil Humphreys’ latest book Return to a Sexy Island: Notes from a New Singapore some important statistic that I thought to quote. Apparently, Sentosa Island (located south of Singapore’s mainland) had just taken 34 months to develop Resorts World, a huge tourist draw for the little island.
… Resorts World Sentosa had to knocked up several themed hotels, including Crockfords Tower, Hard Rock Hotel Singapore, the Festive Hotel and Hotel Michael; dig a couple of lakes; add some state-of-the-art productions and animatronics shows and build a galleria with more than 20 high-end boutiques and fashion labels. Oh and throw up Universal Studios Singapore, too, if they could possibly spare the time.
Resorts World broke ground on its Sentosa site on 16 April 2007. Resorts World Sentosa celebrated its soft opening on 20 January 2010, just 34 months later. Whatever one’s thoughts are on gaming, such productivity throughout a global economic downtown is bewildering.
I actually really liked the old Sentosa. I don’t ‘dislike’ the new Sentosa. I try to be balanced with my views and so I can see how Resorts World has been a major transformation in reviving the island with a wealthier crowd and having well-equipped venues to hold big name exhibitions and events. What I miss though is being able to wander around the island on foot without feeling underdressed, feeling a fluidity of movement as I navigate around weathered sites of attraction, knowing that I’m away from the endless tall and large buildings of the mainland and can finally seek the thrill of actually being on an island.
I wonder that with our emphasis on infrastructural growth, perhaps we have neglected to see how equal importance should be placed on identifying and maintaining sites of heritage and nature. My question then, is something that I have been asking and which I think is something we all have to at some point ask ourselves regarding development: What is progress?
As a follow-on from my observatory abstract paint works involving select portions of current construction sites, I am keen to look at the creation of functional street signs that explore and question what we as a society determine as signs of progress.
 Neil Humphreys, Return to a Sexy Island: Notes from a New Singapore, (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2012), p.114.
Thoughts about things.