Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the Best

Land Use Plan Microsite

Two substantial documents are now in public domain: the Population White Paper and MND’s Land Use Plan.  They will be tabled in Parliament for debate next week.

Many pages, many statistics, but they are not about numbers, about quantity.   In fact they are all about quality.  In the next phase of our development, we are striving for quality: quality living environment, quality education, quality work-life, quality growth, quality society.  We are maturing as a people and as a society.  Having met basic needs, our people are rightly yearning for a better quality of life: a more meaningful life, a better work-life balance, a smarter working life with quality time for family, leisure, friends, arts and sports.

Photo credit: HDB

Our parents and my generation slogged hard because we were poor and we wanted a better life for our children.  Our work-life balance was totally lopsided.  We were prepared to make the sacrifice so that our children can have a better life than ours.

That is why we plan long term, anticipate future challenges and try to address them early.  That is why we put out these two reports, because we know our demographic challenges are severe.  If they are not dealt with properly, our children will suffer.  We cannot simply pretend they do not exist.  We cannot ignore them and pass the problem to the future generation for them to deal with.  That will be irresponsible, and that is not our style.

But solutions do require long lead time to implement.  For example, an MRT line takes more than 10 years to build.

We all know that we must build infrastructure ahead of demand.  To be able to do so, we need some planning assumption.  A key assumption in any long term plan is the projected population size.  Are you planning for 5 million, 6 million, or what?

Actually, we cannot be sure.  So many things can happen between now and 2030.  But we still need to plan, and invest.

Photo credit: LTA & NParks

The White Paper offers the basis for one such projection.  It is not a forecast or a target.  It simply states the assumptions going forward, based on certain set of productivity and workforce growth rates.  For planning purpose, it is safer to take the more aggressive projection and plan infrastructure needs based on it.  This way we will not be caught under-providing, as we are experiencing currently.

The projected 6.9 million figure by 2030 should be read in this light.  It is the worst case scenario.  We hope we do not reach that figure; we may never reach that figure.  But as planners, we have to ensure that the infrastructure could accommodate such a figure, if need be.  Our hope is that the actual figure would turn out to be much lower.

This is following the time-tested survival mantra: prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.  It is the only responsible thing to do.

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