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Two Little Tigers: Culture and Institutions in Dublin and Singapore with Lessons for the Charter Cities Movement

Dublin and Singapore are two cities of historical interest for the charter cities movement. There are significant policy continuities between Dublin and Singapore, such as with housing, the focus of this research.

Dublin and Singapore are two cities of historical interest for the charter cities movement. Singapore is explicitly mentioned in the charter cities literature as an example of ‘excellent governance’ among planned cities and cities which have transformed from poor to wealthy in recent decades. This is largely due to its low corruption, high quality public housing and openness to investment. Dublin has, by contrast, received no attention from the charter cities movement as it is not a planned city nor a city-state. However, Ireland was a pioneering force in innovative economic governance, establishing the world’s first modern ‘free trade zone’ in Shannon in 1959 and Dublin’s International Financial Service Centre (IFSC), a special economic zone, in 1987. Just as Singapore had to survive ‘without a hinterland’, in the words of Lee Kuan Yew, so too has Ireland’s capital established itself as a significant global city through openness to the world economy.

There are significant policy continuities between Dublin and Singapore, such as with housing, the focus of this research. Both countries have historically adopted a form of socialised provision of privately owned housing.  While not perfect parallels, Dublin and Singapore are two small cities who, for want of a hinterland, have pursued policies of radical openness to the global economy, rejecting dependency theory and inviting vast inflows of foreign investment. Both were important sites of British colonialism, inhabiting – as key administrative and commercial centres – an ambiguous space between colony and metropole. Both have implemented comparable systems of asset-based welfare. Despite this, when it comes to the provision of housing there is a considerable difference in outcome between the two. Why is this, and what does it mean for the charter cities movement?

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