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Theming Cities, Taming Places: Insights from Singapore

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This paper explores the ‘thematic development’ of Singapore's Little Historic District and the socio-spatial effects of this thematic enhancement scheme. Specifically, I argue that when landscapes are ‘themed’, which is often the case in urban tourism planning, places will be ‘tamed’ as a result. This argument is substantiated by the case of Singapore's Little India which was designated a historic district in 1989. I contend that as Little India is redeveloped as an Indian theme district with a mix of modern and traditional activities, it is tamed in three ways. The taming process is exemplified by: (1) a decline in traditional Indian-owned retail outlets and activities; (2) Little India's conversion into a retail attraction rather a place of residence; and (3) a dimming of its rich Indian cultural identity. The taming of activities, community and identity, I shall show, has also generated vociferous reactions from the grass-roots which can be described as anything but tame. Indeed, as gross-roots agencies (comprising merchants and residents) resist the government's development approach, there has been a fundamental rethinking of what Little India means to its people and a re-evaluation of their communal ties to the place. As a result, a reassertion of Indian identity and community occurs even as Little India is being themed and tamed.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, National University of Singapore

Publication date: April 1, 2000


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