In 2013, Singapore witnessed a calamitous night of riots in the public spaces of Little India, a pedestrianized alley close to downtown. The usual order and safety of the public realm of this ethnic enclave was shaken terribly as hundreds of male South Asian migrant workers took to the streets drunk and violent. The mob reaction to a fatal bus accident involving a Tamil worker resulted in the destruction and chaos of streets, sidewalks, bus stops, and five footways. Furthermore, the incident has since resulted in a rising anti-foreigner sentiment among local residents; this has become most pronounced in public spaces in the city. Low-skilled migrant workers entering on work permits can now easily be identified with certain public spaces around Singapore as they become largely isolated to certain parts of the city on their rest day. As a result, the issue of inequity, particularly for migrants, in Singapore’s public spaces has come to light, begging the question: ‘Are public spaces in Singapore really democratic?’ This in-depth observational study and analysis of the use of public spaces by migrant workers under Singapore’s unique autocratic governance structure brings an entirely new perspective to the area of study. It hopes to better inform future planning and design processes of public spaces in Singapore, creating a more democratic public realm for the ever-growing population of migrants in the city. 

Making Space for Democracy

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