It is commonplace to live and have fun in the city without breaking the bank. Singapore gained independence in 1965, when it was mostly low-rise with shop houses and kampongs (villages) where homes had tin and thatch roofs. A government drive led to the creation of the Housing Development Board, which replaced kampongs throughout the island with high-density towers known as H.D.B.s, no-frills blocks where four-fifths of the country’s 5.6 million residents today live. With a strategic location in Asia and a history of receiving migrants from Southeast Asia, China, India and Europe, Singapore gradually prospered, the greatest leap occurring in the last two decades, when it shifted from an industrial to financial capital and reworked its agenda to attract the rich through lifestyles. “Motor-racing and luxurious living became promoted systematically as part of the landscape, epitomized by the iconic Marina Bay Sands ,” said Dr. Liew Kai Khiun, an assistant professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University. Today, immense wealth exists in pockets but given the country’s Lilliputian size (smaller than New York City), it seems to inhabit everyday life, visible in the Ferraris that I see rumble around the roads daily, the marquee condominium complexes (one, Reignwood Hamilton Scotts, has an elevator for vehicles so residents can park their exotic sports cars in their living rooms) and the marinas. But these snapshots are not the norms. “The perception of Singapore as the playground of the rich has caused some uneasiness and tension,” noted Dr. Liew.
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