People enjoy the decorations with Christmas lights at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore in December. (Photo by Jetjaras Na Ranong)

Singapore, which has tried to shed its straitlaced image in the past decade or so through the hosting of the Formula 1 Grand Prix and building of the integrated resorts, for example, has been ranked one of the least exciting cities in the world, according to an online survey by an international travel magazine.

The country came in second last — ahead of Istanbul — out of 32 cities in the Time Out City Life Index, which quizzed 15,000 people living in these places on criteria such as food, drink, culture, friendliness, affordability, happiness and liveability, TODAY reported.

The online survey was conducted by Time Out in collaboration with Tapestry Research over December last year and January, and involved respondents aged 18 years old and above. Among other things, respondents were asked how they feel about their neighbourhood, how many hours they work, when was the last time they went to a restaurant, and whether they enjoyed living in their cities.

Chicago topped the ranking, followed by Porto and New York City. American and European cities dominated the top 10 spots, with Tel Aviv and Shanghai coming in 12th and 16th, respectively — the highest places among Asian cities.

Elsewhere in the region, Tokyo was ranked 19th while Beijing, Bangkok and Hong Kong were in the 22nd, 24th, and 26th spots respectively. Singapore was some distance away, at 31st position.

Singapore was ranked 14 out of 18 cities in the previous edition of the index published in 2016.

“The city-state of Singapore was the worst rated city we surveyed for culture, and the worst for drinking apart from Dubai,” said the survey, which polled 235 residents in Singapore. Among the respondents from Singapore, 66% said they enjoy living in the country — a lower proportion compared to Tokyo (89%) and Hong Kong (78%).

The main bugbears of respondents living here include a “lack of kindness and politeness” and overcrowding, with about one in five saying these were the biggest issues facing the city. A lack of social integration (10%) and insufficient support for the elderly (9%) were the other issues cited. On a daily basis, 55% said they feel stressed, 43% lonely and 35% sleep-deprived.

“Singaporeans love to complain, therefore, it’s no surprise that we’re supercritical of our home city and what it has to offer,” Time Out Singapore said in an article on the survey findings.

Nevertheless, Singapore scored well for safety and public transport, and had a “much buzzier restaurant scene” than other cities ranked towards the bottom of the ranking.

Asked about Singapore’s low ranking, Tim Webb, managing director of Time Out Asia, told TODAY that he moved to Singapore last year, and his family “loves living here”.

He said: “Residents rate Singapore very highly in our survey for some key qualities a city can have. Our survey proves that they love the city’s restaurant scene — this is something so many tourists come here for and makes locals go out dining very often… At the same time, Singaporeans lead hugely healthy lives; our survey found that they exercise much more than the global average.”

Methodology questioned

Culture and tourism experts here said it was not surprising that Singapore may not fare too well on culture or nightlife. However, they felt that more clarity is needed on the survey’s methodology.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic tourism lecturer Michael Chiam said: “For culture, if they are referring to heritage and history, I think (Singapore) may have neglected it until recent years… Many of the American cities have a longer history and their residents are proud of it. In Singapore, not so much, perhaps also because it is not really emphasised in schools.”

Chiam added: “But I would say we are a lot better now than one or two decades ago. Ultimately, I think cultural vibrancy must come from the private sphere or as bottom-up initiatives.”

Alvin Tan, the artistic director of The Necessary Stage, felt that Singapore’s artistic and cultural scene are often restrained by rules and regulations. “We can’t reach our potential and be a more exciting place in the world. For example… there is no arms-length funding for autonomous works,” he said.

Still, Tan wondered if the respondents were representative of Singapore’s demographics. “I won’t take it very seriously… As a native, I don’t think we would fare that low,” he said.

In response to TODAY’s queries on the survey, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) noted that the Republic welcomed 15.9 million visitors from January to November last year, many of whom were repeat visitors.

Oliver Chong, STB’s executive director for communications and marketing capability, said: “We believe this is a testament of what Singapore has to offer, from the best bar in Asia to the world’s most affordable Michelin-starred eatery, to world-class attractions and culturally-rich precincts, just to name a few exciting highlights.”

In June last year, the Manhattan bar at the Regent Singapore topped the second annual ranking of Asia’s 50 Best Bars.

Speaking to TODAY, residents who had lived in various cities outside Singapore felt the Republic deserved a better ranking. However, they agreed that it was tougher to get their tipple here, given that Singapore has high taxes on alcohol. 

According to travel portal GoEuro’s latest Beer Price Index in 2016, the average price for a bottle of beer here is US$5.75 (180 baht), compared to $3.64 in Los Angeles and $4.05 in Beijing.

“Drinking is definitely tougher here because of how expensive it is, and food in general — if not at a hawker centre — is quite pricey,” said Joanne Cheung, who moved here in November from New York City.

But hawker centres are “a good way to experience Singapore’s culture”, said the 27-year-old media professional. “And I think Singapore is an expatriate haven… So you definitely get a taste not only of different Asian cultures, with Singapore being a travel hub, but also international cultures,” she said.

Arleen Triolo, 27, who has been living here for a year after moving from Aberdeen, the United Kingdom, said the expensive drinks here are “a shame”, but the high prices guard against a “binge drinking culture” prevalent in other cities.

“There are still many cool places to go out for a drink… Many bars also have uniquely designed interiors,” she said. “Singapore also has a great art and culture scene and puts on a lot of events, from gigs to art weeks, theatre to ballet.”

She added that Singaporeans are “on the whole friendly once you get to know them”. “Like in any big city there is a glaze that people put on with strangers but my Singaporean friends are amazing, interesting, highly-educated and loyal,” she said.

News Reporter

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