12 May 2008

Stop demolishing, start integrating

Tan Mingjuan calls for a rethink of urban planning policies in Singapore. What kind of city do we - and the new talent we hope to attract - want to live in? Guest essay.


Saint Splattergut said...

Well said, Miss Tan.

P.S. I've always loved the old buildings... always felt that it is sad that I have so little an idea of the kind of world my parents grew up in.

Zhiping said...

This post resonates with me. However, rather than placing the emphasis with preserving the old as a way to attract tourists/expatriates, I myself would place the emphasis on the meaning our physical surroundings will give us Singaporeans. There is no better way to breed rootedness, to breed belonging, to breed loyalty as familiarity and a sense of stability in one's immediate physical landscape. We must also not forget the build-and-tear-down-within-10-years sort of mentality also alienates the older generation, as well as those absent from home for extended periods of time.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I fail to see Bugis Junction as what the writer calls a 'win-win situation'. Aside from a facade, what that remains of it would come across as authentic?

Bugis Junction, like Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and soon, Collyer Quay too, has disneyfied the city centre into a place where everything is a copy of something else... even if it really IS the real thing.

It is then all the more ludicrous that the folks at MDA think its a great idea to set up a Google-Earth-meets-Second-Life site to give visitors a virtual experience of Singapore.

Ahem...is there a need to actually come to Singapore after that?

Anonymous said...

Hi Miss Tan, FYI the bugis junction shophouses are not the orginal shophouses too!! Jus like the Raffles Hotel whereby 70% of it are not original but replica. Perhaps the "old" buildings we know are not that authentic after all, but that also depends on how you define authenticity lah.

Sadly, I do agree that sg is giving up many gems for economy.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

anonymous, 16 May 11:22 -

The facade of the shophouses within Bugis Junction are original as are most of the sturctural columns. However you're right in that most of the original interior and party walls were demolished.

This gave rise a hue and cry even then, and I recall a debate as to how much of an old building ought to be kept in a restoration exercise.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for pointing out that preserving buildings should not be only for tourists, Zhiping. I've been away for 7 years and every time I visit home, something is different. My school, which was a perfectly fine building has been demolished, the bus depot, even my neighbourhood. If I ever have children, I wont be able to show them my primary and secondary school, the large field where outdoor camps where held. Its not like im 50, Im only 26! Whats there to see with everything being developed to death?

Anonymous said...

Bugis has lost it's charms of old. It's now just another mall.

Just like our china town, it has been over sanitised and has lost most of its characters. Kuala Lumpur chinatown has more charms.

Now I hope they won't do a "chinatown' to our vibrant,rusic litlle India.

Lets have more city planners who can feel the pulse of a place rather than those who are just theorists.

Mingjuan said...

Thanks for all the comments.

1) Zhiping: I agree with you that meaning is equally, if not more, significant than economic value. I also concur that this isn't something than our urban planners necessarily understand (that's why public discussion is crucial; it highlights this issue). But I doubt that sentiment bears much official weight as reason to retain our old architecture. My point is that, apart from sentimental and historical value, it is actually in Singapore's largely economically-oriented interests to preserve our old buildings - and we all know how important pragmatism is in our beloved city-state.

2) Anonymous [16 May, 2008]: Exactly; the issue of how much to retain, and what exactly 'authenticity' is, is highly debatable. Again, public discussion is needed here. Realistically speaking, however, there is unfortunately a limit (government-imposed or otherwise) as to what extent we can retain our old architecture. I've merely attempted to propose an alternative solution to the worst-case scenario: better to modify something extensively, I think, than to bulldoze it entirely and construct a new concrete building in its place.

3) As for Chinatown, I can't agree more that it has become a tacky parody of its former self. The ideal situation would be to leave places like Little India be. I'm certainly not advocating the transformation of all these areas into sanitised Tourist Attractions! However, I disagree that Bugis has 'lost its charms of old'; I think the area has kept much of its vibrancy. But that of course is open to contention, and brings the issue back to point 2).

Zhiping said...

Thanks Mingjuan for your reply. I completely agree with you that the notion of 'sentiment' probably won't work in Singapore where most policies have to be couched in economic terms. Perhaps we should delve deeper into this and think why, as a country and not a corporation, should we be run purely according to economic merit first and with sentiment/less concrete advantages as a sideline? Shouldn't national identity/belonging be something to strive for in itself rather than something to maintain in order for social stability so that the economy can thrive (we should be seeing it as a sense of national belonging being able to lead to economic growth rather than continued economic growth necessitating a sense of national belonging!)? Perhaps we're thinking about everything the wrong way round!

Singapourien said...

I found it heart-wrenching when I was back in Singapore a month ago to witness so many changes - I felt alienated. What struck me most was the lack of appreciation of the past. It seems that buildings from the past are disappearing – the National Theatre is long gone and not too long ago the National Library; now even Scotts Shopping Centre with the first air-conditioned food court, and the walk-up apartments opposite Katong Shopping Centre are gone.

If this continues, we shall have only very old buildings from our colonial days and very new ones of the recent past, with nothing representative in between.

Old buildings are our physical links to the past; they are icons of our heritage - they evoke memories and emotions. My concern is how are we going to cultivate and maintain a sense of belonging without such markers? How do we do it when there is no continuum between the present and the past?

I wonder what is going to happen to Little India, Tiong Bahru and Geylang. And when it comes to conservation, doesn’t it apply also to the people and their way of life as well? Remove the people and their trades and one will end up redefining the character and integrity of the place.

Shouldn’t there be more support for things local and unique? Shouldn’t things local and unique be non-negotiable and be of greater priority? Economic growth is important, but equally important is the well-being of the people. Yes, build new things, but do preserve the old. Progress and growth are beneficial only when done in a manner with greater respect and sensitivity for our heritage.