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Next to KPO Cafe Bar along Killiney Road is this patch of land that has become a mini bicycle parking space. It is probably an indication there there is nowhere else to park in the middle of Orchard Road. But, where do these bicycle commuters go to?

Sembawang Town Council has introduced an interesting initiative to handle door-to-door flyer advertising…

I’m not sure if it has cut down the number of flyers outside resident’s doorsteps.

On another note, it would have been even more interesting if the town council had branded this as a “Community Corner” as well to encourage residents to post interesting snippets about residential life. While most posts would still end up being advertisements, perhaps residents would be encourage to post a poem? Photos? Complaint letters?

Lucky Plaza, Far East Plaza, Far East Shopping Centre and Tanglin Shopping Centre are four shopping malls in Orchard Road recently identified by The Sunday Times as malls in need of upgrading

Unlike the glitzy malls around them, this quartet from the 1970s stick out with their plain facades. Shopping inside is also a different experience : A hair salon next to a chicken rice store, bargains being hawked next to electronics and gizmos, a jewellery store next to a 7-11 convenience store — an eclectic mix of neighbours that seem to make no sense.

It turns out that who owns the malls makes for the very different shopping experiences. Unlike most malls today which are owned by one developer who dictates the mix of tenants, these four are strata-title malls. As individuals own each shop unit, this model means “minimal management of the mall”, explained Associate Professor Ang Swee Hoon to the newspaper. This worked in the past, said the marketing professor from NUS Business School,  “You went to a place because you knew the owner of the shop, not because the mall was nice or there were other shops there that would be attractive to you.”

But, is such a model no longer relevant today?

Interesting Malls
Without central planning from a developer, these four malls have acquired an interesting mix of tenants. The developer-owned malls, however, stick to a formula that brings in the most profits and traffic, resulting in standardised layouts filled with the same big brands. This makes the old malls stand out even more relevant because they provide a diverse shopping experience. After all, not everyone wants to squeeze with crowds and when it’s time for coffee, not everyone wants a Starbucks.

Malls with Interests
Also, these older malls, being spared the constant redevelopments of others because it can only happen if a majority of tenants agree, have actually developed their own unique identities. Lucky Plaza is known as a Filipino enclave, Far East Plaza is popular with teenagers, Far East Shopping Centre is for golfers and Tanglin Shopping Centre is place for art and antique. This is something the other malls can hardly claim because they often try to provide everything instead.

Whose city is it?
More importantly, these malls answer in some ways the question of how space is used in Singapore. We can see for ourselves the different results in letting a major developer dictate land use and one where individuals come together and create a shopping mall. The former is no doubt more profitable but also breeds a sameness and thus a constant need for upgrading. The latter may make no ‘shopping sense’, but it nurtures communities because shops stay around longer too.

While most Singaporeans will be in favour of these malls going through facelifts, let’s pause to ask why, and what we may be losing. At least, let’s not just get just another shopping mall.

Posted on: 30 March, 2010 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

Above is a designer’s take of a advertisement flyer found along the streets of America. The original one looked like this:

This is just one of the twenty flyers CarbonCopy redesigned as part of a mission to over power “their message with a new visual language”. It got me thinking, what if the street advertisements and flyers that are the bane of so many Singaporeans’ living spaces were actually well-designed? Would they still be seen, at best an inconvenient necessity, but mostly plain annoying?

It’s something street advertisers should think about. This way of promotion is cheap and effective, but it can be beautiful too! And maybe, it’ll also earn them the respect for how creative street advertising actually is.

URA is conducting a public consultation on how land will be used in Singapore in the next 40 to 50 years. You can let them know what you think in a 10-minute online survey where you get to tell them what you’ll love to have in the space around you and how they are faring in the moment. We think it’s a good opportunity to “reclaim” back your land, so have your say!

Posted on: 07 March, 2010 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

In a global city like Singapore, can we find local spaces? This essay by Brenda Yeoh for Lucas Jodogne’s photobook, Singapore: Views on the Urban Landscape, is hopeful of how everyday life keeps such local spaces alive against  the “homogenising” forces of state and commerce that dominate this land.

In each and every one of the landscapes mentioned — heritage sites, foreigner enclaves and Singaporean heartlands — it is clear that homogenising forces in the form of commercial moves or planned forces are at work. Equally clear, however, local forces are present to confront and oppose, with varying degrees of success, the anonymous, rational, progressive and universalising tendencies of globalisation.

Landscapes And The Diversity Of Meaning In A Global City

Some of Jodogne’s photos can be seen here together with a curator’s write-up of this body of work. They were taken in a project that spanned between 1994 to 1998 and as noted by one of our readers, the photos show the “violent and sometimes surreal juxtapositions present in Singapore’s built environment”.

It was great to read about people making full use of ‘State Land’ in Singapore for casual community use in today’s Sunday Plus. In fact, this policy to open up spaces for public use should continue and even be expanded.

Such help develop communities and a sense of ownership as the people who use them will take the initiative to maintain it. More importantly, space should be ‘open’ to all races, ages and walks of life. Too often, spaces here are built exclusively for those of a certain age group or class, such as shopping malls. The zoning of spaces for residential and commercial use also limits space to just a single use. What is built is then a city of communities divided by interests, age, class; and hardly any interaction amongst them.

By ‘opening’ up space, people can come together in a more casual and coincidental manner. Just like how we make land developers create spaces for greenery and the arts in their buildings, there should be a law to have public spaces too. These spaces should be kept open to all and there is no need for any expensive furniture except some seats and tables — let the people fill in the rest. This will no doubt be a more messy environment as things are less planned, but the interaction of different people in an open space will help build a more tolerant and creative society.

What happens when a generation of Singaporeans used to communal living in kampungs are relocated into modern public HDB housing estates? Sidewalk Easement is an on-going photography project by Song Nian in a search for the ‘kampung’ spirit in the HDB environment.

In these initial seven photos, he documented households that had placed their personal belongings in the common corridor outside their apartments that is a public area. This, he said, highlighted the blurring of personal spaces in the communal area of public housings.

“This series started off as a study on the relationship between people and their surroundings, and through our intervention on our immediate spaces, the affect that we impose on landscapes and vice versa,” said the photographer who is currently pursuing a degree in photography at the University of the Arts, London.

Through his explorations for this series, Song Nian has seen how little interventions by households have changed their modern living environment. “A lot of these households have actually made these spaces into an inviting communal area that encourages interaction between neighbours and others who’re staying in the vicinity,” he said.

In his images of sidewalks stacked with religious artifacts, plants and furniture, Song Nian also hopes the invite viewers to question the background and story of each family. “This is especially important to me when I’m making my work because i believe that art should be throwing questions, and not providing answers.”

Posted on: 24 December, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

It’s been over a year since we embarked on this website as part of our final-year project and we’re still at it! We recently added a new story about maids reclaiming a public walkway in the heart of Orchard Road for their picnics and there will be more in the months to come.

In the past months, we’ve also gotten a bit of attention from around the web. Our story about Barber Lee got featured on and The Online Citizen. Unfortunately, the latter reframed our story and the beauty of Barber Lee’s creativity in reclaiming his own space got lost in a discussion about the rich-poor divide instead. Elsewhere, Youth.SG  also interviewed us for their Do Good Interview section too.

On another note, we’ve learnt that the skateboarders at Margaret Drive will have to move out by July because Block 6C will be demolished for redevelopment. Do visit them before it goes!

Finally, we’re always open to new stories, so if you’ve got a tip-off or an idea about people reclaiming land in Singapore, do contact me at justin[at]

A group of residents living in Marsiling Rise have come together to question their Town Council’s decision to remove an assortment of trees that they planted into the ground and have tended to for a decade. It was first reported on Today newspaper and was followed by a response from the Town Council. Not satisfied with the developments, a resident wrote into the Straits Times Forum today questioning the Town Council’s actions against the call for making Singapore into a garden city.

I headed down to Marsiling Rise today and it was quite a sight to see how the ground-floor residents of Block 103 to Block 127 have created a pathway of gardens outside their homes. Against the backdrop of a grass slope of Woodlands Town Park East, these residents’ gardens add on to a unique green corridor that these four-storey blocks face.

The current problem arises because the resident planted some trees that into the ground of the estate’s common property. As we’ve seen in several cases in our story, Town Councils today are okay with potted plants but will clamp down when one plants into the land that is managed by them. The land, common property, is meant for all residents to enjoy but under such tight management by the Town Councils, they have been usually left alone instead.

According to the news report, some residents support the decision to remove the trees because it is unsightly. We think that is a convenient solution. How about bringing the residents together to come up with a garden that is aesthetically pleasing instead of just removing it? Based on the above gardens, I’m sure the residents can create something beautiful. Plus, the community can get to work together to solve their problem.

The Town Council’s other solution of asking residents to plant in the community gardens set aside for them (left) smacks of a convenient excuse to manage things Singapore-style. Want to protest? Go to Speaker’s Corner. Want to garden? Go to a community garden.

Yet by setting aside land for singular purposes, we not only make the country smaller than it actually is, we return to a banality that pervades our environment — everything has its place in this grand masterplan that we are living in.

Posted on: 29 November, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

Singaporeans annoyance with flyers and junk mail being put up at their front doors has been a perennial issue in public housing living. Unlike in our story where resident Teo came up with a creative response to the issue, this writer to Today’s Voices page has had less success with her efforts.

Indeed, flyers can be an annoying problem to residents, but we’ll like to add context to the whole issue by looking at it from the advertiser’s perspective too. From those we spoke to for our story, distributing flyers is a cheap and creative response to get their messages out. Unlike big companies, they do not have the resources to advertise at “legitimate” places like newspapers.

They used to be able to drop flyers into mailboxes, but this came to a stop in 1996 when the new “anti-junk mail” letterboxes were introduced into our public housing estates. Since then, what has happened seems to be this: shut out from the mailboxes they turn to placing their flyers at your doorstep instead. Moreover, Singpost now has monopolised access to the mailboxes and has since set up a direct marketing arm to profit from it.

Perhaps what is needed is an open platform that is accessible to anyone. Just like noticeboards found at some of our train stations, how about putting these up at public housing lift landings too? They should be left open for residents and advertisers to put up advertisements and notices.