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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?

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.”

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: 16 November, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

By Horst Kiechle

Last weekend’s Straits Times Saturday Special Report by Tan Hui Yee took a look at one of Singapore’s more interesting architecture space — the void deck. This is usually found on the ground levels of public housing and it’s deliberately left empty for residents to use it for various purposes. These could range from weddings and funerals to more interesting activities such as bird-singing and parkour practices. The report, What’s up downstairs, also showcased future models of void decks conceptualised by four young designers who suggested adding technology and integrating the space with greenery.

While the void deck holds great possibility for community-building and for people to reclaim as their own, in reality, the space is often avoided. To hold events, a resident has to get the permission of the Town Councils who manage these spaces. As these spaces are so open, they also attract illegal activities like gambling and the Town Councils’ solutions are often swift and heavy-handed.

Two series of photographs by Horst Kiechle, an Australian architect and artist, reflect this issue. One documents the space itself, and the other, the seating provided in the void deck. Both show how void these spaces are, but also the occasional human intervention in the form of a resident-provided furniture.

The future of the void deck is to loosen up control over these spaces and encourage residents to grow them as their own. We love to hear stories of anyone doing that right now, so let us in if you know of any!

takgiuposter08Soccer may be the favourite sport of many Singaporeans but  finding a public field to play the game used to be the hardest thing to do!

Tak Giu (2005), a local film by Jacen Tan and his team at Hosaywood tells the tale of three boys and their quest to find a space to play the sport here — a depiction that any Singaporean soccer lover can definitely connect with.

The film helped to open up a discussion on this problem and soon after, the authorities made public fields and school soccer fields more accessible to recreational games.

This was also one of our inspirations when we started on Reclaim Land and we highly recommend you watch the film that is available online on YouTube.

A group of residents of Bukit Panjang have been farming on state-owned land in their neighbourhood thanks to the cheap monthly rent offered by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). According to a Lianhe Zaobao report, SLA has been allowing such community initiatives take over these empty plots of land at lower than market rates since 2002 with its Temporary Occupation License. At just three cents per square metre, renting land the size of a soccer field would cost $210 a month as compared to the prevailing market rates of up to $2800.Besides farming, communities have also set up basketball courts, mini gardens and facilities for archery at 190 sites all over the island.

SLA said that rather than let these empty plots that are marked for future use remain unused, it decided to open them up for community use on a temporary basis. The only conditions are that the land is well-maintained and not use for commercial purposes. Currently, it has 14,000 hectares worth of such land, the equivalent of 20,000 soccer fields and you can find a full list of where they are here.

It is great to hear that the state is thinking beyond economics in land use as Prof Ho Kong Chong argued, and it reminds us of our folks in Balik Kampung. We’ll like to hear more communities take the initiative in deciding how to use the space around them. Tell us if you’re involved in such a community or you have plans to start one!