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The National Museum of Singapore is holding an exhibition that looks at the rich history of street hawking in Singapore. Surviving the Streets: Peddlers and Artisans in Early-Mid 20th Century Singapore is a free exhibition on now till 22 August 2010 on the second-level of the museum.

“…Their lives on the streets highlighted not only disparities between class and race but also the conflicting perceptions between the government and the people. The colonial administration, enchanted with modernity, insisted on clarity and order. In contrast, the people on the street appeared to dwell in chaos and confusion.”

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.

Posted on: 26 November, 2009 | 2 Comments | Tagged as: , ,

Two integrated resorts, ION Orchard, the Singapore Sports Hub — it’s funny how a small Singapore always has such grand plans for its city.

But sometimes, the way to go is starting small.

Small changes are appealing for many reasons. They’re cheap, for one thing. Also, what works can be easily expanded, and what doesn’t work can be as easily terminated or altered.

This is from a short article in City Journal, where several examples of how small changes in other cities have made it a better place to live in. In this city so enamored with the grand and the glitzy, we think that this is something our city planners can pay better attention to — all the small things.

Posted on: 14 April, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

Through our stories, we find that a common approach to space management in Singapore is the idea that everything has its proper place. For instance, skateboarders should be at the skate park and street advertising should stay in the designated boards. The government’s proposed changes to the Public Order Act (POA) is a great example of how such management extends beyond just physical space and into the political realm. If the POA is changed, the Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park will become a designated ‘unrestricted area’, or the state’s proper place, for political expression, but everywhere out of it is subjected to a permit.

The changes also affect the space allowed for filming as law enforcement officers will also have the power to stop people from videotaping security operations even if in the public. However, certain restrictions on this has been explicitly stated, including the fact that this is “not targeted against the filming of acts of civil disobedience”. Perhaps this was in anticipation of questions if it targeted filmmakers like Martyn See, who had documented the only public protest during the 2006 IMF-World Bank meeting in Singapore in his short film Speakers Cornered.

Despite these upcoming regulations to better manage political space, a solution that has existed, and continues to exist is to reclaim virtual space to discuss politics. For instance, you could read an interview a friend recently did with See and watch his banned political films, Singapore Rebel and Zahari’s 17 years all in the comfort of your personal space without applying for a permit.

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!

Posted on: 28 March, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

Many Singaporeans want to garden in their public housing estate, but like you will find in our story, The gardeners’ city, it is far from easy for them. Some of these issues are also being discussed at a local Internet forum for gardening enthusiasts, and they range from overly-paranoid town councils, their residents’ committees limited funding for such gardening or just trying to find enough people to come together to join the state’s Community-In-Bloom program.

But does gardening like this really pose so big a problem that we should be wary of these gardeners? Fears of dengue breeding, an obstruction to corridors, a fire hazard… a case of extreme imagination or real concerns?

Take a look at what we have seen.