Redevelopment: Buildings Demolished, Certain Groups Marginalised & Livelihoods Lost. Is It Worth It?

Written by Cherry Wai

Named as one of the 4 Asian Tigers, Singapore has rapidly become a leading financial hub…. within 55 years of independence. Singapore is an object of imitative desire especially for urban planning, cleanliness, and technocratic features. Yet this is a landscape that is eroded of its uneven edges by multinational capital as showcased by the skyline of Marina Bay Sand (MBS), Garden by the Bay and Orchard shopping district.

Singapore is often looked as a role model due to our fast development pace, progress and because we can stay relevant with the ever-changing world. Singapore has successfully eliminated elements that are so-called regressive in nature. Development and progress allow people to live better lives and allow the economy to thrive. However, this also means that our surroundings and landscapes are ever-changing especially is a small country like Singapore this can cause people to be alienated due to this nostalgia is on the rise.

In the past, many were staying in Kampong houses or shop houses then even though the Housing Development Board was established in 1965 before Singapore gained its independence. However, by 1975, the government resettled the people from kampongs and slums to aesthetically nice-looking high-rise housing. This means that living conditions were safer and more sanitary. 

Over the years as progress were made and the economy started to thrive, new infrastructures were established such as reliable transport systems, shopping centres, neighbourhood playgrounds and street vendors were moved into Hawker centres to ensure better hygiene.

In the past playgrounds were inspired by certain teams such as animals, for example, the dragon playground, Fruits and some were sampans shaped and the ground was made up sand pits instead. These playgrounds showcased Singapore’s shared heritage, history and even identity. An article written by Claire Voon, titled In Singapore, Playgrounds Are Capsules of National Identity on Atlas Obscura states that the designer employed “Khor Ean Ghee uses vanishing parts of Singapore’s history to design the playgrounds in order to build a strong sense of self and nationhood.’ These playgrounds structures were aesthetic and one that was unique to Singapore. These playgrounds were unique to Singapore and in fact, some countries were inspired by the playgrounds here. It also allowed people to bond with each other regardless of race and helped to establish a sense of identity for the young nation then. The dragon playground in Toa Payoh was made up of metal and the ground was sandpit. However, due to safety reasons the playgrounds were replaced with rubber mat grounds instead and the homogeneous looking ‘plastic playgrounds’ in the neighbourhood we see now and there are only a few old playgrounds left in Singapore. When there was news that there were plans to demolish the dragon playground in Toa Payoh anxieties rose among the Singaporeans of different generations because they were afraid that the younger generations will not be able to experience the place. However, the citizens voice were heard and the government decided not to demolish them.

Neighbourhoods are constantly changing, certain old buildings were demolished for new shopping centres, schools, and transport lines to be catered to the people. However, with the constant changes, certain groups feel alienated as they no longer recognise their neighbourhood, they stay in. thus changing the way they navigate around.

Even though the government ensure that the people voice is heard and did not demolish the playground. Unfortunately, that is not always the case sometimes. One such scenario was the Sungei Road Thieves Market. The market has a long history that can be traced back to the 1930s, the government decided to disband the market in order to build a new transport route and because some residents complained that they feel uncomfortable having old men guarding their neighbourhood. However, some did not want this market to close. This is because this market is unique and really showcases the past of Singapore, things sold there were second-hand goods but offered at a cheap price. The vendors are friendly and always helped each other out when one needs it though they were all old. They had the Kampong spirit and do not discriminate regardless. In an article, Singapore aggressively markets its heritage, but it’s letting an authentic piece of cultural history vanish written by Kirsten Han on QUARTZ interviewed some of the vendors and one of them state that “This market is very meaningful for Singapore. It doesn’t discriminate based on race or religion, and there’s a lot of cross-cultural interaction,” says Koh, who has hawked second-hand goods here for three decades. “We should be proud Singapore has such a space… If removed, it can’t be reproduced.” The vendors tried to apply to the government to shift the market instead however it was rejected. To these vendors which are about their 60s and are of the “Pioneer Generation”, this is their source of livelihood. They earn their income from selling these goods for them to afford a meal. While it is not uncommon that old place such as cemeteries and old buildings are the ones to be demolished or closed for developments. These situations are inevitable, however, these groups of people, the pioneer generations, have to adapt to all the changes made and they feel excluded and unheard with the closure of the market. While it is true that development should not be compromised, is it worth it that we trade it with a place full of memories for the people in the country and one that helped to establish the identity of the Nation? Furthermore, this market was a true representation of Singapore Heritage and one that really showcased the Kampong Spirit in the past, if this market continued or relocate tourist and the younger generations would be able to understand Singapore’s past better. Yes, for the loss of livelihood the government can help this group. However, this market was a place for them to socialise and it had significant value to them, and they might no longer want to learn new skills due to their age. Now, this market is just a memory that is kept in digital form.

Not only do the pioneer generation feel excluded, another group that is being marginalised due to redevelopment are the LGBT. Bugis street what we know today was vastly different from the past, Bugis street today is a shopping district especially catering to the younger crowd and it is also commercialised and a tourism spot with many hotels located near there. In the past, Bugis street was a place for the LGBTs to hang out and have fun. It gives them a sense of belonging and acceptance. However, now these groups are no longer able to do so. The government kept the structure of the building but changed its purpose and the group of people this place caters to. Due to this, the LGBT community are sidelined, no longer having a place to go to feel accepted. Due to this, Bugis street became a memory for them as a place where the used to be able to hang out with their peers.

While there are efforts done to try to conserve the heritage, more could be done as now buildings and our heritage are used as tourist attractions instead of really reflecting the authentic culture. Not enough buildings are conserved to give citizens a sense of their identity. While development is important, the government should also listen to the people so that there will be shared memories between the young and the old. The government should also ensure that all groups of people will gain advantages from the change. 

About the Author:

Hello, my name is Cherry and I enjoy cycling and exploring nature in my free times. I love animals and do taekwondo to relieve stress. When I am not doing either of these two I enjoy sitting on my bean bag, reading up on certain social issues and discussing it with my friends and teacher the next day in school to hear different perspectives that people have.


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