Enjoying the last few moments together before it walks into history –  Block 9 Ghim Moh Road

Appreciating the obstacles to its emergence, the need for community in high-rise residential housing estates has always been an important concern of planners and architects. Invariably, every architectural drawing of a single blocks of flats will provide designated ‘community’ spaces, and in planning and estate, there is usually a hierarchy of such spaces. for example, inSingapore’s public -housing new town, such ‘community’ spaces begin with the void decks and move hierarchically upwards to precinct facilities (pavilions, playgrounds), neighborhood centres and a town centre. Consequently, if community fails to emerge, it usually not through lack of concern on the part of the planners. In an attempt to find community in a built environment, one must begin empirically with the behaviors of its users and then attempt to distil from the findings a practicable concept for community development. substantive residential-based community is the result of the routine social behavior or residents within physical space that is phenomenologically determined by the residents themselves.

Learning from the Malay Kampung

When the villages were resettled, the following behavioural adjustments were identified. First, regardless of the size of the entire new town, as residents they were only concerned with a limited physical area within which they reproduced their daily routines. Second, they were generally not adventurous, in terms of time and place. In reproducing the routines. As new residents of the housing estate they would explore various alternatives path and places to meet their routines needs and necessities, but once the most convenient routes and places were worked out, they tend to stay with these. Third, in addition to physical space, they were creatures of habit in the scheduling of the routines. Every worker tend to go to work not only along the same route, but also at approximately the same time, as did housewives with their marketing and escorting young children to and from kindergarten. This scheduling was part determined by the institutions of work and services. Finally, once resettled, one everyone desired to be part of the new residential-based community; the less one was tied to local services, the less one desired a community.

 

Translating to a high-rise community

To translate the idea of community from village into the high-rise estates, one must first recognize the differences between thee two environments. The differences are determining and modifying factors of the concept and substance of ‘community’ in the high-rise environment. To begin with, an HDB new town has a population of between 150,000 and 300,000. the new town is subdivided into neighbourhoods of from 4,000 to 6,000 dwellings, averaging four persons to a unit. In turn each neighbourhood is divided into precincts of four to eight blocks, with between 100 and 200 families in each block. Obviously, given the social and physical environment which was achievable in a village is not possible in a new town. However, as noted, residents are not concerned with the entire housing complex in a new town, or even with an entire smaller estate. For them, a generalised social familiarity with others in the same and adjoining blocks in the same neighbourhood is still possible. This familiarity is , of course built up over time. It is therefore, dependent on resident stability, rapid upgrading or redeveloping in HDB estates would continuously disrupt individual residents’ sense of familiarity with others. These contract can be seen in more matured estates such as Queenstown where by there is a drastic difference in the social atmosphere in the newly constructed precincts and the precincts developed in the 1980s.

Familiarity with the physical environment of a new town is more differentiated phenomenon. Empirically, the level of familiarity achieved by a resident is dependent in large part on the primary mode of transportation used, for example, someone who drives will be familiar with the road network of a new town buy may have no detail knowledge of any part of it, except perhaps for the path between his or her apartment block and its car park. Conversely, someone who walks routinely to use the services and facilities within a new town will have an intimate knowledge of the physical environment along their normal route, but may be quite lost once he or she departs from it. Overall, whatever the pattern, the development of a sense of familiarity is aided by the fact that the high-rise environment is very stable. And although this environment can be, but need not be monotonous, a richness can be introduced in different ways and by various means. The necessary conditions for the development of a residential-based community may therefore be said to be present in a high-rise environment. What needs to be explored next is the social process that will activate these elements and, together, generate an organic community among the residents.

 

The process of community

Recalling that residents are habitual creatures in the execution of their routines. Despite architectural intentions, all public spaces provided are potentially social spaces until activated by the residents themselves. The following is an empirically recorded everyday scene in a void deck of the Mei Ling estate in Queenstown. Two women meet. One is a housewife on the way to the market. The other is an elderly women who is resting after her morning exercise. The housewife is in an already familiar setting, built up impression received in walking through the same space day after day: for example same people, who like herself go to the market daily; of the same housewives going to or returning from the market; of the same elderly lady she sees daily. Similarly and correspondingly, the same scene is familiar to the elderly woman. The two greet each other with simple comments. Once a level of level visual familiarity between two residents has been established, only simple greetings is needed to transform familiarity into social acquaintance.