As part of the HDB Community Week 2013, My peers and I participated in the Community Building Seminar organised by the Housing Development Board of Singapore (HDB). This two day seminar allowed us to learn from various participants who are from different walks of life, and one interesting part was the opportunity to be part of the community walk, which involves a walk about within an assigned community estate. (More details at http://www87.hdb.gov.sg/fi10/fi10997p.nsf/w2013/seminar-details-2013.htm)

 

The group that i was assigned to was Toa Payoh.  A Brief history about Toa Payoh, It is HDB’s second satellite town to be built in 1968. The housing estate is self-contained and has a town centre which acts as a focal point for meeting the needs of its residents and promote a sense of community (HDB, 1968).

 

We started our walk by moving through the older slab boards in Toa Payoh Central. It is interesting how one could see the personalisation of spaces along the corridors (Fig. 1 & 2). From observations and interviews, residents do not mind eating into each other spaces, and such an understanding created a community along the corridor. During the visit, it is not uncommon to see residents hanging out in the corridors and having a good chat while drying their clothes or watering their plants. It seem like the whole floor, connected by the common corridor, coexist as one, and the various floors adds up to form one community. It is also interesting to hear stories from the different participants about their common experience of living in such flats in their younger days, and how they miss those days where neighbourliness made their community so humane and vibrant.

 

It is also heartening to hear from our volunteer guide that the community do not mind sharing, and even the convenience shop below the flat often do not require the residents to pay on the spot, and allow them to pay for their purchased items “at their own convenience”. This shows the level of trust within the community, which is definitely absent from many of our newer estates today. Could the slab block typology be an answer to reviving our “kampong spirit” missing in many of our estates today? This is a question worth pondering upon.

The Older Slab Block in Toa Payoh Central.

Fig. 1  The dynamic common corridoors 

 

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Fig 2. The Older Slab blocks showing the different configurations on different floors

 

Moving Further, we arrived at the more modern type of housing which is almost 40 storeys, The Peak @ Toa Payoh. This typology of housing mostly houses younger and smaller famiiles, and has a very different setting as compared to the earlier slab block typology which houses mostly a more mature community (Fig 3.)

 

The Peak @ Toa Payoh

Fig. 3 The More Modern and High Density Living, The Peak @ Toa Payoh

 

By just a simple comparison, here we see a much neater facade. A very sleak looking skyscrapper, with a modern and clean look. However, it seems like neighbourliness do not seem to exist much.

 

Here, we see different “pigeon holes” of almost similar quality. The communal spaces felt very vacant, neighbours do not seem to communicate. Even though it is a sunday, but the slab block community seem so much more active. The estate seem to be a compartmentalised community rather than a coexisting community.

 

While the community from the slab board seem to start from the door step (the common corridor), the higher density blocks seem to be emphasizing more on bonding only at the common areas (playgrounds, roof gardens, etc.). Perhaps, there needs to be some rethinking of such design in this aspect.

 

Moving on to the next stop, we have arrived at a community garden within the estate. One thing that i find interesting about this garden is the low fences adopted in this particular garden (Fig. 4). Most community garden which i had visited thus far are often surrounded by high fences, and this usually deter community from using them as they are deemed as only exclusive to some (usually those who has the keys)

 

But in this case, the area only has low fences. Further investigation informed us that this plot of land used to be a gate ball court. However, due to low usage of the court, the residents decided to convert it to a community garden. Such a move is interesting as this is a move to return the space back to the community. Afterall, it is a communal space.

 

It also further raised issues with the planning strategy of the past. When communal spaces are planend for without consultation with the community, this could result in the empty gate ball court in this instance. But when empowering the community, a new kind of communal space could be possible.

 

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Fig. 4  The unique community Garden at Toa Payoh Central.

 

Finally, we ended off our community walk with a short introduction to cobler, Uncle Ang. According to our guide, he had been in Toa Payoh for 40 over years, servicing the community at an affordable price. He also sometimes help to “babysit” kids in the community when their parents do their marketing. Over the years, he had built a rapport and strong bonds with the local community in the estate.

 

A more detailed interview with the community cobler Mr Ang could be found in the following link. http://issuu.com/eatfish93/docs/backstoryfebruary2012

 

Perhaps in our modern society, we need to really rethink our design of high density living. How can we bring back the Kampung Spirit we had lost back into our heartlands? Perhaps other than design, we also need to learn more from people like Uncle Ang to take more initiatives in doing our part to build a better and more cohesive community.

 

References:

  • HDB (1968). HDB Annual Report 1968, printed and produced by the Housing Development Board of Singapore.
  • All Photos are copyrighted by Mr Larry Yeung, 2013.