“We need an environment which is not simply well organized, but poetic and symbolic as well. It should speak of the individuals and their complex society, of their aspirations and their historical tradition, of the natural setting, and of the complicated functions and movements of the city world….Such a sense of place in itself enhances every human activity that occur there, and encourages the deposit of a memory trace” – Kevin Lynch, the Image of the City



Sungei Road Thieves Market 2011

Sungei Road Thieves Market 2011

Image Source: http://remembersingapore.wordpress.com/sungei-thieves-market/


The ‘informal market’ is something highly prevalent in Asian cities. These temporary bazaars are unique and specific to their locale and context as they not only support the diversity and human activities of the city but also traditionally act as a nodal point in the communication network. Street vendors possess the ability of mobility and flexibility. This ease of accessibility has allowed for a variety of goods and cultures to intermingle, resulting in an iconic space that is inclusive of various demographics and unique to our locale. Diversity is necessary for the success and sustenance of a market, similar to the growth and development of a city

The Sungei Buloh ‘Thieves’ Market’ is known to be the largest informal market in Singapore that has existed since 1930. Informal in nature, its temporary condition has flourished under (incidentally) unfavorable conditions that have caused a looseness of planning uncharacteristic of the city state. With limited imposition from the authorities, a self-sustaining community has emerged, and has proven resilient to the changing times, carrying cultural snippets from Singapore’s history.

It originally started with the abandoned Song Lim Market post World War II which became an ideal location for Chinese entrepreneurs to try their hand at selling cheap second hand goods. These startups were seen as an extension from the overcrowded trading activities that occurred due to the influx of migrants and lack of housing during that period of time.[1] Gradually, the relationships forged between residents and vendors began to influence the development of the Jalan Besar district and carved a niche for the area in electronic trading.

The market thrived for 50 years, before a series of fires destroyed numerous shop houses which brought about large-scale demolition of the area. Urban renewal was called to order, and while many residents and licensed street vendors were relocated, a large majority of street vendors had no place to turn to. For the past half decade, traders have been gradually trying to re-establish their presence in the area and have since managed to re-appropriate the space albeit with newly imposed regulations from the authorities.


Image Source: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/sungei-road-flea-market-will-have-go-20140731#1


The development of the downtown line and the opening of Sungei Road MRT station (due in 2017) may seem to be the final test for the re-assembly of the informal market. Despite having suggested alternative site, authorities have rejected the offer without any given explanation. [2]

Most street markets today are set up with the agenda of promoting public life. Used sparingly as infill activities to open plazas, they have become synonymous with attempts at revitalizing the urban environment – a tool, or a go-to-solution aimed at interjecting public life into the urban environment. The concerns of the hawkers and vendors are no longer in the equation; the market typology has evolved to meet the needs of corporate organizations whose main interest is commercial gain.

It has been 49 years of independence. Over the past few decades, the loss of heritage and culture has become widespread. The impact on our social development is perhaps not as immediately apparent. But certainly the situations of certain demographics are revealed to us. The elderly in this case, are trapped in a world they helped to build, but are not a part of. Increasing gentrification and the pervasiveness of the modern high-rise typology has resulted in the removal of many traditional spaces which contributed significantly to the memory of our humble beginnings. Although there have been recent attempts to identify and preserve certain cultural precincts. It remains to be seen the approach in which those conservation acts will be carried out.



[1] Chan, Architecture as theatre as architecture, p.9

[2] http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/forum-letters/story/plight-sungei-road-market-vendors-20140802


Cover Image Source: http://witonosfreestyle.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/sungei-road-thieves-market-9-years-of-singapore-heritage/


More Documentation on The Theives Market can be accessed here:

The Study of Sungei Road Market, Singapore

ByLow Si Ni