The construction of noise – Singapore de-constructed

Singapore is in upheaval – literally.

I am sure that all of you have noticed it too – the many construction sites and construction activities going on around our little city-state. Building, re-building, knocking down, piling up, digging underground, tunneling through and so on. It seems as though we are in a big hurry to make ours an even more spanky city.

The Concept Plan of 1991 (revised in 2001) spells out the master plan for Singapore’s long term physical development – “for the next 40 to 50 years” – “to meet the needs of a projected long-term population of about 5.5 million.” (The government has perhaps revised this to 6.5 million?)

The URA website also states that “every square inch of our scarce land resources is optimized to stimulate Singapore’s economic growth and to improve the quality of life for all Singaporeans.”

It also seeks to enhance “Singapore’s sense of islandness”.

There is no doubt that it is a challenging plan and one which most of us would support – the dust and noise notwithstanding, of course.

Major projects

As of now, several major projects are taking place or will take place shortly – the two Integrated Resorts in Marina Bay and Sentosa, the general hospitals in Yishun and in Woodlands, the MRT Circle Line, the new MRT Downtown Line, the new Gardens By The Bay , (see also here) the new orchard turn development which will give us the tallest building in orchard road, and the many HDB upgrading projects in the heartlands – such as MUP, LUP, SERS, etc.

National Development minister Mah Bow Tan also recently announced that “Within the next five to 10 years, Marina Bay, Orchard Road and Bras Basah/Bugis areas will see a slew of new developments that will drastically transform these areas”

Extreme Makeovers

“We intend to do a makeover, and in some cases, an extreme makeover to our housing estates. Our ultimate goal is to redefine the living experience for HDB residents. This will be the next major phase of the development of our public housing programme” – Mah Bow Tan.

“LUP, Barrier Free Accessibility (BFA), and Universal Design (UD). Last but not least, to ensure our senior citizens keep fit and healthy, we will be introducing more senior citizen fitness parks.” (link)

Private estates will also undergo such upgrading. “We expect to do more of these and we will announce the selected private estates for the next EUP (Estate Upgrading Programme) batch in early 2007”, says Mr Mah.

If you are looking for some peace and quiet in Singapore, well you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. The city is being given an extreme makeover presently. The old is being replaced very quickly indeed by the new.

Singapore is “under the knife”.

“Enhancing quality of life”

Although development in the name of ‘economic necessity’ and ‘enhancing quality of life’ is hard to fault, one wonders how far we will take this. I hope that we will not be doing this for the next ’40 to 50’ years – as it will then defeat the purpose of providing an ‘enhanced quality of life’.

I do not think the quality of life will be enhanced by constant detours, blockages, dust and noise at every turn. And I do not think singaporeans will want to go through this for another few decades.

One can only hope that all these makeovers are not just superficial ones. The quality of life is enhanced by things which goes much deeper than the holes in the ground.

Lets not lose sight of that.

Yet, physical construction sites are not the only sources of noise pollution nowadays.

Public transport, public nuisance

“We hope that one day 75 per cent of all motorized trips on our island will be made by public transport. To this end, we are seeking to expand our rail transit system further.” – Mr Lim Swee Say

Take a ride on a bus and you will be assaulted by the noise coming from “TVMobile”. Gone are the days when we could at least have some peace on our way home after a hard day of work at the office or on our way to work in the early morning. In the past, you could read a book while taking public transport or even daydream.

Not anymore.

When “TVMobile” first started, the volume on the tv set was turned off and anyone who wanted to listen to the programmes would tune into a certain radio station, plug in his headphones into this personal radio set and listen to the programmes. This allowed those who were not interested in the programmes some peace.

Not anymore.

Channelnewsasia blares out at you, as if to force you to listen to them. Many a time I had wanted to just get off the bus and walk home instead. So unbearable is the noise from the TV sets in the buses – and this is in addition to the increasingly crowded buses we have, at all times of the day and night. Sometimes, the air conditioner in the buses do not work as well (despite our claim to have a world-class transport system) and you’re stuck in a crowded, stuffy bus with the tv blaring out at you mercilessly.

The SMRT said this when TVMobile was first launched: “From the feedback received from commuters since the launch, the majority of commuters interviewed appreciate having this additional service. Like Mr Lim, many commuters said that TVMobile makes their bus trips more enjoyable.”

This is strange since most letters to the Straits Times forum page and feedback from my own friends and family says that they’d rather not have the service. When we boarded the buses, did we also give the bus company the right to assail us with unwanted noise? Or did we surrender our right to peace and quiet the moment we boarded their buses?

Has our public transport system become a public nuisance?

Public service announcements and commercial advertisements

And those announcements at mrt stations. “For your own safety, please stand behind the yellow line”….. “No eating or drinking is allowed on the stations and trains…thank you for ….”, “If you see a suspicious….”, etc. These announcements come on in such frequency that it really irritate the hell out of you. I mean, do we really need such reminders every other minute, which happens at quite a few stations?

Do we also need those mounted television sets at train stations which seem to broadcast nothing but advertisements for the latest movies, and at that volume?

According to Mr Lim Swee Say, “Currently about 63 per cent of all motorized trips on our island are made by public transport – 5 million of the total 7 million made every day, comprising 3 million on buses, 1 million on the mass rapid transit trains and another 1 million in taxis….”

One can only wonder how much more worse the noise will be if we have a 6.5 million population.

Noise elsewhere

“In highly urbanized Singapore, noise pollution from road traffic and MRT/LRT trains also receives much attention. With further urbanization and the widening of expressways, noise levels have been gradually rising in some areas, especially those along existing expressways”, says Mr Lim.

If you live anywhere near an MRT line or an expressway, you will agree with Mr Lim that noise level from these sources has indeed been increasing. Sometimes, they even wake you up in the morning!

If you think you can get away to a park or the beach for some peace, well…think again. Fort Canning Park, that oasis in the city, no longer is quiet nor peaceful. You could hear the construction going on at nearby Chinatown.

Or East Coast beach. The noise from the expressway doesn’t let up. Or even Changi beach, where the planes taking off and landing at nearby Changi Airport dash your hope for some serene, personal time. (Ok, not much they can do about this.)

Your HDB neighbourhood parks are so near main roads or slip roads that they provide no peace at all.

Unless you lock yourself in an air-conditioned room, the only place where you can find some real peace and quiet, perhaps, is the Botanical Gardens.

Psychological consequences

I wonder what all these mean for our society’s psychological well-being. As far as I know, there are no studies on the effect of noise pollution on society as a whole. Being such an urbanized city, and with its people working long hours and being one of the most stressed-out people in Asia, what or how much do such noise pollutants have on the psychology of our people?

If you are assailed by such noise on a daily basis, it must have some sort of effect – even if it’s subconsciously, right?

According to the report “No sex please, we are stressed out Southeast Asians”, stress is one of the reasons why Singaporeans are among those having the least frequency of sexual intercourse!

And of course, everyone knows that we are 131st in the Happiness Index worldwide.

All these make it even more important and necessary that Singaporeans have somewhere to go for peace, quiet and tranquility. Perhaps the new Gardens By The Bay (costing some $700 million) is the oasis we’re looking for.

Lets hope that the construction of the 3 gardens will not take too long.

In the meantime, the government should see if we can abolish some of the present sources of noise and noise pollutants – starting with TVMobile.


Lets deconstruct the artificial construction of noise in our tiny island.


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