As part of its general election coverage, and to help voters make informed choices, The Online Citizen is taking a look at important issues which have been neglected or underrepresented in the debates in this election, and asking experts to comment on the parties’ policy proposals. In part IV, we examine the parties’ proposals on heritage.
Two parties address heritage in their manifestoes – the Worker’s Party and the Singapore People’s Party – specifically, Jeanette Chong-Aruldoss in Mountbatten. The Worker’s Party envisions heritage as a partnership between government and community, with Singaporeans keenly involved in the continuous co-creation of our community and society; urban heritage as a root for the national identity; and the concept of the current generation as trustees of Singapore for the future generation. As part of this process, they propose identifying and preserving “Heritage Identity Nodes”. Key identity nodes will be identified to protect local culture or natural surroundings and any developments of nodes should ensure that their charm and culture are preserved. To do this, a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) would be mandatory for all development projects affecting green areas, existing infrastructure and the building of new infrastructure. Every district should have its own identifiable character and the government should support the preservation of heritage in older districts and foster identity in newer estates. In particular, they identify hawker centres, convenience shops, and kopitiam as key feature of Singapore’s unique culture and heritage, and hence space should be reserved for them to be built in all town centres.
The most concrete proposals came from Jeanette Chong-Aruldoss (SPP), who devotes an entire section of her manifesto to “Strengthening our Community Spirit and National Identity.” In its, she pledges, to “protect, preserve and enhance the bonds of the Mountbatten community and the liveability of our shared spaces.”
She emphasises the hawker centres and wet markets as the heart (and stomachs) of the Mountbatten community, highlighting the Old Airport hawker centre in particular as an iconic location. She emphasises preservation, maintenance, and affordability. More broadly, she pledges to work with a wide variety of stakeholders – architects, residents, heritage groups and local business operators – to construct a plan to present to URA to conserve at least three blocks of the iconic Dakota Crescent residences (out of 17) and the Dakota Dove Playground with a long term view to re-purposing the blocks into a design, creative and heritage space that houses a Mountbatten community museum and achieve a balance between commercial goals and community interests. Any redevelopment should be done in a way that honours Dakota Crescent’s historical role in serving the community.
She has also blogged about Fort Tanjong Katong and how it fostered local community spirit.
Heritage experts welcomed her proposals. The President of the Singapore Heritage Society, Prof Chua Ai Lin, commented that “Mrs Chong-Aruldoss understands well how continuities in the landscape and ways of life are important to individual and social identity. Community-building and sense of ownership can be developed meaningfully through the ground up, participatory process she intends to adopt for developing adaptive reuse proposals for public housing blocks at Dakota Crescent.
Successful solutions require an understanding of the specific needs and usage patterns of intended users (a step often overlooked), as well as to be sustainable in terms of long-term ground up motivation and financial resources. In addition, adhering to best practices in conservation requires specialised knowledge and a commitment to upholding these standards. A good grasp of official regulations and land use planning processes are also important in shaping proposals that will be accepted by the authorities.”
Dr Terence Chong (ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute), sought to distinguish between theory and practice, writing, “I think Jeanette’s initiative is well intentioned and would have local appeal. However, she may quickly realise the bureaucratic obstacles in the way. It is well and good to work with architects and local businesses, but she will have to deal with the state in the form of URA. Her heritage proposals would have to factor in URA’s master plan and the agency’s plans for the sites in question.”
He was more in favour of the Worker’s Party proposals, noting that “… only two parties have mentioned heritage. The first is Jeanette at a very local level, and the other is the Workers’ Party which advances the national proposal to make Heritage Impact Assessments mandatory. The latter is a better proposal because it does not address heritage piecemeal but recommends concrete legislation.