Wednesday, May 04, 2011
When does a city become a home?
In a radical departure for this little corner of the web, I'm going to talk about something a little bit abstract - that moment when the place you live becomes a place you feel at home.
Having been in Singapore for almost 4 years now, it's interesting to observe our changing response to the place. Going from the time where we loved the differences to Melbourne and saw the good in everything, such as; a thriving urban, globalised city that has managed to retain some unique cultural flavour and preserve at least some of its natural and built heritage; cheap, reliable, safe and useful public transport; a young and burgeoning cultural and scientific scene with the opportunity to both observe a generation opening its eyes to the possible, and to leave our own mark; and a government that actually has a view to the future instead of making unborn generations pay for the priveleges the Boomers are enjoying now, to seeing the not-so-good side of Singapore.
This includes things that don't impact on us directly so much, but affect the overall quality of life here. Things like; the incessant building noise, evident almost absolutely everywhere except the nature reserves and thankfully in our tucked away condo (but not for long...); the "blur"iness of 90% of drivers here and their blatant flouting of road rules (speed limits, staying in lanes, drink driving, stop signs, zebra crossings ...the list goes on); the bureaucracy, red tape and petty rules that you have to periodically battle though; the fluctuating housing rents that can increase 50% in a year (who can say, "hyperinflation"?); the constant bombardment with advertisments, SMS and telephone spam, and commercialisation of public space - because all commerce is good commerce; the slavish devotion to development that means more and more malls with counterintuitively increasing rents - meaning rising cost of goods and diminishing returns for tired, worried and cranky shop owners and customers; and a population who just accepts decisions from corporations and the government with a shrug of the shoulders and a resigned "what to do?" without asking for a discussion, justification or alternatives and a self-perpetuating assumption that nothing can be changed. And I could go on...
But then amongst all the negativity (and amazingly I have been told I often have a gloomy outlook on life, haha) you hear about an opportunity that you just think is an absolute no-brainer, and want to fight for its implemention. That point, I think, is when you go from being a resident, to being a 'citizen', regardless of the colour of your passport.
Such an opportunity has arisen with the transfer of the KTM railway land from Malaysia back to Singapore. This railway stretches from Woodlands in the North, down to Tanjong Pagar - the heart of the financial district and soon to be gateway to a massive waterfront park, once the heavy container terminal has been moved to the West. Part of the deal involves handing land parcels for development over to the Malaysian partner in the deal. Fair enough, you have to give to get. But the rest of the land, a narrow corridor not suitable for large developments, would be perfect as a Rails to Trails conversion like those seen in the UK, US, Australia and Europe.
The Nature Society of Singapore along with other interested parties has submitted a (.pdf) proposal to retain the land as a "Green Corridor". While the government has yet to commit to any course of action, time is running out to persuade them that this once in a lifetime opportunity should not be wasted. Another group, "The Green Corridor" has set up a webpage and facebook group to garner community support.
My suggestion, as I wrote to the Straits Times, is to use the land to connect the Southern, Western and Northern Park 'Connectors'. As can be seen on the Nparks website, at present the "network" is more of a disjointed series of short trails, often just a glorified footpath, cut into portions by major roads. Were the corridor to be used as a cycleway, it would connect commuters from the outlying towns directly with the city centre, bypassing any major road intersection, and keeping them separated from fast flowing traffic. This cycleway would also pass directly by the One North developments of Biopolis, Fusionopolis, and Mediaopolis (who comes up with these names?!) - all areas with a high proportion of environmentally aware employees. On weekends, it would provide an alternative leisure route to the crowded East Coast Parkway, and give cyclists the chance to venture farther afield into Johor Bahru and beyond, as well as catering to walkers who want to tramp in a jungle setting. For those who say that no-one would commute in 30 degree weather, I tell you it's vastly preferable to cycling in snow and ice, which is the reality faced by many of our northern cousins who manage to do just that ;)
I sincerely hope that any Singaporean reading this doesn't view me as an interfering foreigner who should just bugger off back to where I came from and mind my own business. That would be to deny the reality of a globalised workforce, and I hope that my time here means more than just eating chicken rice and learning to talk cock in a few Singlish phrases - I hope to shape this city in ways that make us not want to leave, and I think that helping to preserve this land is probably one of the best ways to go about doing that. It won't be easy, but I think it can be done.