New initiatives aim to revive kampung spirit in HDB flats

Madam Iris Chua, a 61-year-old retiree, with her neighbourhood-grown bittergourds and ladyfingers as part of a showcase of Good Neighbours Projects which promote neighbourliness in Singapore, at Toa Payoh HDB Hub Atrium on May 24, 2014. -- ST PHOTO:
Madam Iris Chua, a 61-year-old retiree, with her neighbourhood-grown bittergourds and ladyfingers as part of a showcase of Good Neighbours Projects which promote neighbourliness in Singapore, at Toa Payoh HDB Hub Atrium on May 24, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Two initiatives to be piloted in Tampines soon to help residents connect and bond

Tampines Central will become a testbed for two new ideas to encourage public flat residents to connect, bond and revive the "kampung" spirit.

Public walkways that run through housing estates will be turned into "social linkways", by adding seating or exhibits, for instance, to encourage people to linger when they meet a neighbour.

A one-stop hub for community activities, which can help develop residents' ideas for more such initiatives, will also be set up.

These two initiatives will be piloted from next month to May next year, to see if they can get residents to know one another better.

The proposals came from a year-long study which the Housing Board conducted with the National University of Singapore (NUS) Centre of Sustainable Asian Cities and Sociology department. If successful, they will be incorporated into HDB's plans for new areas such as Bidadari and Tampines North.

"We want to make all HDB towns (into) what we call modern kampungs, that means modern in all these facilities but, at the same time, with good old kampung spirit," said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

He shared the study's results at the launch of this year's HDB Community Week yesterday.

Based on a survey of 2,200 residents from five HDB towns, and six focus group discussions, the study identified four design ideas for housing precincts.

Two are the social linkway and the community hub, or "neighbourhood incubator".

It would make sense to locate these incubator spaces in or near residents' committee centres, as strong community leaders will be needed to drive the concept, said Mr Khaw.

Another idea is to cluster play areas together by having a children's playground alongside a fitness corner, for instance. Shared spaces should also be provided to encourage "micro-communities", especially on each floor of a block. Both of these are already being done by the HDB.

Most people just happen to meet their neighbours rather than actively seeking them out, noted NUS associate professor Ho Kong Chong, one of the study's authors.

"So there's a role for facilities to broker these kinds of chance meetings," he said.

Tampines resident Jimmy Ho thinks the "social linkway" could succeed in providing this sort of opportunity.

"I think if it's convenient, if it's along the way home, I'm sure people won't mind sitting down and chit-chatting," said the 56-year-old, who works in the construction industry.

Besides the design of the physical environment, holding events in public spaces is also important in promoting community interaction. So is giving residents more freedom to use such spaces, the study found.

Said Prof Ho: "We're giving residents a stake."

In that vein, a steering committee with residents and other community partners will oversee the pilot in Tampines Central, he added.

janiceh@sph.com.sg