Mayors keep the 'kampung spirit' alive

Mr Teo interacting with residents at Compassvale Lodge RC Cafe. Mr Teo, who is Minister of State for Manpower and Mayor of North East District, said that on top of their role as MPs, mayors also had to think of solutions to prevent problems before th
Mr Teo interacting with residents at Compassvale Lodge RC Cafe. Mr Teo, who is Minister of State for Manpower and Mayor of North East District, said that on top of their role as MPs, mayors also had to think of solutions to prevent problems before they arose and be the ones to bond the community.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

By bringing community together, they help ensure neighbours lend a helping hand in times of need

While people may turn to their Members of Parliament (MPs) for help to maintain estate cleanliness and eradicate pests, the job of a mayor, who is also an MP, extends far beyond organising fixes for pressing problems.

Mr Teo Ser Luck, Mayor of North East District, for instance, says that on top of their roles as MPs, mayors are in charge of taking the first steps towards building camaraderie within communities.

He shared anecdotes about his role as a mayor ahead of the 2016 World Cities Summit, being held in Singapore from July 10-14 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre. At the event, he will meet mayors from other cities to gain insights into building sustainable cities with good living standards, including the intricacies of community management.

As a mayor, he serves a population of over 847,000 residents from two single-member constituencies and three group representation constituencies.

Mr Teo, who is also Minister of State for Manpower, said that while mayors work with the relevant government agencies to manage problems such as lift breakdowns and to ensure convenient transportation within neighbourhoods, their job involves thinking ahead to pre-empt potential problems with effective solutions.

Singapore has five mayors, who work with grassroots leaders of the districts under their charge to push through plans from residents and the community development councils (CDCs).

SENSE OF SINGAPOREAN IDENTITY

Social resilience is about bringing people together. It's about a sense of identity, place and belonging. It makes you feel a bit more Singaporean.

MR MICHAEL KOH, fellow at the Centre for Liveable Cities Singapore.

An essential part of their work is to keep the "kampung spirit" within their districts alive. One such strategy was the creation of cafe corners at void decks and public areas all over the North East District.

Mr Teo spearheaded the construction of these cafes, which have doubled in number to 133 outlets since 2012, to cater to about 4,000 people a day.

Residents gather in the morning at such cafes for a free cup of coffee to get to know their neighbours.

"Community bonding is extremely important in building city resilience," Mr Teo said.

"It's not just having a free cup of coffee. More and more neighbours know each other and help each other in times of need." He said that once, when there was a power outage, residents opened up their homes to neighbours they had met at the cafe corners.

He said the CDC offered a temporary sleeping area to the people living in the affected homes, but no one took up the offer because they were all in their neighbours' homes.

The cafe corner project is an example of one way in which cities might build social resilience.

Mr Michael Koh, fellow at the Centre for Liveable Cities Singapore, said: "Social resilience is about bringing people together.

"It's about a sense of identity, place and belonging. It makes you feel a bit more Singaporean."

Mr Teo is leading more initiatives to support the community, be it through coordinating resources for social development and community bonding programmes, or putting in place measures to help unemployed residents find work.

"The most enjoyable part of my job is the empowerment and the autonomy to design programmes that help the community," he said.

"Even the smallest things can make a difference."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2016, with the headline 'Mayors keep the 'kampung spirit' alive'. Print Edition | Subscribe