The proposed amendments to the Preservation of Monuments Act are a timely way to mark the 50th anniversary of the Preservation of Monuments Board. The board has overseen the gazetting of 73 national monuments, preserving the physical markers of Singapore's history through periods of rapid urbanisation. The changes which have been proposed will give more teeth to the legislation and also help safeguard Singapore's built heritage. While such legal practicalities are welcome, it can only provide a framework for action. Over the past five decades, Singaporeans have become more aware of the need to preserve structures and it is almost a habit now to think about re-purposing conserved buildings. It is heartening to see that people do not question the need to preserve buildings and sites. But given Singapore's tiny size, preservation must go hand in hand with a sensitive re-purposing of spaces.
Like many highly urbanised cities, Singapore already has a lively, informal history of gentrification, from the 1980s when the Warehouse disco defined partying for a whole generation, to the 2000s when fashionistas led the charge in revitalising Kampong Glam, to the present day when hip cafes sit cheek by jowl with motor repair shops in Little India. These waves of gentrification can teach urban planners much about ways to give conserved buildings a new lease of life. Some monuments, such as the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, are undergoing restoration while others are forbiddingly inaccessible, such as the Jurong Town Hall.