“But they rule out any protest.”

Since returning from Chicago I couldn’t help but notice the sheer amount of construction work that goes on in Singapore. At practically every other corner you will see some sort of demolition, road works, piling, building construction, and so on.

Oh, but that’s what makes Singapore so much more livable than those other places where they keep their old crumbling buildings, you say. All right. I’ll give Singapore one thing. There are very few potholes on the roads. On the other hand, thanks to copious amounts of construction materials being shipped around, there’s lots of gravel strewn by the sides of many major roads. Which is a pain in the ass for cyclists. But I’ll take that over potholes any day.

On the other hand, construction has lots of negative externalities that may not justify replacing the benefits (as yet still fuzzy) of having newer buildings. Noise pollution. Air pollution. Removal of green spaces, leading to the urban heat island effect, meaning both an unpleasant rise in temperatures and a loss of calming vegetation. And finally, there is the loss of culture or heritage when rare or significant buildings are demolished.

Which is what’s happening at possibly the last place in Singapore where greenery and silence is abundant (but not for much longer). Turns out that the wonderful aerospace hub will not only introduce noise and air pollution and remove greenery, but also obliterate bits of history. From Reuters:

With their white-washed walls and black-colored timber frames, Singapore’s “Black-and-White” bungalows are the most distinctive architectural remnants of the city-state’s colonial history.

Built mostly between 1890 and 1950, the bungalows have broad verandahs, stuccoed columns, high ceilings, tall shutter windows, and wide, overhanging eaves to keep out the tropical heat.

Black and Whites are among the most sought-after housing in Singapore, and soon they will be even harder to get as the government plans to raze up to a third of the 500 to 700 remaining bungalows to make way for an industrial park.

“Singapore has very little to conserve in terms of heritage. It’s really unfortunate that they are going to demolish them,” said Uma Maheswaran Cheyyar Ramanathan, a visiting fellow at the architecture department at the National University of Singapore.

[…]

Seletar residents are bemoaning the imminent loss of their charming houses and spacious gardens amid towering old rain trees, so different from the government-built housing blocks in which more than 80 percent of Singaporeans live.

“Singapore is now so crowded, we are not going to get this kind of space anywhere else,” said Manonmani James, 85, who has to vacate her bungalow by the end of 2008.

Residents say the government plan will destroy the close-knit community in Seletar, where residents leave front gates unlocked and allow their children to roam freely in the overgrown gardens.

But they rule out any protest.

“What are you going to do? The government will stamp out the fire before it can even start,” one resident told Reuters.

Government-owned JTC says the new complex will create 10,000 jobs and expand Singapore’s aerospace sector by an estimated S$3.3 billion ($2.2 billion) when it is completed in 2018.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an overgrown garden in Sg. Can’t remember the last time I did, to be frank. Children do not roam freely anywhere anymore. The vast majority of them, even those with more wealthy families, are cooped in high-rise buildings with carefully planned covered walkways lined with (at most) demure manicured potted plants. Where do you think you’re scampering off to? Walk on this! Follow the rules!

But, y’know, when we reach whatever heaven is reserved for the worshippers of money, you’ll be grateful that we chose to pursue economic development now.

But they rule out any protest.” “What are you going to do?” Such familiar phrases in this country.

Hat-tip: Postcards from Seletar

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