The blandness of sameness in the estates

Walking around the heartlands now, you can’t help but feel one thing – they all look and feel the same. There is this monotonous drabness about them. The same designed HDB flats, the same playgrounds, the same shops, the same estate centres, the same shopping malls with the same kinds of shops selling the same kinds of stuff. You have the same food outlets, the same foodcourts, the same restaurants. The only places which are different and unique with their own ambience would be places like Little India, Chinatown and perhaps the eastern part of Singapore.

Everywhere else, they are all the same.

Sameness is the one thing which kills creativity and inspiration – the two things we desperately need in this city which rushes head-on, sometimes blindly, into materialism and mediocrity. Whoever plans our towns seems to use the same blueprint for each one. As a result, at times I mistake a location for another because they are so similar.

I would have thought that having elected our Members of Parliament, they would have different ideas and plans for the towns they are in charge of. But the bottomline consideration of “economies of scale” have resulted in the towns run by the same party all end up looking just like the other. It is cheaper to just replicate one plan for all the estates, I guess. It is also a lazy way of doing things.

I would like to suggest that our town planners and our MPs be more bold, original and creative when deciding how and what the town under their charge should be like.

Here is one example of giving a town a distinctive identity. Forgive me if this sounds like a ridiculous idea but I love reading (although I don’t do enough of it) and would love to see some parts of Singapore dedicated to books. I am not talking about the crowded, poorly-stocked and noisy “community libraries”, or even the National Library at Victoria Street.

I would like to hope that we will see a town in the heartlands dedicated to being a book town. Instead of the usual and ubiquitous coffeeshops or shopping centres, or cinemas, which we see everywhere and at every town centre, we could devote the space to housing bookstores. All kinds of bookstores. Small ones. Each one carrying different genres or categories of books. And please, no big bookstores. Just small ones with rental kept to the very minimum.

The only requirement should be that the books in each store are different from the others’.

Carefully designed, such a heart centre for these stores in the heartlands (say, in Aljunied GRC) would attract book lovers and best of all, encourage our young to spend time there to read and explore. If the centre is big enough and the stores interesting enough, one could spend an entire weekend there – with the family and friends.

Offshoots of this would be book festivals, literary activities, discussions, forums, seminars, readings, the whole shebang. All in one place.

In the United Kingdom, they have such a place. It’s called Hay-On-Wye. It lies on the Welsh side of the Welsh/English Border in the County of POWYS, Wales. (Source.) The Brits – and books enthusiasts – from all over would drive up there just to read and explore the books. There are, I understand, some 30 bookstores in that town. They stock secondhand books, used books, new books, etc, from all genres.

Now, why can’t we have something like this here in Singapore? I am sure we can, and perhaps we even need to. In the age of computer games and Angry Birds on the iPad, reading is fast becoming an alien activity for our young (and even our older ones). Reading is a healthy, wholesome and thoroughly beneficial activity which we should encourage.

Building more and more shopping centres which take up large pieces of precious land in Singapore is just insane. They don’t do much in terms of expanding the mind or inculcating advantageous long-term habits. On the contrary, it takes us spiraling down the mind-numbing trip of materialism.

But book towns is just an idea. There could be others. The point is that we need to start getting away from the tiresome, boring and soul-numbing blandness of our heartland centres, and be more creative.

I think our MPs and town planners need to be more brave and courageous in this aspect. I know it’s all about economics and the financial bottomline. Fine. But do also consider that sometimes you need to feed the soul (of the nation) and not just the stomach.

Lets not have more shopping centres, cinemas and the like. We already have enough of them.

Or are we doomed to suffer the blandness of sameness in our estates?

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