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HDB to test social linkway and neighbourhood incubator concept

The linkway in the neighbourhood as a place for residents to interact and a one-stop community hub for residents to come up with ideas to strengthen community bonds -- these are two ideas the Housing and Development Board (HDB) is planning to study and test.

SINGAPORE: The linkway in the neighbourhood as a place for residents to interact and a one-stop community hub for residents to come up with ideas to strengthen community bonds -- these are two ideas the Housing and Development Board (HDB) is planning to study and test.

They will be tried out in Tampines Central for a year, starting this month.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan outlined these plans at the opening of this year's HDB Community Week on Saturday morning, which marked the start of a series of initiatives and activities -- including the new Good Neighbours Movement.  

Mr Khaw said if successful, such design strategies could be part of the HDB's plans for new development areas like Bidadari and Tampines North.

This follows a year-long study by the HDB and the National University of Singapore (NUS) on the impact of the built environment on community bonding.

It looked into the past design efforts of the HDB, and uncovered new design strategies that met this objective.

The study, which was launched at last year's HDB Community Week, surveyed some 2,200 people from five towns.

One of its findings, Mr Khaw noted, is that residents met incidentally and unplanned at places like lift lobbies and linkways during peak hours in the morning or evening, even though these places have a transitional purpose.

"The study noted that most residents tend to encounter their fellow residents opportunistically, that means while going to work or coming back from work and of course they meet them at the lift lobbies or linkways,” said Mr Khaw.

“But then the interactions tend to be too brief. At most ‘Hello, how are you?’ and sometimes not even ‘hello’ or ‘how are you?’ We're trying to see, can we intensify such interactions. Make it a little bit longer.

“I think hardware may help... The question is 'can we create such spaces that opportunistically capture such transitional, temporary interactions and make it longer?'"

Thus the social linkway concept aims to deepen interactions, with more seating or even exhibits along it to make it a node of interest.

As for the neighbourhood incubator concept, Mr Khaw said the study indicated that it is important to have a one-stop hub for community activities.

He said community leaders will be needed to drive this. Therefore, it makes sense to co-locate the incubator space with the Residents' Committee centre.

The study also revealed that another key design strategy is to create micro-communities, particularly at the floor level.

This includes having corridors with pockets of open spaces to encourage neighbourly interactions.

But Mr Khaw stressed that a balance must be struck.

"We must be mindful that residents have privacy concerns, so we must not go overboard,” he said. “One solution is to provide more shared spaces at every floor of the block such as by creating a larger floor lift lobby.”

HDB is testing this idea in some BTO developments like Depot Heights, Golden Orchid and Golden Mint.

It is also trying a new concept at SkyVille@Dawson, where sky villages, or ‘kampungs high up in the sky’ are created.

The concept sees a space shared by 10 floors of apartments.

But Mr Khaw also noted that hardware is not enough.

He added that good programming and supportive organisations are also needed to make public spaces come alive.

Mr Khaw said: "The organisations that manage the spaces must also be supportive. For example, we certainly can be discouraging if we have rules and regulations that prevent some of these ground-up activities.

“So if we can be helpful in facilitating and helping them, encouraging them, I think the public spaces can come alive." 

The HDB will also work with the People's Association and town councils to find ways to make better use of the void deck spaces next to the RC centre.

"We are going to test in this pilot project in Tampines, to really work with the community from the start, with all the stakeholders and the community,” said Asst Prof Cho Im Sik, Department of Architecture, School of Design and Environment, NUS. “So they can really feel it's their project and they have a say in the creation of the project."

Meanwhile, Assoc Prof Ho Kong Chong from the Department of Sociology at NUS said that the availability of modern amenities is among the reasons for looser neighbourly relations.

“Singapore is a city; and as a city, relationships are dense and heterogenous; so the kind of neighbourliness you would expect is kind of lower in Singapore, but it's the same in all other cities,” he said.

“If you're looking at a 50, 60-year period, it's definitely changed: There were a lot more things that residents needed to get together, for instance, to fight fires, to fight floods.

“But in more modern amenities, where these kind of public services are there, the neighbourly relations tend to be lower because of the absence of such overwhelming needs."

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