Get off my lawn: when public parks aren’t so public

In London, debate over the Thomas Heatherwick-designed Garden Bridge continues. Will Self’s piece in the Guardian this week was a particularly lucid contribution to the discussion. As Self argues, the bridge is significant for what it represents — corporate encroachment into public spaces:

In a London increasingly characterised by the erosion of genuinely public space and its replacement by pseudo-public spaces controlled by private corporations (with the assistance of the police, now that Public Space Protection Orders are being introduced), the bridge is the flagship for a new corporatist capital. Capital being the operative word.1

This phenomenon isn’t confined to London alone, however. New York’s Highline and Chicago’s Millenium Park are similar examples of pseudo-public spaces that have been built on private money, and are thus beholden to private interests. In a 2013 article in CityLab, Alex Ulam notes that ‘unlike the great public parks built in previous eras, the new generation of flagship parks is almost completely dependent upon massive private support for its survival.’2

We may soon see a similar phenomenon in Malaysia: a place called Gurney Wharf.

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Speaking of Raffles

A quick update this time — and a rather more personal one too.

Yesterday I accepted a job offer in Singapore. I’ve a couple more bureaucratic hoops to jump through before I get my work permit, but once that’s done, I’ll be contributing to this nation’s much-lamented brain drain once again. Like so many of my fellow countrymen and women, it seems I’ve succumbed to the, uh, “Singapore grip” — the grip it has on so many young Malaysian professionals, at least.

I’m really excited about the new job, a research assistant gig at an architectural conservation lab. I’ve been wanting to get involved with built heritage in a much more hands-on way, and this job seems like the perfect opportunity to do just that. The lab is doing some great interdisciplinary work, and I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how new technology and a scientific approach can help better our understanding of architectural heritage.

I’m also looking forward to learning more broadly about approaches to built heritage in Singapore, and how similarities and differences between the Lion City and Malaysia play out in both policy and practice.

This doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing about Malaysia. There are far too many interesting things happening here in terms of architecture and the built environment right now. But the scope of this blog will slowly extend from George Town to Singapore, via KL, and I hope this proves interesting to readers.

On the subject of readers, I’d like to thank everyone who’s shared these posts — and your thoughts along with them. I’ve particularly enjoyed the discussion prompted by the piece on Runnymede and Kampung Siam in Facebook groups. I firmly believe open conversation is vital to heritage conservation. If heritage is about how we manage change — what we think is worth keeping, and how we go about doing that — then it is essential that we talk about what it is we value in our historic urban environments. So I’m delighted to see such lively discussions of our cities prompted by my little blog posts, and look forward to more of the same.

Stay tuned.

Bricks and mortals: two kinds of heritage, the same sad outcome

2016 hasn’t been great for Penang’s heritage. On 9 February, a number of buildings at the Runnymede site on Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah were demolished.1 While families across the island were tucking into Chinese New Year lunches, a demolition crew was picking away at the remains of George Town’s colonial past. The demolition was controversial for two main reasons: firstly, among the buildings destroyed was a bungalow associated with Sir Stamford Raffles, widely regarded as Singapore’s founding father; that the demolition was carried out during a significant public holiday also raised eyebrows.

Less than two weeks later, villagers in the nearby Kampung Siam began preparing to leave after the High Court threw out their appeal to remain in their ancestral homes.2 The historic village will soon give way to new development. The two incidents, though not directly related, reveal how Penang’s rich heritage — both tangible and intangible — is under considerable pressure from development. And the outcomes at both sites give cause for concern about the future of this island’s historic legacy.

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When home is a foreign country

Hello, Internet! I finally bit the bullet and got myself a blog. Just what the place needed — another voice crying out in the wilderness. I’m hoping to use this space to write about the things I’m interested in: architecture, heritage, and urbanism, mostly. I’ll be using this blog to explore ideas in a more fluid way than I might when writing for a magazine. I figure if some things (like cake batter and cookie dough) are better before they’re fully baked, perhaps the same can hold true for ideas. So with that caveat lector, let’s begin.

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