Update of news and articles on Bukit Brown

December 2011

ST Editorial
Dec 18, 2011

Earnest engagement


The Government has pulled out all stops to work with heritage groups on the Bukit Brown project. Some 5,000 graves in the cemetery will have to be documented before they make way for the development of a road. As work to record the graves started a fortnight ago, an advisory panel comprising representatives from government agencies and heritage groups has been formed to help the documentation team gain access to the various interest groups when needed.

The Government has also made Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin the point man in the exercise. He, in turn, has roped in the top brass of various government agencies to attend to interest groups and the media on all matters regarding the area's redevelopment plans. A recent meeting between his team and five members of the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) lasted more than two hours. As an SHS committee member reported afterwards: 'We asked them so many questions... Nothing like this has ever happened before.'

Both civil servants and civic society acknowledge that such efforts to balance preservation and redevelopment are unprecedented. There have been scant records of Kwong Hou Sua and Bidadari cemeteries, which were dug up in the last decade. Such public-private partnership should become the norm when it comes to sensitive redevelopment projects. It is a clear demonstration of the kind of approach Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined at the recent PAP convention, where he spoke about changing the outreach strategy, and consulting Singaporeans more actively. There are, of course, the critics who will carp that the ongoing engagement over Bukit Brown is but a public relations exercise, since the Government did not think to consult civic groups before it decided to build the road across the cemetery. That would have been much better, but it is not too late for the Government to learn from this episode.

ST Forum

Dec 13, 2011

Create small memorial park at Bukit Brown Cemetery

A SINGAPORE Heritage Society book, Spaces Of The Dead: A Case From The Living, describes how Japanese soldiers, including convicted war criminals who committed atrocities in Singapore during World War II, are remembered at the Japanese Cemetery Park here through memorials that describe them as 'martyrs' or 'patriots', and which continue to be visited by people from Japan.

It thus seems ironic that Bukit Brown Cemetery, with its graves of the pioneers of the Chinese community here, now faces an uncertain future. While Singapore's urban redevelopment needs are understandable, some 'heart' can be applied to the deliberations on the future of Bukit Brown.

It is not merely another old cemetery but one of Singapore's last surviving historically significant ones. Once demolished, the graves of our forefathers will be lost forever. No amount of documentation or virtual rendering can replace the intrinsic value of Singaporeans being moved or even inspired by the sense of connectedness to this place we call home, that we get by being there physically.

I hope that, at least, the more historically and aesthetically significant graves or headstones can be relocated and preserved in a smaller memorial park to be created out of the current Bukit Brown Cemetery. The fine line balancing the case for the dead and the needs of the living can be drawn.

As a nature park, Bukit Brown can continue to have its place. Singaporeans can enjoy their relaxing strolls, exercise or nature romps in an area whose rolling hillocks are well noted for their rich flora and fauna.

Granting a new lease of life to Bukit Brown by 'refreshing' it as a memorial park will also enable Singaporeans and their children to be educated, reminded or inspired by the contributions of our nation's forefathers.

The sensitive redevelopment and preservation of Bukit Brown to ensure its continued relevance to Singapore and Singaporeans will be a fitting tribute to the pioneers who paved the way for us to be where we are today.

Edwin Pang

ST News

Dec 11, 2011
More hands on deck for Bukit Brown
290 people join effort; new advisory panel to include representatives from heritage groups

By Yen Feng

The effort will now include collecting the global positioning system points of the affected graves, to allow a three-dimensional mapping of the cemetery. The authorities are looking beyond heritage experts to cemetery and Chinese cultural advisers, concerning the graves that a new road might cut into. -- ST PHOTOS: TED CHEN

Work to record some 5,000 graves at Bukit Brown may have started more than a week ago, but the exercise has now grown from an initial 10 to 290 field workers, and with new technological tools to boot.

A new historian has also come on board to record the oral histories of the area's former residents. These, when compiled, will be available at the National Library from 2013.

The Government yesterday also unveiled a new advisory committee for the project. The 11-member panel comprises representatives from government agencies and heritage groups. Its chairman is Mr Ng Lang, chief executive of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

The committee is there to help the documentation team gain access to the various interest groups when needed.

The authorities, meanwhile, are looking beyond heritage experts to cemetery and Chinese cultural advisers, concerning the graves that a new road might cut into. It is understood this would enable the Government to find a path that would leave the least impact on the graves.

Such efforts to balance preservation and redevelopment in this new consultative climate are unprecedented - something civil servants and civic society both acknowledge. When Kwong Hou Sua and Bidadari cemeteries were dug up between 2001 and 2009, precious little of their records was stored.

In Bukit Brown's case, however, the body of knowledge about its graves has grown with time.

Yesterday, the cemetery's appointed documentarian, Dr Hui Yew-Foong, announced that the exercise would now include collecting the global positioning system points of the affected graves, to allow a three-dimensional mapping of the cemetery.

He was also given $250,000 by the URA to do the job, and work began on Dec 1.

For the two former cemeteries, there was no budget, and attempts to record its graves - if any - were done on a smaller scale, said Dr Hui, 39, who worked on documenting Kwong Hou Sua for a year in 2008.

The anthropologist said of his efforts back then: 'It was amateurish. I was still trying things out.'

Over the last three months, the Government has also helped to open doors for him at its various ministries for the documentation work.

'If I want maps, I get it. Information is available,' Dr Hui said.

Significantly, the state has put forward Minister of State for National Development, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, who led the rail corridor talks, to clarify the Government's position on Bukit Brown.

He has, in turn, drawn the top brass from various government agencies - including the URA and Land Transport Agency (LTA) - to meet and field questions from both interest groups and the media about the area's redevelopment plans.

Dr Chua Ai Lin, a historian and committee member of the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS), recalled one such meeting last month where five SHS members, including herself, met more than 20 ministry officials to talk about Bukit Brown's future.

The meeting lasted over two hours. 'We asked them so many questions... Nothing like this has ever happened before,' she said.

Officials said they also monitor closely online exchanges about Bukit Brown.

Mr Tan himself often posts comments, and replies to questions from heritage activists, on Facebook.

Responding to The Sunday Times' queries about these new channels of dialogue, the minister said that while it is true that such efforts were carried out to a lesser degree for other cemeteries, he hopes the Bukit Brown issue can 'refresh' the perspectives of both the Government, and cemetery and heritage conservationists.

'My colleagues in URA and MND (Ministry of National Development) share a similar belief in the importance of preserving our heritage and history... This effort with Bukit Brown Cemetery is important,' he said.

According to survey data from LTA, the proposed road may cut into the cemetery's hilly areas, where the remains of many of the country's pioneers lie.

Many who oppose the road works have argued that these should be kept for their historical and educational value.

Mr Charles Goh, 43, a cemetery guide, said it would be impossible if one had to choose one pioneer over another to be moved.

'If you curve (the road) left, you affect Nee Soon and Chong Pang. Curve right, and it is Kheam Hock and maybe Eng Neo.

'So, how do you decide who to dig up?'

LTA said it is unable confirm the road layout as its engineers are still investigating the area.

While it looks like the Government is making major concessions this time to make sure it meets the expectations of the various interest groups, some political observers and heritage leaders put all the effort down to a matter of public relations.

Law professor Eugene Tan said because the decision to develop Bukit Brown seemed to be 'firmly made' when it was announced, consultations have struck many as a case of 'damage control'.

And while its public relations may have improved, the fact is that the Government continues to 'arrogate to itself decisions on key policies', said Mr Derek da Cunha, a political commentator.

Striking a more sympathetic tone, Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society (Singapore), said he found the Government to be sincere in balancing development and heritage pressures.

'To be fair to the planners, they have really agonised over this.'

Bukit Brown will be a 'test case of sorts' for state and civil society relations, said sociologist Tan Ern Ser.

In the end, he said, the issue has to be decided 'by the people, in partnership with the Government, and for the people'.

-----------------------------------------


Historian joins project team


Dr Loh Kah Seng, an independent historian, will record the oral histories of the area's caretakers and former residents to reconstruct a sociocultural map.

The committee for the Bukit Brown documentation project has added a new member, Dr Loh Kah Seng, to its team of heritage experts.

Dr Loh, 39, an independent historian, was recruited by the group's team leader, Dr Hui Yew-Foong, last month.

Dr Loh said his job in the committee was to record the oral histories of Bukit Brown's caretakers and former residents, in order to reconstruct a 'sociocultural' map of the cemetery that detailed where its kampungs, or villages, and religious spaces used to be.

He said that while some people might think it was unusual to include real-life interviews for a cemetery project, that only showed the need to encourage the viewpoint that the living and dead were not 'separate'. Bukit Brown Cemetery, he said, was a case in point.

'The cemetery encouraged the settlement of villages to provide services, such as tombstone engraving, for visitors, and jobs such as grass cutting and tending to the graves,' said Dr Loh. 'In turn, these services provided by the village played a role in reinforcing family and cultural relationships.'

Dr Loh, who is married, received his PhD in history from Murdoch University in 2009. He has lectured in various universities and is a former junior college teacher.

His research interests are in social history and memory.

Dr Loh said he hoped his work at Bukit Brown would inspire people to see that efforts to document a cemetery are not an 'alien' idea.

'It's not just a burial ground that we are documenting. Cemeteries are part of the history of living.'

Anyone who has information about Bukit Brown's former residents can call Dr Loh on 8198-1172.

Yen Feng

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561 graves documented so far


A volunteer documenting the graves at Bukit Brown. It is back-breaking work - field workers have to first clear tombs of leaves and scrub their facades. -- ST PHOTO: TED CHEN

Over seven days, 561 out of some 5,000 graves said to be affected by a new road into Bukit Brown have been successfully documented.

The graves are in the Seh Ong cemeteries located at the gates of Bukit Brown, between Sime Road and Kheam Hock Road.

Dr Hui Yew-Foong, the anthropologist tasked by the Government to do the job, gave this update at a media tour of the site yesterday.

He said that the documentation work began on Dec 1. On average, field workers clocked in about 100 graves a day. But the first two days yielded considerably fewer graves due to rain. They work from Tuesdays to Saturdays.

Dr Hui has until March next year to complete all 5,000 graves. He said the team was maintaining a 'reasonable pace'. As long as the weather holds up, the project would be on schedule, he added.

But it is back-breaking work. To document the graves, field workers set out in pairs, in the morning. First, they clear the tomb of brush and fallen leaves, then proceed to scrub its facade with water.

After it is cleaned, one person records the tomb's inscriptions; the other takes photographs from various angles.

A regular-sized grave can take up to 30 minutes to document.

Graves that are typical of a certain style - Teochew, Hokkien, for example - or of exceptional design will also be copied and archived.

In the afternoon, field workers return to review their data and check for errors.

Some 300 people have signed up to help. Most are volunteers.

Mr L.N. Chua, 35, said he decided to pitch in since he was between jobs. 'I'm just doing something I think is useful,' he added.

For university student Goh Chye Kim, 24, it was an opportunity to learn more about Chinese heritage, said the Chinese studies student from the Nanyang Technological University.

Meanwhile, a new bilingual petition, SOS Bukit Brown, to halt construction works in the cemetery was launched online last Monday by a group who said they are artists, educators and writers.

Signatures have to be submitted by post, or e-mail. Its aim, said its creators, was to collect 100,000 signatures - 'one for each grave', by the end of the month.

Yen Feng


This is a tribute to the matriarch of the Peranakan household, who always managed the household.

Here you can see the matriarch of the Lim Nee Soon household

Here is the matriarch of the Tan Kheam Hock household

Here is the matriarch of Ong Sam Leong's family.  She was buried together with Ong Sam Leong in Bukit Brown.

I once saw another matriarch, that of Yeo Bee Neo, of the Cheang Hong Lim family.  Somehow I was drawn to her haughty looks, and I was determined to find her tomb,
ever since I found out that Cheang Hong Lim family cluster was moved from Alexandra Road burial ground to Bukit Brown.
Finally I found her grave in Bukit Brown.   She has the title of a First Ranking Official Wife as well.  She was buried in Hill 3, whereas her husband Hong Lim was buried in Hill 4.
Her children were scattered all over in Bukit Brown.

I put upright her tombstone, which have fallen down, to make sure everyone can now see clearly and identify her grave.
I once recalled I have to crawl under one tree to see a big tomb somewhere further up on the hill where Yeo Bee Neo's grave is.

At that time,  I have no idea who she was.  
But I certainly knew the graves next to her.  It was Cheang Jim Chuan and Chan Kim Hong Neo.
Chan Kim Hong Neo died in 1934 while Cheang Jim Chuan died in 1940.
Before both died,  their sons Theam Chu and Theam Kee were very filial, and used to host annual parties to celebrate their birthdays.

Above was one example whereby the two children host the celebration with Cantonese wayang, ronggeng and other entertainment and whereby they invited about 500 persons !

Their house at 112 Pasir Panjang Road "Riviera" must be a big grand house, and I have no doubt that Chan Kim Hong Neo
would be a matriarch of the house as well.
-----------
Recently I was given a task to find a grand old lady.  I was given a picture by her descendant to aid in the search and the BBC burial plot no as follows:
CHIA GIN TEE
Died on 7 February 1937;
Buried at Bukit Brown on 13 February 1937
Burial Plot No.741
Block 4 Section A
I went to Blk 4 Section A to search.  I could not find tomb 741, although tomb numbers 730 series were close by and the dates of death match.
Where would tomb 741 be?  Somehow the grand old lady intrigue me,  and deep inside my mind, she seem familiar,   I have seen her somewhere.
I decided to go down to the archives to take a look again at the entry.
My heart skipped a beat when I saw the BBC entry,  It was in Blk 3, she was not buried in Blk 4 as originally planned with other similar death dates, but because there was a family plot,
she was buried in Hill 3.  I noted that her tomb no was closeby to Cheang Jim Chuan and Chan Kim Hong Neo!
Furthermore the descendant has informed me that Chia Gin Tee was the mother of Chan Kim Hong Neo.
It couldn't be ?!  I rushed to Bukit Brown Cemetery as quickly as possible.

Yes, it is still like a jungle there, and worse, a tree has fallen across the tomb and blocked the access.
I crawled under this time, and remembered the old lady who have looked at me before last time I saw her but don't recognise her.
This time I fully knew who she was, for I have found the matriarch of the Chan family.

It is indeed Mrs Chan, nee Chia Gin Tee.
The photo I have been given has matched her tomb picture.
I have found the matriarch, mother in law of Jim Chuan after so many years.  She had died sometime in Feb 1937,   the family has bought a family plot for 3 graves then.
And coincidentally,  another matriarch, that of Jim Chuan mother, Yeo Bee Neo was reburied just 50 metres below them, when Hong Lim burial ground was cleared for redevelopment.

CNA Dec 6, 2011

Work begins to identify, document graves at Bukit Brown

By Hoe Yeen Nie

SINGAPORE: Work has begun to prepare Bukit Brown cemetery for a future road.

Contractors hired by the Land Transport Authority have been identifying affected graves while volunteers have also started to document the site.

In the last few weeks, a forest of wooden pegs has sprung up at Bukit Brown.

These pegs are in fact serving notice to the public that the affected graves will be cleared within a year.

Volunteers led by Dr Hui Yew-Foong, Fellow and Coordinator of the Regional Social and Cultural Studies Programme at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, have also moved in to document the site. The information is expected to be made available online.

Dr Hui said: "Every grave here is important. Every grave tells a story and every story is worth recording and taking down. We want to reconstruct what life was like in this place in the past; what the social life was like and what was the cultural life."

The volunteers work in pairs - one will jot down the inscriptions on tombstones while the other takes photographs.

The images are captured from right to left and every 45 degrees around the grave so that a 3D image can be created if needed.

It is not an easy task as some graves are overgrown and some tombstones have collapsed.

Time and weather have also worn away the inscriptions but the volunteers pressed on.

Some volunteers, like Michelle Teoh, have family members buried there.

Ms Teoh said: "For me it's very important that my children know about where they come from. By being involved (in the project), hopefully they'll get interested in their great-great-great grandfather."

Some members of the public said that a cemetery needs to be appreciated in its context and want Bukit Brown to be gazetted as a heritage park.

The Singapore Heritage Society, for instance, is working on a policy paper on how this can be done with input from stakeholders.

Ideas that have been proposed include erecting signs to help visitors navigate the site with information boards that explain the history and significance of certain graves.

Dr Terence Chong, an executive committee member of the Singapore Heritage Society, said the society is open to having something similar to Bidadari Memorial Garden.

At the Bidadari Memorial Garden at Mount Vernon Road, the tombstones of 21 prominent Christians, Hindus and Muslims - like Dr Lim Boon Keng, Sir David James Galloway and Haji Abdul Rahim Kajai - can be found there.

While their remains have been cremated, the tombstones serve to remind visitors that the site was once a cemetery.

But Dr Chong noted that "if you were to remove tombs, then the significance of this place would be reduced. And the greenery, as well, is quite important in contextualising the cemetery."

Time is also pressing on Dr Hui and his team of about 300 volunteers.

They have to document several thousand plots before the list of affected graves are made public in March.

The team also plans to record the rituals of ancestor worship, the process of exhumation, as well as the history of the old cemetery village.

With so much to do, volunteers have to work as fast as they can before the bulldozers roll in in 2013.

Members of the public who are looking for someone buried in Bukit Brown can now do so on the website of the National Archives.

The records are in English and the names are listed according to the date of burial.

Members of the public who wish to locate the burial records of their ancestors buried at the Bukit Brown cemetery will need to first determine their ancestors' names and dates of death before searching the uploaded records.

Those who need more information will still have to make a trip to the National Archives near Fort Canning Park.

- CNA/fa 

ST Forum
Dec 4, 2011

Don't forget Bukit Brown's vital green role


I would like to thank the Land Transport Authority and Urban Redevelopment Authority for making the effort to explain their rationale for the carriageway through Bukit Brown cemetery ('Bukit Brown road project 'can't wait''; Nov 20).

It appears that the designated route cutting through the grave site is a result of a Master Plan target to develop a residential estate in that location in three decades' time.

My question: Why do the planners think that in 30 years' time, they will have no alternative sites to plant the estate other than at Bukit Brown?

After all, already-concretised plots like Turf City are left untouched for years, golf courses are not acquired, and much of western Singapore is still available for development.

I would also like to know if an environmental impact analysis (EIA) had been conducted prior to the decision to undermine the invaluable roles that Bukit Brown cemetery plays - most importantly as an ecological sponge for rainfall, carbon dioxide and heat.

What were the EIA's findings, and what steps are planned to mitigate the foreseen risks?

Bearing in mind that flash floods already plague us now and global sea levels are predicted to rise substantially, how much more risk are planners taking in eliminating priceless, natural catchment areas?

Should my generation pass on the legacy of a Singapore full of housing, but held captive by incessant floods?

Marian Tay (Madam)

ST Forum
Dec 1, 2011

MAKING WAY FOR FUTURE
Physical spaces to create shared memories crucial


IN MONDAY'S letter ('Let's be practical on land use'), Mr Ang Chin Guan praised the Government for good urban planning, and said Bukit Brown Cemetery and Rochor Centre should make way for the infrastructural needs of future generations.

However, the interests of future generations may not solely have to do with economic development.

Granted, new roads will ease traffic congestion now, but 50 years on, there will be more vehicles utilising the roads, and our grandchildren will take the 'shorter travelling time' for granted. Is this the kind of legacy we should bequeath to them?

We do not know for certain what our future generations want, but with the current sense of confusion on what being a Singaporean means, we need to provide physical spaces to create shared memories for them.

If we base our demolition of landmarks solely on economic development, we would be failing to give them a proper sense of identity, since shared memories shape who they are.

Our future generations will have no first-hand memories of first-generation nation-builders, other than from the annual National Day Parade and their textbooks. We need to give them physical landmarks, to tell them that their industrious forefathers lived, worked and died in Singapore.

This kind of experience can be gained only if we conserve Bukit Brown Cemetery and avoid knocking down old urban landmarks unless they are near collapse.

The assumption that our future generations only want more cars and condos reflects on our short-sightedness. We must also tell them that being a Singaporean does not mean just aspiring to material needs.

Aloysius Foo

ST Forum
Dec 1, 2011

The concern is about the trade-offs


WHILE Mr Ang Chin Guan's intentions are well-received ('Let's be practical on land use'; Monday), he may have missed the essence of conservationists' arguments.

The issue is not about the utility of road expansions and new roads - of course, that is something everyone appreciates. Rather, the concern is about the trade-offs and cost that we as a nation will incur.

At the same time, citizens are also concerned about the coherence of the developmental plans, bearing in mind the Government's repeated exhortations to residents to drive less and utilise public transport.

Can the funds earmarked for Bukit Brown and the North-South Expressway be utilised for other projects which are in line with a more sustainable and civic-minded land-transport vision?

Proper understanding and management of trade-offs lie at the heart of civic discourse and, ultimately, effective governance. The genuine interests of citizens and residents should not be ignored in the name of pragmatism.

Kenny Ching

Massachusetts, United States

ST Forum
Dec 1, 2011

Making way for the Future
Physical spaces to create shared memories crucial


IN MONDAY'S letter ('Let's be practical on land use'), Mr Ang Chin Guan praised the Government for good urban planning, and said Bukit Brown Cemetery and Rochor Centre should make way for the infrastructural needs of future generations.

However, the interests of future generations may not solely have to do with economic development.

Granted, new roads will ease traffic congestion now, but 50 years on, there will be more vehicles utilising the roads, and our grandchildren will take the 'shorter travelling time' for granted. Is this the kind of legacy we should bequeath to them?

We do not know for certain what our future generations want, but with the current sense of confusion on what being a Singaporean means, we need to provide physical spaces to create shared memories for them.

If we base our demolition of landmarks solely on economic development, we would be failing to give them a proper sense of identity, since shared memories shape who they are.

Our future generations will have no first-hand memories of first-generation nation-builders, other than from the annual National Day Parade and their textbooks. We need to give them physical landmarks, to tell them that their industrious forefathers lived, worked and died in Singapore.

This kind of experience can be gained only if we conserve Bukit Brown Cemetery and avoid knocking down old urban landmarks unless they are near collapse.

The assumption that our future generations only want more cars and condos reflects on our short-sightedness. We must also tell them that being a Singaporean does not mean just aspiring to material needs.

Aloysius Foo

ST News
Dec 1, 2011

Making room for the past in our future

By Clarissa Oon

WITH some creativity, a compromise solution can be found to the debate raging over the fate of the historically significant and wildlife-rich Bukit Brown Cemetery.

The controversy began in September when the Land Transport Authority and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced plans to build a road cutting through the cemetery to ease traffic congestion on nearby Lornie Road.

It sparked calls from historians, nature conservationists, descendants of those buried there and many heritage lovers to preserve the cemetery containing about 100,000 graves, including those of distinguished local pioneers and their families.

About 5,000 of the graves will have to make way for roadworks due to start in 2013, while the rest will be untouched for 30 to 40 years until the future Bukit Brown housing estate is developed. The URA revealed for the first time recently that the area marked for long-term residential use will have a mix of private and public housing.

But if you think about it, pockets of the verdant cemetery can actually be kept as parks and memorials embedded in the future housing estate.

This hint of a compromise can be found in a 'personal reflection' on the cemetery penned by the Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin on his Facebook page, which reveals a little more than his official remarks. He has promised to find alternative ways in land-scarce Singapore to keep Bukit Brown's heritage alive.

'If we are not pantang (Malay for superstitious), I can see small clusters of cemetery parks amidst development. Some prominent tombs can be relocated to other places,' he wrote earlier this month.

But compromise in itself is woefully incomplete if the documentation of the affected graves becomes a rushed job. It will be done by a team of volunteers, led by a specialist who was appointed by the government only last month.

The example that comes to mind is the bulldozing of the sprawling Bidadari Cemetery in the Upper Serangoon area between 2001 and 2006, after which a memorial park was created to honour 20 of the famous dead. However, there was no systematic documentation or photography of the multi-religious cemetery, which held more than 130,000 tombstones, each a repository of valuable information on the dead, their families and diverse cultural and religious belief systems.

Aside from being a pressing and complex conservation issue, Bukit Brown offers two lessons for state-society relations - the need for the authorities to be more transparent about redevelopment plans, sooner rather than later; and the need for both sides to accommodate each other's concerns.

The URA can make available, in a timely fashion, more information than is currently contained in its Concept Plans and Master Plans. Members of the public can give feedback on these plans, which are regularly updated, and are the main source of information on how different parts of Singapore will evolve physically in the medium to long term.

While Bukit Brown was zoned for residential use in the 1991 and 2001 Concept Plans, there is no way of knowing from that piece of information alone the time frame for the cemetery's redevelopment, much less when roads or MRT lines will intrude into the cemetery.

Each Concept Plan sets out very broad guidelines for land use and transport over the next 40 to 50 years, based on population projections.

It is the Master Plan which translates these guidelines into a statutory land-use blueprint for the next 10 to 15 years. As of the last Master Plan in 2008, Bukit Brown remains zoned as a cemetery.

While the sharing of more detailed information on redevelopment is not always possible as it could lead to profiteering on the housing market, that argument does not hold for cemeteries.

Instead, such advance notice would help resource-strapped heritage groups like the Singapore Heritage Society to focus their attention and work with the Government on alternative proposals for conservation.

When it comes to engaging experts and the public on specific areas rich in history and culture, the Rail Corridor is a good act to follow. That is the long strip of former Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway land which reverted to Singapore on July 1. Right off the bat, the National Development Ministry has been engaging the public and interest groups on what to do with the land, and their input will go into the 2013 Master Plan. That is a fine example of engagement that allows accommodation.

Old places and spaces are never just about the past; they strengthen our rootedness to the land.

I can think of no better way for the Ministry of Education to be teaching values, such as filial piety and social responsibility, than for our children to see that we have kept the graves of forefathers who contributed so much to this land.

Currently, no grave has made it to the list of gazetted national monuments, as the upkeep of a grave is seen to be the responsibility of a family rather than the state. But if parts of Bukit Brown Cemetery are to be preserved, Singaporeans must ask themselves if the graves of important pioneers could be considered national monuments.

In more ways than one, Bukit Brown is the start of a national conversation.

clare@sph.com.sg

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