Update of news and articles on Bukit Brown

February 2012

NewAsiarepublic.com
Feb 23, 2012

Saving our heritage, not just Bukit Brown

Huang Ziming

For too long a time, our idea of ‘heritage’ has been devalued, removed from our lives and entrusted instead to the market forces, commodified for tourist consumption – a case in point being the displacement of residents and traditional trades from Chinatown, or the substitution of real kampungs with a replica called Malay Village. Where economic or use value lies in future housing development, a multi-religious site like Bidadari Cemetery is simply cleared away despite historical values being identified.

For too long a time, the public may have presumed that heritage for preservation needs to be of national importance and initiative has to come from the authorities. But any such impression clearly has to change this time with the case of Bukit Brown, as there are not only initiatives by groups like the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS), Nature Society (Singapore) and Asia Paranormal Investigators to preserve the site, but also other visible efforts by individuals and independent groups researching, networking and information-sharing on the social media, without depending on the National Heritage Board for interest and directions.
Social Value of the Communities in Heritage Protection

The principles of a people-focused approach to heritage protection are certainly not new in the world. Dating back to 1979, the Burra Charter (the Australia ICOMOS Guidelines for the Conservation of Places of Cultural Significance) has referred to ‘social value’ as part of the cultural significance at the heart of decision-making for heritage. The 1999 version of the charter refers to cultural significance as “aesthetic, historic, scientific, social or spiritual value for past, present or future generations”. The 2005 UK Strategy for Sustainable Development not only discusses the importance of protecting natural heritage but also emphasises on the power of community action in shaping the environment against threats of climate change.

Incidentally, there is a practice in the UK, across 50 per cent of its region, of making ‘local lists’ of heritage sites which are not on the existing statutory lists, and this has drawn much community involvement and interest. Perhaps the time is ripe for such practice to be adapted as a model for truly ground-up and pre-emptive initiatives towards protection of heritage reflecting the history and identity of different ethnic communities in Singapore. One needs not always be fixated on the idea of gazetting monuments of ‘national importance’, which may unnecessarily drag us down with contestations of how to measure individuals’ contributions to a nationalist history.

I would like to argue here for the value of a cemetery like Bukit Brown as heritage site from a combination of different angles, beyond the aesthetic or historic values of individual tombs which many have already elaborated on. It has to be emphasised that preservation of such a place of memory or sacred space cannot be replaced by mere documentation. Since there are some people who would suggest that building highways and houses are more important in Singapore than preserving heritage, it is also important that we weigh different considerations against one another. They would try to convince us that such course of action will indeed be necessary for our common good in the long run, while we need to argue why heritage is important for our society, and why we may need ‘standard operating procedure’ in studying any heritage as ‘public good’, like what Singapore Heritage Society is advocating in its position paper.
Intrinsic Value versus Instrumental Value

There comes a time when we as individuals or even an entire nation may need to do some soul-searching on our value system, and one useful way to start would be to make a distinction between what we see as intrinsic value and what we see as instrumental value in our daily life. An example of intrinsic value is the aesthetic value of a good piece of music we enjoy as listeners or musicians, whereas instrumental value may be what a rock singer sees in the music when he is concerned with the fame and fortune that it can bring. Environmentalists who want to protect the biodiversity of plants and animals in the world would be looking at their intrinsic value as life forms, whereas some scientists may be more interested in the knowledge they may provide for technological advances.

To cite something closer to home, intrinsic value is what we see in human life itself, or in our relationship with our families and friends, whereas money is what we should rightly see in terms of instrumental value only, for unless you have a terrible fetish for the texture of dollar bills and coins, its value is only manifested, say, when you buy food to feed yourself and your family. Similarly, we should by right think of instrumental value of cars and iphones in terms of using them for the convenience and joy in spending time with our loved ones, rather than value in the material of these objects themselves. So there may be something fundamentally warped in our society, if let’s say we as a nation are all thinking like salesmen of cars and iphones: if, instead of thinking of how to produce such goods to improve the quality of human life, we are thinking of how the country should produce human population in order to feed the economy of cars and iphones!
Conclusion

Indeed there may be something fundamentally wrong with our value system, if some of us treasure the value of our housing property more than the lives of old folks who need a shelter, like what the controversial news from Woodlands suggested last week. What will be left of our humanity then? In fact, if we want to talk about the ‘function’ of heritage, we can say that it is not about the aesthetic pleasures that a painting or a calligraphy may give us per se, but rather about the social and cultural values that it represents to us, such as family bonding, kindness and filial piety, as traditions passed down from generation to generation.

Coming back to the example of Bukit Brown Cemetery, we can say it is not just the intrinsic value of exquisite carvings and decorations per se that we have to preserve, but also the cultural tradition that is embodied in them, and the entire setting of rituals in paying respect to one’s ancestor, in a landscape set apart from the bustle of daily life, that one hopes the next generation can continue to experience. This is not to forget the belief of a tomb as a final resting place, in a setting that is one with nature – a belief which is respected universally, and hence transcends all communities.

Cemeteries therefore can serve as heritage sites to provide a sense of history and humanity that is educational for the younger generation, as they represent our shared values as citizens of the nation and of the world. One can still further elaborate on this point, but for now it would do good to remind ourselves that the cars that are shining on the highway today will soon depreciate into scrap metal while new cars are pushed into the market, and money generated from property investments will keep changing hands from one stranger to the next, but cultural and natural heritage mishandled in our generation will be forever lost and irreplaceable.



Photo courtesy of SOS Bukit Brown.

TODAY Voices
Feb 16, 2012

Assessments will be made on drainage impact of Bukit Brown

We thank Mr Chong Ja Ian for his letter "What effect will the development of Bukit Brown have on flooding" (Feb 11).

Public agencies work closely to assess how new developments, such as infrastructure and housing, could affect surrounding areas.

In doing so, we are able to introduce mitigating measures where needed.

For the new road through Bukit Brown, relevant agencies such as the PUB and National Parks Board were consulted on the drainage requirements and its impact to the environment before the plan was approved.

The larger part of Bukit Brown will not be developed for some time yet. When the area is eventually needed for development, relevant agencies will similarly be consulted for their assessment and recommendation of measures needed to address any drainage issue. Letter from Helen Lim, Director, Media Relations and Public Education, Land Transport Authority; and Hwang Yu-Ning, Group Director (Physical Planning), Urban Redevelopment Authority

http://www.todayonline.com/Voices/EDC120216-0000031/Assessments-will-be-made-on-drainage-impact-of-Bukit-Brown

TODAY Voices
Feb 11, 2012

What effect will the development of Bukit Brown have on flooding?

Letter from Chong Ja Ian

The Environment and Water Resources Ministry recently released the "Report on Key Conclusions and Recommendations of the Expert Panel on Drainage Design and Flood Protection Measures".

The report states: "Urbanisation has undoubtedly led to an increase in storm water runoff in Singapore. There is therefore a strong argument for introducing measures to mitigate the effects of such urbanisation."

The report also indicates the importance of modelling and analysis in understanding and mitigating the effects of urbanisation on flooding.

In this regard, I ask the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Land Transport Authority and related agencies to share with the public their studies on the effects of road building and future development at Bukit Brown Cemetery on flooding.

It would also be helpful if the relevant bodies could specify their plans, based on this research, to address any flooding that may arise.

If such a study is not ready for release, it would be useful if the agencies could say when it would be and how they intend to act on its findings.

Such environmental impact studies are common to many large-scale construction and development projects around the world.

Making such information available would help members of the public who may be affected by plans to develop Bukit Brown.

http://www.todayonline.com/Voices/EDC120211-0000017/What-effect-will-the-development-of-Bukit-Brown-have-on-flooding

ST News
Feb 7, 2012

Residents split over new Bukit Brown road
Those in Sime Road worry about noise, while Lornie residents expect less traffic

By Royston Sim & Goh Chin Lian

TWO sets of residents have mixed reactions regarding the building of a road through Bukit Brown cemetery.

While those who live along Sime Road are upset that they will have to put up with noise and pollution once the dual four-lane road to run behind their homes is operational, those residing along Lornie Road will have some reason to cheer.

They can expect less traffic on the busy carriageway after it is reduced to a dual two-lane road when the Bukit Brown road is completed in 2016.

Work on the estimated 2km new road - which will start from Lornie Road, cut through Bukit Brown and join Adam Road before the Pan-Island Expressway exits - is expected to begin early next year.

There are 19 bungalows and semi-detached houses along Sime Road. Besides citing noise and pollution concerns, residents like Mr Daniel Goh, 63, also expressed concern that the new road would cut off their access to Kheam Hock Road.

Now, Sime Road leads to Kheam Hock Road, which in turn connects to Dunearn or Bukit Timah road.

The residents will no longer have that direct access after the new road is built. Mr Goh said that during a meeting last October, Land Transport Authority (LTA) officials said an underpass would be created off Lornie Road so residents could use that instead to access Kheam Hock Road.

Besides the inconvenience of a longer drive to use the proposed underpass, Mr Goh fears an accident on the new road could divert traffic back to Lornie Road and clog up that carriageway too. 'We are very worried. They are going to choke off our entrance and exit,' said the retiree, who has lived in Sime Road since 1987.

Traffic along Lornie Road is not that bad except during peak hours, he added, so he feels it is 'mind-boggling' that the LTA would want to create a new road with eight lanes instead of just expanding Lornie Road, which has seven lanes in both directions.

Another Sime Road resident, who wanted to be known only as Ms Tay, said it would definitely be a lot noisier with the new road behind her home. 'Urbanisation is good, but you have to retain... what makes Singapore beautiful,' said the 25-year-old student.

Grassroots leader Michael Ng said about 30 residents turned up at the LTA meeting last October. They live in semi-detached houses and bungalows along Lornie Road and Sime Road, and represented about half of the 50 to 60 households that grassroots leaders had informed about the meeting.

Mr Ng, chairman of the Dunearn Neighbourhood Committee for the area, recalled that the LTA had shown a map of the proposed road then.

He said it could not confirm the alignment of the road at the meeting as it had to take into account the position of the graves, which he was told had not yet been documented.

'The residents know the road will come out from Adam Road, but how near to or how far from their homes, they don't know,' he added.

No further meetings with the LTA have been scheduled.

Even so, there are those who are glad that the new road will divert traffic away from Lornie Road.

Counselling psychologist Georgina Chin, who is in her mid-40s and lives in Wallace Way, said it would be easier to turn out to Lornie Road. It can be difficult now because of heavy traffic and cars speeding towards Adam Road. She added: 'The noise is awful. I genuinely look forward to the noise level going down.'

Others opposed to the new road include heritage groups.

In a position paper released last Saturday, the Singapore Heritage Society said it was 'deeply disappointed' with the Government's decision to go ahead with plans to build the road - as mentioned in a Facebook post by Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin last Friday.

It expressed regret that the Government did not hold consultations prior to the decision and urged the authorities to consider 'alternatives that would not destroy the heritage value in the cemetery'.

The LTA has said that the road would affect just 5 per cent - or about 5,000 - of the 100,000 graves there.

Bukit Brown has been earmarked by the Urban Redevelopment Authority for long-term residential use.

roysim@sph.com.sg

chinlian@sph.com.sg

Feb 6, 2012
by Z'ming Cik

The Roots of a Nation and the Question of Value (It’s not only about Bukit Brown!)

For too long a time, our idea of ‘heritage’ has been devalued, removed from our lives and entrusted instead to the market forces, commodified for tourist consumption – a case in point being the displacement of residents and traditional trades from Chinatown, or the substitution of real kampungs with a replica called Malay Village.  Where economic or use value lies in future housing development, a multi-religious site like Bidadari Cemetery is simply cleared away despite historical values being identified.



For too long a time, the public may have presumed that heritage for preservation needs to be of national importance and initiative has to come from the authorities. But any such impression clearly has to change this time with the case of Bukit Brown, as there are not only initiatives by groups like the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS), Nature Society (Singapore) and Asia Paranormal Investigators to preserve the site, but also other visible efforts by individuals and independent groups researching, networking and information-sharing on the social media, without depending on the National Heritage Board for interest and directions.


Social Value of the Communities in Heritage Protection



The principles of a people-focused approach to heritage protection are certainly not new in the world. Dating back to 1979, the Burra Charter (the Australia ICOMOS Guidelines for the Conservation of Places of Cultural Significance) has referred to ‘social value’ as part of the cultural significance at the heart of decision-making for heritage. The 1999 version of the charter refers to cultural significance as “aesthetic, historic, scientific, social or spiritual value for past, present or future generations”.  The 2005 UK Strategy for Sustainable Development not only discusses the importance of protecting natural heritage but also emphasises on the power of community action in shaping the environment against threats of climate change.



Incidentally, there is a practice in the UK, across 50 per cent of its region, of making ‘local lists’ of heritage sites which are not on the existing statutory lists, and this has drawn much community involvement and interest. Perhaps the time is ripe for such practice to be adapted as a model for truly ground-up and pre-emptive initiatives towards protection of heritage reflecting the history and identity of different ethnic communities in Singapore. One needs not always be fixated on the idea of gazetting monuments of ‘national importance’, which may unnecessarily drag us down with contestations of how to measure individuals’ contributions to a nationalist history.



I would like to argue here for the value of a cemetery like Bukit Brown as heritage site from a combination of different angles, beyond the aesthetic or historic values of individual tombs which many have already elaborated on. It has to be emphasised that preservation of such a place of memory or sacred space cannot be replaced by mere documentation. Since there are some people who would suggest that building highways and houses are more important in Singapore than preserving heritage, it is also important that we weigh different considerations against one another. They would try to convince us that such course of action will indeed be necessary for our common good in the long run, while we need to argue why heritage is important for our society, and why we may need ‘standard operating procedure’ in studying any heritage as ‘public good’, like what Singapore Heritage Society is advocating in its position paper.



Intrinsic Value versus Instrumental Value



There comes a time when we as individuals or even an entire nation may need to do some soul-searching on our value system, and one useful way to start would be to make a distinction between what we see as intrinsic value and what we see as instrumental value in our daily life. An example of intrinsic value is the aesthetic value of a good piece of music we enjoy as listeners or musicians, whereas instrumental value may be what a rock singer sees in the music when he is concerned with the fame and fortune that it can bring. Environmentalists who want to protect the biodiversity of plants and animals in the world would be looking at their intrinsic value as life forms, whereas some scientists may be more interested in the knowledge they may provide for technological advances.



To cite something closer to home, intrinsic value is what we see in human life itself, or in our relationship with our families and friends, whereas money is what we should rightly see in terms of instrumental value only, for unless you have a terrible fetish for the texture of dollar bills and coins, its value is only manifested, say, when you buy food to feed yourself and your family. Similarly, we should by right think of instrumental value of cars and iphones in terms of using them for the convenience and joy in spending time with our loved ones, rather than value in the material of these objects themselves. So there may be something fundamentally warped in our society, if let’s say we as a nation are all thinking like salesmen of cars and iphones: if, instead of thinking of how to produce such goods to improve the quality of human life, we are thinking of how the country should produce human population in order to feed the economy of cars and iphones!



Indeed there may be something fundamentally wrong with our value system, if some of us treasure the value of our housing property more than the lives of old folks who need a shelter, like what the controversial news from Woodlands suggested last week. What will be left of our humanity then? In fact, if we want to talk about the ‘function’ of heritage, we can say that it is not about the aesthetic pleasures that a painting or a calligraphy may give us per se, but rather about the social and cultural values that it represents to us, such as family bonding, kindness and filial piety, as traditions passed down from generation to generation. Coming back to the example of Bukit Brown Cemetery, we can say it is not just the intrinsic value of exquisite carvings and decorations per se that we have to preserve, but also the cultural tradition that is embodied in them, and the entire setting of rituals in paying respect to one’s ancestor, in a landscape set apart from the bustle of daily life, that one hopes the next generation can continue to experience. This is not to forget the belief of a tomb as a final resting place, in a setting that is one with nature - a belief which is respected universally, and hence transcends all communities.



Cemeteries therefore can serve as heritage sites to provide a sense of history and humanity that is educational for the younger generation, as they represent our shared values as citizens of the nation and of the world. One can still further elaborate on this point, but for now it would do good to remind ourselves that the cars that are shining on the highway today will soon depreciate into scrap metal while new cars are pushed into the market, and money generated from property investments will keep changing hands from one stranger to the next, but cultural and natural heritage mishandled in our generation will be forever lost and irreplaceable.



Save Bukit Brown! Save Our Humanity!

http://sosbukitbrown.wordpress.com/

ST News
Feb 6, 2012

Heritage society 'disappointed' with Govt's Bukit Brown decision

By Grace Chua

THE Singapore Heritage Society wants Bukit Brown Cemetery to be fully documented, and its heritage and environmental value taken into account, before any road or housing decisions are made, it said in a position paper.

It added it was 'deeply disappointed' with the Government's decision to continue with a road through part of the historical burial ground, adding it regretted there was no public consultation before zoning and road-building decisions were made.

The position paper, released on Saturday night, comes after a Facebook post on Friday by Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who described the ongoing work to document some 5,000 of the graves there.

In his post, Mr Tan - who is the Government's de facto point man on Bukit Brown public engagement - said a controversial road through the cemetery would be adjusted to reduce the impact on the graves, based on the documentation exercise.

But the society felt that documentation of all graves should have come before the route setting, rather than the other way around.

The dual four-lane carriageway was announced last year and is meant to ease congestion on Lornie Road. However, it will affect 5 per cent of the area's 100,000 grave sites.

The society said: 'The argument that a road which is not the shortest possible route through the cemetery is sub-optimal is a calculation based upon traffic needs only.

'Unlike standard road-building projects, this one comes at the opportunity cost of a unique historical and valuable natural space in Singapore.'

It added that the society 'regrets there was no consultation prior to the decision, and urges the Government to consider alternatives that would not destroy the heritage value in the cemetery'.

The 223ha cemetery, which is slated for residential use under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Concept Plan 2001, is the resting place of notable immigrants like businessmen Cheang Hong Lim and Chew Joo Chiat. The society's paper argues that it is not only the graves, but also cultural practices like rituals and offerings, which will be lost should the graves be exhumed for development.

It recommended the cemetery be gazetted as a heritage site and turned into a heritage park, suggestions it had made in its book Spaces Of The Dead: A Case From The Living, which argues for cemeteries to be conserved as open-air museums or parks.

The society also suggested the Government look at best practices of historical cemeteries and heritage parks such as Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts and Saints Innocents Cemetery in Paris.

'If it is not possible to gazette Bukit Brown in its entirety, large swathes of the cemetery can be designated for legal protection,' the paper said, adding that the decision on which parts to be gazetted can be made based on information gleaned from the full documentation of Bukit Brown's graves.

Cost-benefit analyses, the society added, should be a key part of any heritage-related decision, and take into account a site's physical space, its biodiversity, value as a tourist attraction, and the sense of identity or belonging it promotes among citizens.

Likewise, environmental impact assessments should be done, it said. The lushly forested cemetery slows down stormwater run-off into the Kallang River, wrote Assistant Professor Lim Han She of the National University of Singapore's geography department, in an annex to the position paper.

The hydrologist added that clearing the vegetation would increase surface run-off, straining drainage systems around the Thomson Road area.

Other environment and heritage civic groups have previously taken a similar stance.

The Nature Society (Singapore) last year put out a position paper asking planners to consider the site's uncommon birds and plants, and its value as a carbon dioxide sink and rainfall 'sponge'.

Members of the public have also spoken up. In a December letter published in The Straits Times, Madam Marian Tay wrote that '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'.

Mr Tan, who is also Minister of State for Manpower, had noted on Friday that Bukit Brown could hold 15,000 homes for around 50,000 residents, and be an extension of Toa Payoh township.

Asked about Bukit Brown's potential for housing, Heritage Society executive committee member Terence Chong, who wrote the paper, said that the society 'understands the nation has housing needs. However, housing at Bukit Brown Cemetery remains a conceptual possibility which must be reassessed with changing times'.

ST News
Feb 4, 2012

Green light for road through Bt Brown
But path will take into account findings of documentation project

By Grace Chua

THE Government will proceed as planned with the building of a road through Bukit Brown Cemetery, Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin said in a Facebook post yesterday.

But the road, which will result in 5 per cent of the cemetery's 100,000 or so graves being exhumed, will be adjusted to take in the findings of a massive documentation exercise currently ongoing to capture the history of the place, he added.

'As for the rest of the cemetery, where 95 per cent of the graves are, we are happy to look into how the area can be enjoyed in the interim,' he said, implying that it could eventually make way for other development projects.

'I have stated that we can and should bring in more Singaporeans to appreciate the heritage, culture and biodiversity of Bukit Brown.

'Let's see how we can develop Bukit Brown in the interim, to make it more accessible to visitors, even as we maintain its rustic charm,' said Mr Tan, who is also Minister of State for Manpower.

The dual four-lane carriageway, plans for which were announced last September, is meant to ease congestion on Lornie Road. Construction will begin next year.

The Bukit Brown site as a whole is zoned for residential use under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Concept Plan 2001, which sets out plans for the next 40 to 50 years.

In his post, Mr Tan noted that it can potentially house 15,000 homes for around 50,000 residents, or 40 per cent of the homes in Toa Payoh town.

'These are homes for many, many Singaporeans,' he said. 'This is not meant to trivialise the heritage value of Bukit Brown Cemetery, which I truly appreciate, but to put on the table the choices we have to make.

'Other plots of land around the island continue to be developed for homes. We will take back land for some uses, more land will be reclaimed and we will continually explore how to innovatively create space. And, yes, we will also seek to preserve our environment as well as our heritage.'

Mr Tan wrote that he dropped in yesterday morning on an exercise to document some 5,000 graves in Bukit Brown that could be affected by the new road.

That effort, led by anthropologist Hui Yew-Foong of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, is almost complete, he said, adding: 'LTA (the Land Transport Authority) will also use the findings from the documentation exercise to fine-tune the road alignment so as to reduce the impact on the graves.'

His comments prompted disappointment, but not surprise, from heritage and environment interest groups pushing for the preservation of the cemetery, one of Singapore's last historical burial sites after the Kwong Hou Sua and Bidadari cemeteries were exhumed in the last decade.

The groups said Bukit Brown is the resting place of prominent early immigrants like businessmen Tan Kheam Hock and Cheang Hong Lim. It also acts as a green lung, and slows stormwater run-off into the Kallang catchment area.

Bukit Brown is also home to rare species of birds and plants, they added.

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum pointed out that the environment group, in a position paper last year, had urged that alternative sites be looked into to meet housing needs.

The Nature Society's position paper advocated that all 233ha of Bukit Brown be turned into a heritage park, and called for an environmental impact assessment for the proposed road and township.

Members of the SOS Bukit Brown group, an informal collection of citizens petitioning for the whole site to be preserved, said in an e-mail: 'We are sorry to hear that Mr Tan still prioritises construction and the ultimate destruction of Bukit Brown.'

But they added: 'We are happy that Mr Tan has been open about his views. We believe it is now necessary for a fundamental review and open dialogue with all Singaporeans about the future of Singapore.'

caiwj@sph.com.sg

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