Important not to trivialise Bukit Brown debate

TODAY Voices
Mar 10, 2012

Important not to trivialise Bukit Brown debate

by Chan Kah Tim

I am saddened that much of the discussion over Bukit Brown and other key spaces pit the urgency of development against preserving heritage and nature. This is a false choice.

Keeping these sites the way they are is about who we are and want to be as Singaporeans, about what we value and how we connect to our nation.

Fostering such shared values and identity is precisely why organisations, from the Education Ministry to the Defence Ministry, invest in National Education, national resilience and psychological defence. It is important not to trivialise such matters.

Pragmatism in Singapore has never been just about the exigencies of concrete and asphalt. It includes a sense of vision and belief, a certain idealism. At its core is the hope that we Singaporeans can and should always demand more of ourselves.

If not, we might have given up after being kicked out of Malaysia, or when the British withdrew east of the Suez or when beset by other difficulties. Instead, we chose to rise to the occasion.

The ideal of bettering ourselves is one that we also share with the pioneers who helped make Singapore. It incorporates Singaporeans from all backgrounds. There can be no strong leadership without the unwavering partnership of ordinary Singaporeans.

As we face new challenges, including how to redefine Singapore and its people, we should again seek more than mere expedience and see beyond buildings and roads.

It means thinking about how we relate to one another as well as the people and land that shaped who we are today. Locating such commonality among Singaporeans is crucial, given our short history and small size.

Maintaining belonging across space and time can be difficult, particularly so given social, economic and other pressures.

Here, I agree with Nominated Member of Parliament Faizah Jamal that shared physical spaces like Bukit Brown, Geylang Serai and Chek Jawa continue to be physical manifestations of our rootedness to our nation, our soil, our history and one another.

They supplement and bolster efforts to strengthen the sense of being Singaporean in a fast changing world, leaving aside urbanisation, flooding and even supposed eeriness.

I ask those overseeing development to consider the broader issues at stake for Singapore and to do better to safeguard these needs. I am confident they can.

The writer works in the education sector.