Update of news and articles on Bukit Brown

October 2013


The Diplomat
Oct 30, 2013
Singapore: The Fight to Save Bukit Brown

By Kirsten Han

Government plans to redevelop a cemetery spark a debate on the compatibility of conservation and progress.



Half-hidden in Singapore, the Bukit Brown cemetery is a sprawling ground of greenery and heavy gravestones. On many of the stones the miniature portraits are fading or faded, their names unrecognized and stories forgotten. But other graves are still visited by faithful relatives, bringing flowers and incense for their ancestors. Along the paths one finds joggers and children riding horses in a rare space of untouched nature.

At around 200 hectares, the land on which the cemetery sits is a luxury for a city-state hungry for space. In 2011, the government announced plans for a dual four-lane road that would run through part of Bukit Brown. Construction would require the destruction and exhumation of 5,000 graves.

Conservation groups such as SOS Bukit Brown and All Things Bukit Brown have come together to fight to preserve the cemetery. In October 2013, Bukit Brown was included in the 2014 World Monuments Watch list.

"I hope it shows that we are serious, that we want a seat at the table, just so we can present what we have heard from the community, what we have heard from the people who have encouraged us, and we can share their voices too,” Claire Leow from All Things Bukit Brown told Channel NewsAsia. “And hopefully that yes, you want development, but let’s have a discussion perhaps — if we could contribute just a little part of that discussion, perhaps we can all have a more sustainable strategy for development."

But the government remains resolute. “[P]lanning for the long term in land-scarce Singapore does require us to make difficult trade-off decisions. We will have to continue to ensure that sufficient land is safeguarded island-wide, and find ways to make good use of our limited land in order to meet future demand for uses such as housing, industry and infrastructure,” a spokesperson of the Urban Redevelopment Authority told the press.

Exhumation of the graves are set to begin in the fourth quarter of this year, and the road planned to be completed by 2017.

Bukit Brown’s story is a familiar one in Singapore. Small but affluent, the country is a model of rapid development. All over the island one finds impressive displays of modernity: the steel-and-glass of shopping malls and private condominiums alongside brightly colored concrete blocks of public housing. The population density is already one of the highest in the world, and set to grow: the government projects a population of 6.9 million by 2030. To accommodate further growth, the government and its city planners need to build, and build fast. Land is at a premium, and, as the government often says, trade-offs need to be made.

These “trade-offs” have triggered controversy. The debate has broadly divided into two camps: on the one hand, some argue for the need for Singapore to accommodate its large population, and sentimentality is framed as an indulgence. On the other, others insist that a nation needs its heritage, and new generations need to be aware of their past to build a better future.

Bukit Brown is not the first to fall victim to Singapore’s stubborn march towards progress. The island’s residents are no strangers to re-purposing land previously possessed by the dead.

A little further east of the Bukit Brown is Bidadari. The Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Hindu graves that once lay in that cemetery have now been exhumed to make way for public and private housing estates. A Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train station already sits on a portion of the site.

“If it had remained a cemetery, it would have been a heritage park teaching Singaporeans about Singapore's pioneers and burial customs, and an excellent example of religious harmony, since Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Hindus were buried there,” says Eisen Teo, a freelance researcher specializing in history and heritage issues. Now, only the Bidadari Memorial Garden stands to remind people of what once was.

The construction never ends in Singapore. A planned Cross Island MRT line included in the 2013 Land Transport Masterplan will be the ninth train line in the country. Its proposed route drew alarm from conservationists when it was found to cut through MacRitchie Forest, a green space rich with biodiversity, popular with families and schoolchildren on their cross-country runs.

The line was set to run underneath the forest, but the Nature Society (Singapore) – an organization dedicated to the conservation of natural heritage – says that the machinery and surface works associated with construction would be enough to damage the environment. “Once these disturbances occur, there is a real and demonstrable risk of soil erosion and siltation of what are now the most pristine streams in Singapore, which support a diversity of native critically endangered fauna and flora,” explains NSS spokesperson Tony O’Dempsey.

The government has said that the proposed route is not yet confirmed. Talks and studies are ongoing, and other routes will be considered. In July, the NSS published a position paper suggesting two alternative rail alignments.

“We certainly hope that the NSS proposal will add weight to the consideration of the southern route,” O’Dempsey says.

The government is not in an easy position. It recognizes the importance of preserving Singapore’s history and heritage for future generations, but also needs to provide for a growing population on an already crowded island.

While Teo concedes that land is scarce and needed, he argues that priorities might need to be reconsidered. “We must be reminded that there are other land uses that take up enormous amounts of space, yet hardly anyone is questioning the utility of those spaces. Singapore has 18 golf courses, one of the highest numbers per country area in the world. They take up a total of 1,800 hectares. By contrast, Bukit Brown takes up 233 hectares; one-ninth of that area. Does Bukit Brown seem very big now?”

Military bases and camps, he says, also take up plenty of land area on the island. “My take is that cemeteries are, in terms of urban redevelopment, the lowest of the low-hanging fruit. They are easy game. They don't belong to the rich and famous, they don't belong to a sensitive ministry like the Ministry of Defense. They are viewed by many as scary places and wasteland! It is easy to just reclaim the land and build. Golf courses and military camps are far, far trickier,” he says.

In discussing the future of Singapore, a change in mindset is needed. People need to stop seeing conservation and progress as opposing ideals, where one comes at the expense of the other. “Conservation is part of progress and development,” Teo explains. “For Singapore to progress and develop, we need physical reminders of our history everywhere. That is why we preserve monuments such as City Hall, the Supreme Court, the National Museum, Chjimes, St. Andrew's Cathedral. Physical landmarks of historical value do more than any history book in teaching people about our past.”

Kirsten Han is a writer, videographer and photographer. Originally from Singapore, she has worked on documentary projects around Asia and written for publications including Waging Nonviolence, Asian Correspondent and The Huffington Post.

http://thediplomat.com/2013/10/30/singapore-the-fight-to-save-bukit-brown/

Oct 26, 2013

New unit plays mediator on heritage issues

It studies impact of development and serves as link between Govt, activists

By Melody Zaccheus


The National Heritage Board's impact assessment and mitigation division contributed to efforts to conserve the Guan Huat dragon kiln (above) and the Queenstown Public Library. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES


THE National Heritage Board (NHB) has set up a new division to study the impact that development can have on the country's heritage, in the wake of rising civic activism.

Called the impact assessment and mitigation division, it comprises a small team supervised by Mr Alvin Tan, 41, the new group director of policy at the board.

He was previously in charge of three heritage institutions - the Malay Heritage Centre, Indian Heritage Centre and the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall - among other things.

When asked, NHB said the division was set up on July 1 as part of an "internal re-organisation". Its job is to "conduct impact assessments of redevelopment works on heritage sites and structures and work with the necessary stakeholders to establish mitigation measures".

There has been a growing, ground-up movement in recent years advocating for some of Singapore's built and environmental heritage to be preserved.

Civic groups and the authorities have locked horns in some cases, such as the Government's decision to build a road over Bukit Brown cemetery.

Since setting up, the team has played a mediator role between these civic groups and other government agencies, such as helping to negotiate the lease extension of the dragon kilns in Jurong.

Heritage groups said the establishment of the team has been a long time coming. It also signifies the Government's move away from a more "bulldozer" approach in the 1970s and 1980s to a more engaging one, said Mr Kwek Li Yong, 24, who founded civic group My Community, citing the loss of important buildings and landmarks such as the Stamford Road National Library and the National Theatre over the years.

"The new team serves as a link for civic groups and government agencies, and its assessment efforts help to bridge the expectations of statutory boards and the community," said Mr Kwek.

My Community submitted a paper to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in July to save 18 historic sites in Queenstown, Singapore's first satellite estate. The NHB team helped assess these sites on their architectural, historical and community merits. It found that eight were of "high heritage value" and three, including the Queenstown Public Library, were subsequently conserved by the URA.

Mr Benson Ng, 54, a managing partner at Focus Ceramic Services, which operates Jalan Bahar Clay Studios at 97L Lorong Tawas - where the 43m-long Guan Huat dragon kiln from the 1950s lies - said he appreciated the team working as an intermediary.

The site had been earmarked for the development of an eco-friendly business park. "Before the team approached us, we didn't know who to approach and how to state our case in terms of heritage value," he said.

The team has also worked on including certain heritage elements, such as the preservation of 20 tombstones of notable Singaporeans, at a 10ha park in the new Bidadari housing estate. It also contributed to the documentation and preservation efforts of Bukit Brown cemetery.

Heritage groups such as the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) said assessments should be "holistic", and not merely focus on historical research alone but consider both built and social heritage and a site's surrounding environment as well.

Singapore should also look towards common international assessment standards, especially since it has put in a bid to list the Singapore Botanic Gardens as a Unesco World Heritage site, said heritage conservation expert Johannes Widodo.

"This may give Singapore an opportunity to show its ability in nurturing our heritage at the global level and might set a good example for other nations in heritage preservation and management areas," said Professor Widodo, a jury member of the Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards.

Dr Chua Ai Lin, president of SHS, said that while the society welcomes the new division, the assessment of vulnerable sites not protected by law is just one step in a larger process. The next step is to assess if a further level of legal protection is required.

This requires more than just input from NHB alone, but also an intra-agency effort on the part of the Government and community participation to come to a solution together, said Dr Chua.

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

Background story

MIDDLEMAN

The new team serves as a link for civic groups and government agencies, and their assessment efforts help to bridge the expectations of statutory boards and the community.

- Mr Kwek Li Yong, founder of civic group My Community

BOARD GETS NEW NAME

AFTER 42 years of being known as the Preservation of Monuments Board, this government department under the National Heritage Board (NHB) has a new name.

On July 1, it was renamed the Preservation of Sites and Monuments, to "more accurately reflect the division's expanded role of championing nationally significant heritage sites", said a spokesman for the NHB.

These sites include the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which has put in a bid to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The division was set up to gazette and preserve national monuments.

There are currently 65 of these. They include the former Supreme Court and Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church.

The division is responsible for identifying monuments worthy of preservation and disburses money for their restoration, repair and maintenance, among other things.

The division is also in charge of promoting 100 existing heritage sites, such as Alexandra Hospital and Changi Beach.

MELODY ZACCHEUS

melodyz@sph.com.sg

BBC News Asia

21 October 2013

Singapore's mid-life crisis as citizens find their voice
By Jonathan Head South East Asia correspondent, BBC News

Masked man and supporters at Singapore's Speaker's Corner

When I was living in Singapore 13 years ago, the government was debating a decision that in other countries might have seemed rather trivial: whether or not to permit a version of Speakers' Corner, the spot in London's Hyde Park where individuals vent their opinions on whatever topic they choose to whoever wants to listen.

The year before, the then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong had worried that his country was not ready for such an innovation. But in September 2000 a location was finally approved, in Hong Lim Park, near the city centre.

Being Singapore, this "free speech forum" was a regulated one. Speakers needed police permission before they could use the space.

Like so many other aspects of Singapore's "disciplinarian" state, their Speakers' Corner provoked plenty of wry comment by foreign journalists. Few people turned out to hear the first anodyne speeches. The common assumption was that Singaporeans were not interested in risking trouble with their government by listening to speeches. They would rather go shopping.

But guess what? Speakers' Corner has become the venue for a number of quite lively demonstrations recently, over an issue which has provoked more debate than at any time since the country's tumultuous birth 48 years ago - immigration.

Those demonstrations, though, are still subject to regulations. They cannot say or do anything that might stir up racial tension or disturb public order.

The really heated debate has been on the internet - howls of anguish by self-styled "heartlanders" - original Singaporeans - and vitriolic denunciations of the ruling People's Action Party over the rapid rise in the number of foreigners, both low-wage immigrant workers and the wealthy individuals from the rest of Asia who now view Singapore as a safe-haven for their millions.
Public outcry

Foreigners now make up close to 40% of the 5.3 million-strong population. They are blamed both for the stratospheric rise in property prices and for squeezing local people out of jobs.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said three years ago he was quite happy to invite the world's richest man to live in Singapore, if it increased the country's net wealth.

But the conspicuous presence in Singapore today of so many of the world's super-rich is leaving many lower-income people feeling left behind.

That debate reached boiling point earlier this year when a government white paper predicted that by 2030, the population would expand to just under seven million, of which only a little over half would be Singaporeans.

The public outcry prompted the government to issue a clarification; the figures were a forecast, not a target, it said.

This might seem odd for a country which is after all built on immigration, and which has already achieved the world's highest per capita GDP. But it is part of a wider sense of unease you hear being expressed over what, and whom, Singapore is for.

Goh Chok Tong has called it Singapore's "mid-life crisis". It helps to explain the success of a younger generation of opposition politicians at the last election in 2011.
Asian values

With its share of the vote dropping to just over 60%, the ruling PAP had its worst result since independence. It is worth remembering that Singapore is as much a concept as a country, an artificial creation forced on its people by its expulsion from Malaysia in 1965.

It is a tiny city-state in an era of nation states. It does not have great historical narratives or national myths to define its existence. Instead it has always been defined by the performance of its government, both in utilising the limited living space and resources it has, and in ensuring better living standards for its people.

The manner in which the government does this was set down by Singapore's domineering founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. He imposed top-down, rigorously-planned modernisation, with curbs on individual freedom - a government-knows-best strategy he later described as "Asian Values".

The best and brightest were attracted to the top ranks of the PAP and the government with generous salaries to carry this out. If this is a nanny state, he wrote later, then I am proud to have fostered one.

For decades Singaporeans accepted this arrangement, with only minor grumbling. Not any more.

Bukit Brown is an old Chinese cemetery, close to the centre of the island. Some of the earliest Chinese settlers to arrive in Singapore, when it was a British-ruled trading colony, are buried there. They include Lee Kuan Yew's grandfather.

The elaborate tombs and gravestones are a rich historic resource, in a country which has lost much of its heritage in the name of progress. It is also a wonderfully overgrown green space in a mostly built-up city.

The government currently plans to drive a four-lane highway through the cemetery to ease traffic congestion.

In years gone by this might have gone through with only a few mutterings of complaint. This time the government's plans have run into a sophisticated civic protest movement.
Income gap

"The way the government works is always to frame the issue as heritage versus development, and nothing in between", said Catherine Lim, who supports one of the Bukit Brown conservation campaigns.

"What we're trying to do is reframe the conversation to include heritage as part of development. I think they realise these things are important. This sense of loss for many Singaporeans who have lost the familiar landmarks they grew up with, it's also very much to do with the fact that we are almost like a foreign country now - we have so many foreigners."

The government has not altered its plans yet. But there was a striking change of tone, if not direction, in the annual independence day speech given this year by Lee Hsien Loong, who happens to be Lee Kuan Yew's son.

Gone was the typically confident list of achievements by the PAP, now in its sixth decade in office.

Instead, Mr Lee offered a frank acknowledgement of the unhappiness felt by many lower-income people. Singaporeans, he said "are feeling uncertain and anxious" because "technology and globalisation are widening our income gaps and in addition to that, we have domestic social stresses building".

Our country is at a turning point, he said. "I understand your concerns. I promise you, you will not be facing these challenges alone because we are all in this together."

There was talk of better access to education, of wider healthcare cover, and more access to low-cost housing. There seemed to be an effort in the speech by Mr Lee to offer empathy, rather than statistics, a realisation that the Mandarin-style meritocracy built by his father may no longer be enough to retain the loyalty of Singaporeans.

In a statement to the BBC a government spokesman re-iterated the long-standing belief, that as a small, open economy, Singapore must remain open and connected, for trade or talent flows.

But, the statement said, "we are deliberately slowing our foreign workforce growth rate. This will also slow economic growth, but it is a compromise we need to make to continue to give Singaporeans a high quality of life."

"I see that the government is changing," said Mallika Naguran, who runs a sustainability website called Gaia Discovery.

"They are becoming more transparent, more approachable, taking definite steps towards sustainability. Yet this could still improve. There could be more openness in policy-making, more access for civic groups to become stakeholders in nation-building".
Where now?

The passing of Lee Kuan Yew, who has just turned 90 years old and is in frail health, will be another turning point for this micro-state, a moment when its citizens will once again contemplate their uncertain future.

The elder Mr Lee has always taken a pessimistic view of his country's vulnerability. He wept publicly when it was ejected from Malaysia and has repeatedly warned his citizens not to relax their vigilance, whether it was against communist subversion in the 1960s, or against the declining birth-rate in the 21st Century.

In one of his most recent statements he pondered gloomily whether Singapore would even exist in 100 years time. It was down to the competence of the government, he said. If we get a dumb government, we are done for.

That view is being increasingly challenged, mostly within the relatively safe confines of the internet, but with vigorous, sometimes angry exchanges of views.

The era of government-knows-best is slowly coming to an end in Singapore. No-one is quite sure what will take its place.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24540080


By Z’ming Cik

It has been a sweet triumph of sorts for the heritage enthusiasts of Bukit Brown who dub themselves the ‘Brownies’. They have now managed to earn international recognition for the site by placing it on the 2014 World Monuments Watch – even if that does not seem likely to change the government’s immediate plans to build a highway cutting through it.

It is not just an affirmation of its significance that Bukit Brown has been selected, alongside Venice in Italy, Yangon historic city centre in Myanmar and sites in war-torn Syria such as a 17th-century souk in Aleppo, as one of 67 cultural heritage sites currently “at risk from the forces of nature and the impact of social, political and economic change” – in the words of the New York-based World Monuments Fund.

It is also an affirmation of a universalistic ethos that any cultural heritage of the world can transcend the narrow confines of ethnic identities, and be protected by all mankind, against irreplaceable loss due to unchecked urban development or other factors. Such is indeed also the true spirit behind the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention, best known for the mechanism of the world heritage list, on which Singapore is attempting to inscribe its Botanic Gardens.

The purpose of this little article here is not to make a case for the nomination of Bukit Brown as a world heritage site – though that can definitely make a fruitful exercise, given its historical and aesthetic values based on all the knowledge accumulated. Instead, I would like to approach the issue of Bukit Brown from a more general perspective, of what is stake in general with plans to sacrifice such a site for traffic and future residential use, and how decisions should be arrived at from the perspective of public administration. For as the Brownies have expressed at a press conference last week, there is an urgent need to ‘reframe’ public discussion, away from a false dichotomy that treats it as a choice between space for the dead and space for the living.

Indeed, the issue of Bukit Brown is not a dilemma between past and future, tradition and modernity, heritage and progress, or community and nation. It may be framed instead as a question of ‘public value’ for the average Singapore citizen, whereby one should weigh between the gains of constructing a highway to ease traffic (and allowing more cars on the road) and the environmental costs which may impact on the quality of life for all residents, not to mention the opportunity costs in compromising a heritage site with value in education and tourism use.

I am borrowing the term ‘public value’ here from Mark H. Moore, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, author of the book Creating Public Value. Under such a framework of public administration, one may discuss whether a public enterprise reflects the desires or aspirations of the citizens, and also analyse whether it is cost-effective for collective interests.

This gives us a clearer picture of the problem when we consider the following points. First, in terms of desires or aspirations, 54% of Singaporeans according to the recent Our Singapore Conversation Survey have expressed a preference for preservation of heritage spaces over infrastructure, and 62% have expressed a preference for preservation of green spaces over infrastructure. The Singapore Heritage Society also cites an earlier Heritage Awareness Survey whereby 90% of Singaporeans agree that preservation of heritage would become more important as Singapore becomes a global city.

Second, plans for the 8-lane highway through Bukit Brown were announced without full disclosure of its Environmental Impact Assessment, which should rightly be of public interest. Nature Society has cited the importance of Bukit Brown as a green lung with cooling effects on the climate and mitigating effects against flash floods. We have surely seen how Urban Heat Island (UHI) effects, due to increased urban surfaces and industrial and car emissions, lead to more flash floods. The National Environment Agency is now advising Singaporeans to brace for warmer and wetter days in the next century. Should Singaporeans be inspired then to make extra more babies? Would more population growth and urban development be sustainable in the long run?

bukitbrown
The area which the proposed 8 lane highway will affect.

The idea of ‘sustainability’ is incidentally concerned not only with economic development but also with environment and social equity; it begs us to rationalise the needs of the present generation, in order not to compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. So who are we to decide for the future generations that they have no need for natural green spaces, for authentic cultural and natural heritage?

Third, an 8-lane highway may be cost-effective for the operations of LTA and its contractors, but is it ‘cost-effective’ for all Singaporeans? On the concern of infrastructure alone, will the benefits be well distributed among Singaporeans? I believe a lot of Singaporeans would prefer to see improvements in public transport – whereby they should be managed as public enterprises rather than as profit-making private enterprises, while controlling the growth or inflow of population meantime. COEs this month have just reached 90K, and ERP rates have been rising too, so how does a new highway represent the interest of the average Singaporean? Should the dictum of the government be what former head of Civil Service, Ngiam Tong Dow recalls: “What’s wrong with collecting more money?”?

An 8-lane highway may make good business sense if the objective is to attract higher demands for car traffic. But it is a road of no return where environmental costs and the loss in heritage are concerned.

Perhaps the word ‘heritage’ is not always useful here, for some people may mistake it as being synonymous with ‘tradition’, and they assume that to acknowledge a cemetery dating back to the Qing dynasty as heritage would mean having to wear a pigtail, or to bow before the image of some dead old merchants and ask for 4D numbers. They imagine ‘heritage’ as a form of liability, instead of as a form of resource for an authentic experience of national history, or of works of art.

How the historical significance of Bukit Brown as ‘heritage’ should be interpreted, is certainly open to debates. But being ‘modern’ does not mean discarding everything of the past. We are not living in an era of Cultural Revolution somewhere in China. The National Heritage Board has also recognised the importance of Bukit Brown Cemetery and the need to work with the community for its preservation.

Being ‘modern’ also means being able to rationalise how one should help steer the development of one’s country or the world at large. Hopefully more Singaporeans will be able to look at the issue of Bukit Brown not as a matter of whether one has personal affinity to it, but from a perspective of public value. We may ask ourselves: What heritage values does it hold on a local level and on a global level, and how would that represent the desires and aspirations of Singaporeans? In what circumstances would redevelopment be justifiable, and in what way would that represent social equity and long-term interests among Singaporeans?

We as Singaporeans need to rethink what this land of Singapore means to us, and what the word ‘progress’ truly means.

Saturday, October 12, 2013 - 06:30

The Straits TimesThe historic Bukit Brown cemetery has been put on the 2014 World Monuments Watch (WMW), an international list of cultural heritage sites which are being threatened by nature or development.

The cemetery, which has been the final resting place of pioneering Chinese immigrants to Singapore since the mid-19th century, is one of 67 sites in 41 countries and territories on the biennial listing.

Work is scheduled to start early next year on a controversial eight-lane road through the cemetery, meant to ease congestion. And the 233ha site, closed to burials since 1973, is also slated for future residential use.

All Things Bukit Brown, an interest group which is keen to preserve the site's heritage and habitat, nominated it to the New York-based World Monuments Fund watch list. It was picked from 248 nominations - making it the first time that a Singapore site has made it to the list.

The WMW citation said of the road and redevelopment of the site: "In destroying the cultural landscape of Bukit Brown, it is a loss to all of society."

The non-profit World Monuments Fund has issued its watch list since the 1990s to raise awareness about threatened cultural sites. It has helped to helped restore sites in more than 90 countries, including the historic enclave of Georgetown in Penang.

Nominations are assessed by fund staff and heritage experts, based on the significance of the site, how urgent the conditions are and the viability of a feasible plan of action. Other sites on the list include Hong Kong's Pok Fu Lam Village, the churches of St Merri and Notre-Dame de Lorette in Paris and cultural heritage sites in Syria.

Referring to the decision by the World Monuments Fund to include the cemetery on its watch list, Ms Claire Leow, 46, one of the organisers of All Things Bukit Brown, said: "I hope it motivates communities to do more to take ownership."

While listed sites are eligible for grants from the fund, she said her group was not applying for any as none was needed. The group, which hosts weekly guided tours at the site, is also sticking to a call it made last year for a moratorium on plans for Bukit Brown and for more public engagement with the Government, she added.

Nanyang Technological University cultural studies researcher Liew Kai Khiun said the listing provides another independent validation of Bukit Brown's heritage value.

"It recognises the cultural significance of the place rather than being confined to a local debate about whose ancestors are buried there," he said, noting that the Bukit Brown issue has made it to international publications such as The Economist.

Dr Gillian Koh, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, added: "All Things Bukit Brown, I suppose, would like the international spotlight and pressure to be put on this issue.

"To be fair, while the Government's not said it would never touch Bukit Brown further, it did reduce the number of graves and amount of land that would make way for the road. So it's not as if the Government's been intransigent about the issue."

A spokesman for the National Heritage Board said the listing supported the board's assessment that Bukit Brown is a heritage site rich in resources and memories.

She said the board was working with the public sector and community to document and promote the cemetery's heritage and explore how this could be "preserved, retold and/or integrated with future developments for the area, while recognising the need to balance Singapore's land use and housing needs with heritage preservation".


The historic Bukit Brown cemetery has been put on the 2014 World Monuments Watch (WMW), an international list of cultural heritage sites which are being threatened by nature or development.The cemetery, which has been the final resting place of pioneering Chinese immigrants to Singapore since the mid-19th century, is one of 67 sites in 41 countries and territories on the biennial listing.

by Grace Chua
caiwj@sph.com.sg





The Economist

Singapore's heritage

Oct 11th 2013, 2:55 by Banyan | SINGAPORE














ATTENTIVE readers of this blog may recall that its eponymous columnist is fond both of visiting and writing about Bukit Brown (http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2013/04/singapores-heritage) , a magically preserved green space in the heart of Singapore, which is home to the largest Chinese graveyard outside China. It is a rather sad tale, of a place of unique beauty and cultural value whose character is about to change forever as an eight-lane highway is sliced through it.

This update, however, is to report some good news for the dedicated band of enthusiasts (https://www.facebook.com/pages/all-things-Bukit-Brown/290489694353282)  who have been trying to draw attention to the cemetery’s value. They have succeeded (http://bukitbrown.com/main/?p=7930)  in having it included on the biennial watchlist of the World Monument Fund (WMF), of heritage sites around the world that are in danger.

An independent, New York-based organisation founded in 1965, the WMF this year listed 67 sites in 41 countries, out of 248 on whose behalf activists had applied. It rewards applicants who are promoting the site locally, trying to protect it, and involving local society in it. It is the first time Singapore has appeared on the list. The citation gets Bukit Brown right in just a sentence: “Bukit Brown is at once a study in the social and cultural history of Singapore and a green oasis in the heart of a densely developed urban environment.”

Singapore has no world heritage sites listed by UNESCO either, but it is trying to achieve that status for its Botanic Gardens (http://www.sbg.org.sg/) , a less unkempt green oasis that almost abuts Bukit Brown. The “Brownies”, as the cemetery’s fans call themselves, note that the centre of Georgetown (http://www.penang.ws/penang-attractions/georgetown-unesco.htm)  on the Malaysian island of Penang was listed by the WMF in 2000, eight years before it became a UNESCO site.

That, however, is not likely to presage a similar exaltation for Bukit Brown, nor even the government’s adopting Bukit Brown and linking the two sites. The National Heritage Board told the local media it would “explore how Bukit Brown Cemetery's heritage can be preserved, retold and/or integrated with future developments for the area, while recognising the need to balance Singapore's land use and housing needs with heritage preservation.”

The Urban Redevelopment Authority, however, was less tactful: Singapore, it said, “needed to find ways to make good use of our limited land in order to meet future demand for uses such as housing, industry and infrastructure.”

In an interview republished in his latest book, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s elder statesman, who left the cabinet two years ago but still reflects the views of many in the government he led for so long, is, characteristically, yet more blunt in an interview reprinted in his latest book (http://www.stpressbooks.com.sg/One-Man-s-View-of-the-World.html) :  “if we need the land, and we have to dig up the whole of Bukit Brown to build on it, and put the ashes in a columbarium, we will do it.”

The Brownies point out that the government presents a false choice between space for the dead and space for the expanding population that Singapore needs to sustain its growth. Bukit Brown is also for the living, and for future generations interested in how Singapore became what it is today.

Time is running out, however. Nearly 4,000 graves (out of perhaps 200,000 in Bukit Brown and adjacent graveyards) have to be dug up to make way for the road. For those graves not moved by the inhabitants' families, government-organised exhumations are expected to start in December.

(Picture credit: I.S. / The Economist)



SHS Statement on Bukit Brown Cemetery: Proposed Dual 4-Lane Road Project
Sep 13, 2011

https://www.facebook.com/notes/singapore-heritage-society/shs-statement-on-bukit-brown-cemetery-proposed-dual-4-lane-road-project/233857656661878

Singapore Heritage Society Press Release: Clarification on Collaboration Between SHS and URA/LTA, 20 Oct 2011
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https://www.facebook.com/notes/singapore-heritage-society/singapore-heritage-society-press-release-clarification-on-collaboration-between-/249220851792225

SHS Position Paper on Bukit Brown, Feb 4, 2012)

https://www.facebook.com/notes/singapore-heritage-society/shs-position-paper-on-bukit-brown-4-feb-2012/306242072756769

Singapore Heritage Society's response to road alignment through Bukit Brown, Mar 21, 2012

https://www.facebook.com/notes/singapore-heritage-society/singapore-heritage-societys-response-to-road-alignment-through-bukit-brown/333132433401066

SINGAPORE HERITAGE SOCIETY’S STATEMENT ON LISTING OF BUKIT BROWN ON 2014 WORLD MONUMENTS WATCH, Oct 10, 2013

https://www.facebook.com/notes/singapore-heritage-society/singapore-heritage-societys-statement-on-listing-of-bukit-brown-on-2014-world-mo/572341696146804

ST News
Oct 10, 2013

Bukit Brown put on world watch list

Partial redevelopment of site a loss to society, says New York-based group

By Grace Chua


Students from different countries visiting Bukit Brown cemetery earlier this year. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG



THE historic Bukit Brown cemetery has been put on the 2014 World Monuments Watch (WMW), an international list of cultural heritage sites which are being threatened by nature or development.

The cemetery, which has been the final resting place of pioneering Chinese immigrants to Singapore since the mid-19th century, is one of 67 sites in 41 countries and territories on the biennial listing.

Work is scheduled to start early next year on a controversial eight-lane road through the cemetery, meant to ease congestion. And the 233ha site, closed to burials since 1973, is also slated for future residential use.

All Things Bukit Brown, an interest group which is keen to preserve the site's heritage and habitat, nominated it to the New York-based World Monuments Fund watch list. It was picked from 248 nominations - making it the first time that a Singapore site has made it to the list.

The WMW citation said of the road and redevelopment of the site: "In destroying the cultural landscape of Bukit Brown, it is a loss to all of society."

The non-profit World Monuments Fund has issued its watch list since the 1990s to raise awareness about threatened cultural sites. It has helped to helped restore sites in more than 90 countries, including the historic enclave of Georgetown in Penang .

Nominations are assessed by fund staff and heritage experts, based on the significance of the site, how urgent the conditions are and the viability of a feasible plan of action. Other sites on the list include Hong Kong's Pok Fu Lam Village, the churches of St Merri and Notre-Dame de Lorette in Paris and cultural heritage sites in Syria.

Referring to the decision by the World Monuments Fund to include the cemetery on its watch list, Ms Claire Leow, 46, one of the organisers of All Things Bukit Brown, said: "I hope it motivates communities to do more to take ownership."

While listed sites are eligible for grants from the fund, she said her group was not applying for any as none was needed. The group, which hosts weekly guided tours at the site, is also sticking to a call it made last year for a moratorium on plans for Bukit Brown and for more public engagement with the Government, she added.

Nanyang Technological University cultural studies researcher Liew Kai Khiun said the listing provides another independent validation of Bukit Brown's heritage value.

"It recognises the cultural significance of the place rather than being confined to a local debate about whose ancestors are buried there," he said, noting that the Bukit Brown issue has made it to international publications such as The Economist.

Dr Gillian Koh, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, added: "All Things Bukit Brown, I suppose, would like the international spotlight and pressure to be put on this issue.

"To be fair, while the Government's not said it would never touch Bukit Brown further, it did reduce the number of graves and amount of land that would make way for the road. So it's not as if the Government's been intransigent about the issue."

A spokesman for the National Heritage Board said the listing supported the board's assessment that Bukit Brown is a heritage site rich in resources and memories.

She said the board was working with the public sector and community to document and promote the cemetery's heritage and explore how this could be "preserved, retold and/or integrated with future developments for the area, while recognising the need to balance Singapore's land use and housing needs with heritage preservation".

caiwj@sph.com.sg

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