Prior to my current eduction in communications, politics and policy, I majored in interior design for five years for my diploma and degree. Urban planning, public housing and environmental identity of spaces and places have always sparked my interest, especially during my younger years as an interior design student.
As a small city-state, Singapore had to quickly catch up and be at the forefront of development to ensure that Singaporeans could enjoy a high standard of living and a stable socio-political environment. Often referred to as the jewel of Southeast Asia, Singapore has transformed its urban landscape and filled it with skyscrapers, cutting edge architecture and tourist attractions to become the leading utopian nation.
However, growth and development do come with a price and Singapore is drowning in debates regarding cultural identity and assets. In a city that is perpetually moving and developing, there are people who are rooted to a sense of place and time who have struggled to keep up with the pace. People who are uprooted from their sense of familiarity and identity that cannot be ignored or forgotten.
I picked up They Told Us To Move: Dakota - Cassia with the intention to listen and learn from the personal stories of the elderly, poor and low-income rental flat residents of Dakota Crescent. The structure of this book provides a balanced view of social and housing issues from multiple perspectives. Written through interviews with residents, reflections by volunteers and contributed essays from academics, this book is a three-part conversation on the topic of loss, displacement and inequality. It is a crucial read to understand the trade-offs of our public policies, and how we as a society can do better to help people who are often left behind in the pursuit of economic and social growth.
One of the pieces in this book that really moved me and left an impression is the interview with a 90 year old resident called Tong, who used to be a bodyguard for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Tong has nothing but respect of our founding father for always acting in the nation's best interests, even as he struggles financially in his old age due to the demands of medical care, bills and day to day necessities. Despite his circumstances, he never once put the blame on Singapore's policies and and believes that everyone should work hard to lead a good life. A story and perspective like Tong's compels us to rethink how policies should be citizen centric with the sensible engagement of residents, a contrast from the cold and structured displacement in relocating these elderly folks from their homes.
I enjoyed reading and peeking through the personal lens of these Dakota Crescent residents, and understanding the complexity in their struggle of relocation that goes beyond just moving physical objects to a new place. There is so much to learn from this introspective read.
This title is available for purchase at The Moon. https://www.themoon.com.sg/products/they-told-us-to-move-dakota-cassia?_pos=1&_sid=f34d3f801&_ss=r
x Jasmin (Commerce Manager @ The Moon)