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Placemaking: Hardware to Heartware

Posted on | 29 Sep 2023

Don’t just walk on by! Your friendly neighbourhood train station or bus stop could be so much more than a transit point. LTA’s Community Partnership (CPN) sub-group has been busy exploring the possibilities of placemaking, together with folks in the community.

Image showing cyclist riding along the cycling path network with title "7 ways to look sharp, cycle safe & have a smoother ride"

What gives a place that special feel, even if you are just passing through?

Elynn Han, Director, Community Partnerships (South) wants you to get great vibes from Singapore’s transport infrastructure. Maybe it’s the landscaping that puts you in a chill mood after a stressful day, or the seasonal festive décor that puts a spring in your step. Does that mural on the MRT station wall stir up one of grandpa’s old memories and spark a story or two?

That’s placemaking for you—the intentional effort to make public spaces places the people who use them love.

The term may not be very well known but you would have seen it in action—placemaking activities have been carried out in Singapore since the 1990s. LTA has long been a partner in these efforts but since April 2022, we have been taking the initiative through the CPN.

Not just fixing things but mixing things up too
Image of the CPN team

While CPN is not new at LTA, having been formed in 2007, its role has certainly evolved, says Elynn, a pioneer of the sub-group.

Originally set up to address municipal issues raised by residents, its mandate now includes going that step further to find creative solutions that improve spaces for an altogether better experience. So if feedback is received that an underpass is too dimly lit, for example, the CPN team might not only brighten it but look to jazz it up and give it more interest, too.

And what better way to ensure success than to get the community itself to reimagine its own stomping ground? As it turns out, even ideas weird and wonderful can work! The Singapore University of Technology and Design, supported by the Ministry of Health Office for Healthcare Transformation and LTA, helped encourage residents of Boon Lay to exercise by introducing Singapore’s first bus-stop-cum-gym.

Image of bus stop with gym - Project Recharge
Photo credit: SUTD SOULab and Oddinary Studio
Image of bus stop with gym function - Project Recharge
Photo credit: SUTD SOULab and Oddinary Studio

No joke; this prototype dubbed ‘Recharge’ enticed commuters in November 2022 to clock a few minutes on pedal machines while waiting for their bus. The incentive? Their pedalling actually charged their sluggish phone batteries, and earned them vouchers to boot!

Home is where the heart is

Placemaking from LTA’s perspective is about turning hardware into heartware.

Sprucing up transport infrastructure—that last stop on your commute—adds value for commuters, for it brings a pleasant sense of arriving at an exciting destination, or of coming home.

And ‘home’, Elynn laughs, refers to “about half of Singapore”, as covered by her sub-group. The 47 constituencies she takes care of are as varied as they are numerous, and she hopes to help foster a community identity for each. Aiding Elynn is a team of 40 staff working with various stakeholders, including 47 advisors from the different constituencies. Still, the 25-year LTA veteran takes pains to personally walk the ground to know the issues at hand. It helps her to empathise and understand what residents are dealing with better, she says.

Elynn sees her job as improving lives, which includes helping residents make friends in their communities. Placemaking does this through enlivening neighbourhoods. Simple things like adding swings or artwork can animate a place, but the CPN also seeks to create a buzz through community events. At the same time, these are opportunities for LTA to promote its Walk Cycle Ride and car-lite messages to the public.

These gain traction especially when roads are closed for ever-popular street parties, such as the LTA Car Free National Day Street Party @ Cheng San-Seletar held last year.

Image of decal at Orchard Boulevard station in Dec 2022
This decal was a placemaking project with NAFA at the Orchard Boulevard station in December 2022
Co-creating with the community

LTA’s placemaking has the CPN working hand-in-hand with communities, who don’t just co-create projects but also have designated Place Champions who take ownership of long-term transformation and maintenance.

Community partners include the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) and People’s Association (PA), and residents who are behind the new floor mural at LeQuest in Bukit Batok, creating a vibrant corridor for pedestrians and commuters.

A 50-metre mural on the footpath in front of Le Quest Mall at Bukit Batok, painted by members of the public in March 2023.
A 50-metre mural on the footpath in front of Le Quest Mall at Bukit Batok, painted by members of the public in March 2023.

In another collaborative effort with SKM, Toa Payoh residents, students and youth volunteers came together for the pilot mural painting on a pedestrian overhead bridge at Toa Payoh Lorong 6.

Image of Project HeARTlands

The community painted this vibrant and cheerful mural artwork by Ms Joycelyn Wong, to promote sustainable transport and kindness towards the environment as part of Project HeARTlands - Walk Cycle Ride with Kindness.

Image of a placemaking mural painting on the stairs of a overhead bridge

At Napier station along the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) which opened last year, decals by NParks and the Singapore Botanic Gardens led commuters to the heritage spot. Indeed, it is one of CPN’s placemaking aims to create a stronger connection between the stations underground and the precincts above.

Image of a large decal at Napier MRT station, for Singapore Botanic Gardens
This large decal was a placemaking project with the Singapore Botanic Gardens for Napier MRT station’s opening.

For Elynn, this engagement with the community marks a vast difference from CPN’s early days. Back then, she quips, public interaction was usually limited to dealing with “feedback and ‘scolding’”, but this must surely have contributed to her being the strong, resilient leader she is today.

She still bears the brunt of complaints at times in order to protect her staff. At any rate, whether team building or community building, there is no question that such social synergy resonates with her. A people-person, Elynn has developed a culture of team bonding within the CPN, and many Advisors have become good friends, she says.

Sparking Joy
Image of Elynn Han, with her dog named Santa

Elynn’s greatest satisfaction is seeing staff whom she has mentored do well. She has had good mentors herself.

Her favourite suggestion from one of them?

Getting a dog, which she did at about the same time that LTA’s placemaking efforts began last year. @Santa.thetoypoodle has since brought her a lot of joy, just as CPN’s placemaking projects have doubtlessly delighted Singaporeans, too.

So the next time you pass through a train station or bus interchange, or traipse the last hundred metres home, slow down and look around!

You may find yourself charmed.

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