In recent years, large, shiny malls – outfitted with the same cookie-cutter range of international brands – have begun to invade the suburban areas of Singapore, colloquially referred to as “the heartlands”. Many locals, however, still flock to their neighbourhood’s town square to eat, shop and socialise. These town squares continue to be an important part of the average Singaporean’s daily life, and as photographer Rebecca Toh’s shots demonstrate, retain a kampong (village) atmosphere that hopefully will last as long as these squares remain.
The Housing Development Board (HDB) was set up in 1960 to address the housing crisis in Singapore, at a time when many people were living in overcrowded settlements. Today, some 80% of Singaporeans live in blocks of HDB flats. The long corridors outside each home offer glimpses into the residents’ lives, from potted plants to errant bicycles or even heaving laundry racks.
To Market, To Market
Rows of shops – selling everything from baked goods, household items and clothes to mobile phones, incense paper and traditional Chinese herbs – can be found in town squares. Best of all, prices in the heartlands are much cheaper than in the city’s malls.
A Sense of Community
Singapore’s town squares are still frequented by locals grabbing a bite, running errands or children hanging out after school. They are also popular gathering spaces for the elderly who come here in search of conversation and companionship. Many neighbourhoods also have activity centres designed specifically for senior citizens to socialise and engage in activities such as karaoke, arts & craft and workout sessions.
Makan, which means “eat” in Malay, is now an integral part of the local vernacular. Whenever two friends meet, one of the first questions asked is invariably, “Makan already?” Hawker centres and coffee shops are a well-loved aspect of town squares, offering a wide variety of local dishes at affordable prices.
This is Home
Singapore moves at top speed, but in the heartlands, the clock seems to tick a little slower. They are the few places where you might observe locals taking time out and adopting a more relaxed approach to life. Perhaps, then, for a respite from the relentless urban grind, all we need to do is go home.