Category Archives: Vernacular City

Revisiting Singapore’s Southern Islands

By: Creighton Connolly and Sonia Lam-Knott

Singapore is often understood as an island nation, giving first-time visitors to Singapore the perception that it consists of only one island. This is understandable, given that most of Singapore’s current built-up and residential area is on the Singapore ‘mainland’. However, as many readers of this article will be aware, Singapore actually comprises many islands, some of which were formerly inhabited. Statistics regarding the total number of islands in Singapore varies over the years, the result of land reclamation merging multiple islands together (an example would be Jurong Island, which is made up of seven islands). However, the histories and futures of these islands are still poorly understood by a majority of Singaporeans. Some will be familiar with Pulau Ubin from weekend trips to escape the concrete jungle of Singapore. Others will know Kusu Island from pilgrimage visits, or trips with children to see the turtles. Some may even know that all of our waste – in the form of incinerated ash – has created Pulau Semakau, an island popular with bird watchers and marine life enthusiasts. But other islands, such as St. John’s Island, now connected with Lazarus Island and Pulau Seringat to become the second largest of Singapore’s Southern Islands, have an important history of national significance that is mostly forgotten.

Map of St. John’s Island

The Southern Islands comprises of Sentosa, Pulau Tekukor, Sisters’ Island, Kusu Island, and the St. John’s-Lazarus-Pulau Seringat grouping. These islands have experienced drastic changes to their physical and social landscape in the past few decades. Sentosa has served as a resort island since 1975, land reclamation in 2000 connected St. John’s Island with Lazarus Island and Pulau Seringat in preparation for potential residential developments, and Sisters’ Island became Singapore’s first marine park in 2015. In demographic terms, the Southern Islands (comprising of Sentosa, Pulau Brani, Kusu Island, and St. John’s Island) once had its own constituency, with voter numbers during the 1963 Legislative Assembly General Elections totaling at 5,236. But by 1975, most villagers had left and resettled on the Singaporean mainland, such that in the 1996 Southern Islands Planning Report released by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, only 204 people were said to be living on the islands. It is only recently that population levels have rebounded, with the 2015 General Household Survey showing that there are now 1,480 people living on the Southern Islands, the majority (1,470) based on Sentosa.

In light of these changes, a new interdisciplinary research project led by Dr. Hamzah Muzaini and other researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) seeks to learn more about the history of the Southern Islands from a vernacular perspective. Funded by the National Heritage Board, the project, titled ‘Mapping the Southern Islands’ Heritage Landscapes: integrating culture and nature in urban heritage conservation’, aims to create a more holistic understanding of the heritage value associated with St. John’s and the other Southern Islands. Through archival research and by conducting interviews with former residents of the Southern Islands, the project aims to understand the heritage significance of the islands, to create broader awareness of their significance for Singapore. The findings of the project will be displayed through a public exhibition in mid-2019, which will also create a space for former residents and their kin to share their stories of the islands.

View of Kusu Island from Lazarus

More specifically, the project takes an innovative approach to documenting the Southern Islands’ heritage features, by considering both cultural and natural elements of this heritage, and how these might be intertwined. This could include existing monuments, buildings or other features of the islands pertaining to their socio-cultural history; as well as natural features such as flora, fauna or the physical topography of the islands. An important objective here is to examine how these features are articulated by those connected with the islands, and how they are perceived to be mutually related. One way of identifying this will be through participatory mapping of these sites, which will be used to develop a ‘heritage trail’ for St. John’s to guide visitors through the island’s heritage spaces and better understand its history in a more holistic manner. Whilst heritage trails exist for other spaces in Singapore, most of them focus primarily on either natural or cultural heritage features.

This division between cultural and natural heritage reflects dominant approaches to heritage management within and beyond the nation. In Singapore, NParks has jurisdiction over the control of biodiversity and green spaces, whereas the NHB oversees cultural heritage. At the international level, UNESCO World Heritage Sites are divided into cultural and natural categories. Academic literature on heritage conservation have also been largely split between examining and offering advice on either cultural heritage or biodiversity management, with little cross-fertilisation between these approaches. But in recent years, there is growing recognition that cultural and natural heritage cannot be viewed as separate spheres. Such views are reflected in the new joint initiative between the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), which seeks to connect cultural and natural heritage through joint management practices. Similarly, the World Heritage List now has a ‘mixed’ category which identifies sites where cultural and natural heritage is significantly intertwined.

ARI’s Southern Islands Research Team at Kusu Island, May 2017

This research project thus seeks to offer some policy recommendations as to how Singapore can manage its heritage landscapes in a more integrated fashion, which can bring attention to the numerous ways in which cultural and natural forms of heritage are intertwined across the island nation. If you are a former resident or descendant of the Southern Islands, a frequent visitor or have some other connection to the islands and wish to participate in the study, please contact Dr. Muzaini or the authors of this post via their contact details above.

Upcoming Event: Behind Closed Doors: The Secret Life of Home in Singapore

The AUC, and Associate Professor Chris McMorran of the NUS Department of Japanese Studies, have put together an ARI Asia Trends Event titled ‘Behind Closed Doors: The Secret Life of Home in Singapore’.  The event will explore vernacular conceptualisations and constructs of ‘home’ in the contemporary city, and what this may mean for understandings of the self, society, and space.

The event will take place on 12 April 2018,  at The Pod at the National Library.  Doors will open at 6:45pm. The registration link for the event can be found here.


Home is at the center of human experience. We spend our lives designing, maintaining, enjoying, escaping, and defending what we consider home, a word which can refer to the intimate space of an HDB flat and also to the larger scale of the nation. But home is more than a location. It is an idea and a process, linking seemingly unrelated social, economic, political, and cultural spheres.

We can learn a lot about Singapore by taking the topic of ‘home’ seriously, by exploring the meanings embedded within the word. The study of home raises important questions about our residences, our neighborhoods, and our identities. What is home? How do we make a house a home? Who belongs and who doesn’t? And who decides?

This event gathers artists and academics who ask such questions in their creative and scholarly projects. During this panel, they will discuss why constructs and imaginings of ‘home’ are so important in today’s world, and will share their recent work related to the place, idea, or process of home. Collectively, their work opens the door to the ‘home’ in Singapore, revealing the secret life of this complex word we often take for granted in our everyday lives.


Keyakismos is the artistic pair of Eitaro Ogawa and Tamae Iwasaki. They are co-authors of HDB: Homes of Singapore (Gatehouse Publishing, 2017), a book featuring hundreds of photos celebrating the art and culture of humble HDB interiors, which was featured at the Singapore Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016. Derived from the Japanese word “keyaki” (Zelkova tree) and “cosmos” (flower), their alias stands for their shared creative philosophy that the collaboration among different elements achieves much more than one. Motivated by their life motto – “love God, love people” – Eitaro and Tamae are involved in art and community projects such as Pameran Poskad, which encourages all sorts of collaborations, with the goal of creating opportunities for people to experience art in daily life. They have two lovely daughters.

Lilian Chee is Associate Professor and History Theory Criticism Research Cluster Leader at the Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore (NUS). She is a writer, designer, curator and award-winning educator. A recipient of the NUS and Faculty Teaching Honour Rolls, she has lectured at the Bartlett, Delft, ETH Zurich, Melbourne and the Berlage Centre. Her work is situated at the intersections of architectural representation, gender and affect in a contemporary interdisciplinary context. Her research explores the emergence of architecture through, and from within, everyday encounter and its archives. Influenced by film, art and literature, she is engaged in how an affective construction of architectural discourse might change the writing of its histories and theories. She conceptualized, researched and collaborated on the award-winning architectural essay film about single women occupants in Singapore’s public housing 03-FLATS (2014). 03-FLATS won the best ASEAN documentary Salaya 2015; was shortlisted for the Busan Wide Angle Documentary Prize 2014; and was screened at the Singapore Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2016. Her publications include the forthcoming monograph Architecture and Affect: Precarious Space (Routledge, 2019) and a co-edited volume Asian Cinema and the Use of Space(Routledge, 2015). She is working on a book about public art in the Singapore city core, and co-editing a volume on domesticity in architecture. Lilian is on the editorial boards of The Journal of Architecture and Architectural Theory Review.

Daniel P.S. Goh is Associate Professor of Sociology at the National University of Singapore. He obtained his PhD in Sociology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA, in 2005 and has been with NUS Department of Sociology since, where he serves as the Deputy Head. He specializes in comparative-historical sociology and studies state formation, race and multiculturalism, Asian urbanisms, and religion, and has published over 40 articles on these subjects in internationally refereed journals and edited books. He has edited and co-edited several books, including Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (Routledge, 2009), Worlding Multiculturalisms: The Politics of Inter-Asian Dwelling (Routledge, 2015), Precarious Belongings: Affect and Nationalism in Asia (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), and Urban Asias: Essays on Futurity: Past and Present (JOVIS Verlag, 2018). He has also co-edited special issues in Urban StudiesInternational Journal of Urban and Regional ResearchEthnography, and International Sociology. He was co-Principal Investigator of the Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund Tier 2 project, Aspirations, Urban Governance, and the Remaking of Asian Cities (2013-2016). He is currently co-Principal Investigator of the Ministry of Education Social Science Research thematic grant project, Christianity in Southeast Asia: Comparative Growth, Politics and Networks in Urban Centres (2017-2020).

Toh Jia Han is a Year 4 Japanese Studies and English Linguistics double major at the National University of Singapore. He is currently working on a graduation thesis regarding the internationalisation of Japan through education, and he hopes to work in Japan after graduation. He is also an editor and producer on the NUS “Home on the Dot” podcast.

Shriya Sharma is a Year 1 student at the National University of Singapore. She plans to double major in Communication and New Media, and Political Science. She hopes to pursue journalism in the future. She is also a producer on the NUS “Home on the Dot” podcast.

Reflecting on Affect and Urbanism

Here we have a guest post by Lisa M. Hoffman, Professor of Urban Studies at University of Washington Tacoma, who was visiting NUS from December 2017 until January 2018.


Recently I spent a month at ARI as a visitor from University of Washington Tacoma, Urban Studies. While I was there, I presented as part of the ACTIVATE! seminar series, which offered me the opportunity to think in more detail about the role affect plays in shaping identities and social relations. Taking affective relations seriously also shifted the register through which I was understanding subjectivity, collectivity, and contemporary forms of governing.   The paper was based on my anthropological fieldwork with volunteers and nongovernmental/social organizations in a port city in northeast China.

The questions I asked revolved around how expressions of responsibility, caring, and notions of a healthy life shaped class-specific identities – as some scholars of affect have argued, they “do things” (see Ahmed 2004; Richard and Rudnyckyj 2009).  As urban inequalities and other social problems have increased in cities across China, more individuals have been moved to help others identified as “in need”.  This could be a child with health problems and no financial resources or an elderly person with no children nearby to help them or even the local environment impacted by air pollution and litter.  Expressions and practices of care and responsibility shaped middle class identity such that affective enactments were incorporated into social differentiation and class distinction.

Significantly, public enactments of care, an increase in citizen volunteers, and an official emphasis on citizen “duty” to help others coincided with restructuring of the urban welfare system.  In other words, as social services have been moved from the socialist work unit to the community (shequ 社区) and society (shehui fuli shehuihua 社会福利社会化), citizens have also been asked to step up and do their share.  The cultivation of responsibility and compassion for others is then a critical part of urban governance and helps to stabilize reforms in the welfare system.

While I argued it is important to think of enactments of care and compassion as social facts and not simply as a false amelioration of inequality or the expanded securitization of society, these practices do embody a kind of “curious double”, to use Andrea Muehlebach’s term (2011), in which citizen responsibilization and socialist state welfare disintegration are stabilized, as meaningful and authentic socialities may also appear. Many volunteers spoke about the friendships and connections they made when volunteering and showing care for strangers, suggesting the possibility of alternative socials at the same moment we see a stabilization of profound political economic restructuring.



Ahmed, Sara. 2004. “Affective Economies.” Social Text 22(2): 117-139.

Muehlebach, Andrea. 2011. “On Affective Labor in Post-Fordist Italy.” Cultural Anthropology 26(1):59-82.

Richard, Analiese, and Daromir Rudnyckyj. 2009. “Economies of affect.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15(1): 57-77.

Conference Presentation: 2017 American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting

Earlier this month, AUC member Sonia Lam-Knott presented a paper titled ‘Nostalgic Spectacles: Material Representations of the Past for Popular Consumption in Hong Kong’ at the 2017 American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting at Washington DC, USA. The paper, referencing existing scholarship that explores the centrality of images in processes of knowledge-production across societies, examines how historical narratives can be conveyed through spectacles produced from the built urban environment.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Hong Kong, the paper outlines the two different portrayals of the city’s past that are currently being advocated by the  government and by grassroots actors; with the former focussing on establishing a nationalistic discourse to situate Hong Kong as being a ‘Chinese city’, and the latter emphasising ‘local’ history to assert the city’s distinctiveness from the rest of the Chinese nation.  How such divergent approaches of Hong Kong’s past are expressed in material means are reviewed through an in-depth examination of two structures in the city, these being the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Shatin managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department branch of the government, and the Hong Kong House of Stories in Wan Chai (please see a previous post by Dr. Desmond Sham for a detailed introduction to the heritage contestations surrounding this neighbourhood) that is managed by a non-governmental social enterprise known as St. John’s Settlement in collaboration with volunteers.

The Heritage Museum and the House of Stories are each rendered in a physical form that projects a specific image of the past to the public gaze. Whereas the museum building borrows from traditional Chinese architectural styles derived from the ancient imperial/dynastic eras of China, the House of Stories retains its tong lau (shophouses that are often a product of syncretic cultural exchange during the colonial era) facade and assumes a 19th/20th century domestic aesthetic. But asides from analysing the exterior appearences and internal layouts of both spaces, the paper is also interested in how these spaces are being experienced by those exposed to them, and thus reviews the degree of affective attachments being espoused by the vernacular domain towards each of these sites. Based on fieldwork data, it was found that informants deem the appearence of the House of Stories to be more ‘familiar’, and consider the historical narrative being celebrated at this space as being ‘temporally closer’ and more relevent, to their personal memories (or ‘postmemories’) of the past. What the paper hopes to show is that emergent national-versus-local identitarian debates (exacerbated with the recent rise of localist sentiments in politics), in combination with the way in which different historical narratives are being presented through material-visual means, influences how everyday citizens in contemporary Hong Kong feel and relate to narratives of the past.

EDIT: this paper can now be found under the ARI working paper series.

Upcoming Event: ‘Rhymes of Shui Hau’ Film Screening and Discussion

The Asian Urbanisms Cluster is pleased to invite Dr. Chloe Lai of the Urban Diary (webpage and Facebook) to ARI to give a talk about her experiences and observations regarding the making of the film ‘Rhymes of Shui Hau’.

The film documents the lifestyles and songs of the elderly inhabitants of Shui Hau, a village located on Lantau Island in Hong Kong. Examining the practices of these villagers offers a glimpse of Hong Kong’s vernacular heritage, of what life in Hong Kong was like before the territory underwent rapid industrialisation and urbanisation since the mid-twentieth century. More importantly, the film brings to the forefront the voices of communities that have long been marginalised within mainstream societal and academic discourses.

The film screening will be immediately followed with a discussion by Dr. Lai, titled ‘Everyday Life as a Cultural Right in Postcolonial Hong Kong’. The talk will feature themes addressed within the film;  introduce what the Urban Diary aspires to do; and broadly explore the importance of taking vernacular stories from the domain of everyday life into account, as a means of developing a more sustainable way of urban living for the future.

The event will take place on 26th January 2018, from 3pm until 5pm at the ARI Seminar Room (AS8, Level 4). It is open to all, and attendance is free. More information about the event, and the registration link, can be found here.


Details about the film:

Executive Producer: Chloe Lai
Director: Chan Ho-lun Fredie
Aerial Cinematographer: Herman Lau
Wai Tau Waa Translation: Mink Chan, Chu Tsz-yui, The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society
Text: Haider Kikabhoy, Teresa Ho, Hung Wing-hei, Charlie Lam, Jenny Li
Length of Film: 49 minutes

Urban Heritage in Jakarta’s Riverine Communities

On the 5th of April, Dr. Rita Padawangi gave a presentation in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, NUS, discussing her research on ‘Urban Heritage in Jakarta’s Riverine Communities’.

Poster for Rita Padawangi’s presentation in the Southeast Asian Studies Seminar Series

Riverine communities of Southeast Asia have often been the foci of urban transformation or ‘revitalisation’ projects, which have sought to ‘clean up’ such communities to make them more amenable to capital accumulation, largely as sites of consumption for upper middle class members of society and foreign tourists/visitors. Examples include the Malacca River in Malaysia, which was redeveloped to attract tourists visiting the UNESCO World Heritage City (see Bunnell 1999; Cartier, 1998); or the Singapore River, which is now host to numerous bars and restaurants in the lively Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay Districts (see Chang et al, 2004). Such projects involve the removal and forced relocation of local residents and dwellings, thus replacing the vernacular (in)tangible heritage of the area with a reconstructed heritage landscape. As Dr. Padawangi noted in her presentation, rhetorics of health and disease are often used as official justification for the clearing of these areas (see Connolly et al, 2017).

In Dr. Padawangi’s talk, she used data from ethnographic interviews, field observations and discussions with residents of Jakarta’s riverine communities to examine how meanings of local places relate with the perceived historical significance and impacts of urban development in the affected areas. She contrasted this with official heritage discourse in the city which has long valorized the colonial heritage of the area, which is seen as more attractive to foreign tourists. Dr. Padawangi thus questioned the logic of replacing rather than preserving vernacular riverine communities in heritage and tourist development.

Dr. Padawangi has been Senior Research Fellow in the Asian Urbanisms Cluster for the past four years, but will sadly be leaving us for greener pastures at the Singapore University of Social Sciences this July.  She will also be organizing a symposium at Airlangga University in Surabaya, Indonesia, December 11-12th, 2017, titled: ‘River Cities: Water Space in Urban Development and History‘. If you are interested in this topic, please consider submitting a paper proposal. The deadline for abstracts is 1 May 2017.

CityPossible III Film Festival


What is the possible city? For the third time, the CityPossible Film Festival brings together a collection of short films that allows us to imagine the breadth of possibilities to make better cities, showcasing stories of people who have joined together to resist the loss of their life-spaces and to remake the city through their own visions of what could be. With current urban development trajectories that encourage commercialization and unfettered capitalism pushing cities to become engines of growth rather than theatres of social life, meaningful communities are challenged to find space, time, and resources diverted to focus on lifestyle and consumption within placeless architectures. From the street corner to the metropolis, these films inspire us as we celebrate the human spirit through cinema.

6 November 2014, Thursday
6:00 – 10:00 pm
NTUC Auditorium, Level 7,
1 Marina Boulevard, Singapore 018989

Registration info and full program available here. 


 6:00 – 6:05 pm                   WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION
6:05 – 6:15 pm                   WELCOME REMARKS FROM YOUNG NTUC
6:15 – 8:00 pm                   PART I
Last Summer in Berlin Mitte | Alessandro Busa
The World’s Tallest Slum | Vocativ
New Housing for Bangkok Slum Residents | Next City
Georgetown: The Story of Becoming | Community Architects Network
A Loud Color | Brent Joseph
Do Not Blame the Sea | The Perennial Plate
Thailand’s Sea Gypsies | Giorgio Taraschi
Do Robots Have Souls? | Digital Global Mind
Valley of Dolls | Fritz Schumann
Kolor Kathmandu | Suraj Ratna Shakya
Hong Lim Park | Henry Mochida
Yang Ketu7uh | WatchDoc
8:00 – 8:20 pm                   INTERMISSION | Light snacks will be provided.
Blues 77 is Singapore’s newest beats and blues band. Formed among the guitars and gear available in Guitar 77Blues 77 plays an eclectic mix of beats and blues classics and originals echoing the roots sounds of 1960s Singapore and the world.Blues 77 is world music then and now. The special appearance will feature Kiang Lim (Straydogs-bass), James Tan (Straydogs-drums), Steve Ferzacca (University of Lethbridge, Canada)


8:20 – 9:30pm                    PART II
A Day in India | The Perennial Plate
A Pakhtun Memory | Yaminay Chaudhri
Surfing Possibility: India’s First Surfer Girl | BrownGirlSurf
For Udon and Country | The Perennial Plate
The New York Street Vendors | Samuel Enblom
Dhaka Stories: Calling Home | Shadman Alvi
Head Porters Become Business Women in Accra’s Slums | Next City
                                                Stand by Me: Playing for Change | Mark Johnson
Voices to be Heard | Henry Mochida
9:30 – 9:45 pm                   MEET THE FILMMAKER SESSION
Yaminay Chaudhri 
visual artist based in Karachi and New York
9:45 – 10:00 pm                 CLOSING REMARKS & INFORMAL DISCUSSIONS
10:00 pm                              END

Snaps from the Field: Paete

by Dr. Marco Garrido

I just came back from having done fieldwork in two small towns outside Metro Manila, Philippines. In my dissertation research, I had identified an acute class consciousness among Metro Manila’s urban poor. I wanted to see whether or not this sense of class was distinctive to Metro Manila (resulting, I argue, from its class segregation). It was, but that’s the subject of a future paper. Here, in keeping with the genre of a blog, I would rather share my impressions—and pictures—of one, particularly fascinating fieldsite, Paete.

Paete from atop
Paete from above
Paete street
Paete street

The town of Paete is tiny, relatively isolated, and poor. It has a population of about 23,000; it’s about 100 km away from Manila, nestled, as you can see, between mountains and a lake; and its local government derived merely US$179,226 from local sources in 2012 (thus subsisting mainly on infusions from the national government). And yet, because of the skill of its woodcarvers, the town has had an outsize global reach—for centuries.

The Spanish missionaries who discovered Paete in 1580 named the town after the Tagalog word for chisel (paet). The skill of its carvers was such that Europe soon began to import toys, furniture, and religious images made in Paete (one such toy was the yo-yo). Palaces acquired elaborately carved tables and chairs, and churches, including St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, exquisite images of saints and angels. Paete’s carvers were feted by royal courts and international competitions.

Workers at night
Workers at night
Master woodcarver
Master woodcarver

Their skill was the result of apprenticeship, often informal, of sitting at the feet of masters, literally, because these were their fathers and uncles. It came from simply being exposed to the craft as an everyday practice—a natural act—such that one mostly “absorbed” how it was done. Skill didn’t just have to do with the ability to physically transform the material; it also had to do with the capacity to imagine how the material might be transformed—to be able to discern, in other words, the possibilities it held. I remember being struck by a figure of the risen Christ fashioned out of driftwood. What was remarkable wasn’t that the artist had turned a lowly piece of driftwood into something else entirely, but that he had captured a process of one thing becoming something else. The Christ figure looked like it simply grew out of the driftwood; the grain of the wood becoming the folds of his robe and its branching his outstretched arms (I wish I took a picture!). Such skill was incubated in one place over a long time rather than produced by effective instruction and individual effort. It was learned by observing and engaging in practices that are a natural feature of Paete’s environment. Just walking around the town you see that everywhere people are fashioning something, carving wood or making papier mache dolls, even in the squatter areas where I interviewed. I asked one artist how he had learned his craft and he simply shrugged and said, “I just watched my father do it, and my brother, and then I started doing it myself.” Because skill consists of practices that are all but impossible to codify exactly, it can be hard to teach. One artist recalled asking his teacher how to sculpt a foot. After being puzzled for a moment, his teacher finally replied, “Well, just look at your own foot!

Making papier mache
Making papier mache

The great skill of its carvers begs the question of why, despite being a hub of globally renowned talent, Paete has remained poor.  In the 1950s the production of wooden clogs was an important source of Paete’s revenue, in the 1960s and 1970s wood handicrafts, in the 1980s and 1990s papier mache and resin products, and currently Paetenians working aboard cruise ships sculpting ice and vegetables. Paete’s dismal economic fortunes have a lot to do with the vicissitudes of global demand, of course, and with restrictions on logging, as well as insufficient government support and probably also with a lack of organization among local businesses.

A full explanation is beyond my reach; rather, I want to pursue one thread of an explanation—global competition—as a way of lamenting the commodification of skill. The skill of Paete’s carvers was recognized and a market emerged for its products, but this market came to be dominated by countries that could mass produce these products. They would simply buy the skills needed to replicate them. For example, Paetenians were hired to make molds for mass produced papier mache products and to teach Chinese workers how to carve generic products. Sure, these products were inferior in quality to Paete handicrafts but they were cheaper and easily available. And so the wooden clog industry was undercut by competition from Japanese manufacturers, and then the carving and papier mache industry by Chinese manufacturers. Now Paetenians are using their skills to make swans out of ice—impressive displays, to be sure, but knowing that the skill guiding the sculptor’s hand developed in so rarefied an environment—knowing how precious it is—how can we not feel a sense of waste that it’s now being used so cheaply to make products that are merely functional not beautiful, to make ornaments serving only to embellish the experience of luxury?

Christs in the kitchen
Christs in the kitchen
Amateur woodcarver
Amateur woodcarver



Recommended Reading: Tokyo Vernacular (by Jordan Sand)

Tokyo Vernacular: Common Spaces, Local Histories, Found Objects

by Jordan Sand (Author)

University of California Press
A Philip E. Lilienthal Book in Asian Studies

Preserved buildings and historic districts, museums and reconstructions have become an important part of the landscape of cities around the world. Beginning in the 1970s, Tokyo participated in this trend. However, repeated destruction and rapid redevelopment left the city with little building stock of recognized historical value. Late twentieth-century Tokyo thus presents an illuminating case of the emergence of a new sense of history in the city’s physical environment, since it required both a shift in perceptions of value and a search for history in the margins and interstices of a rapidly modernizing cityscape. Scholarship to date has tended to view historicism in the postindustrial context as either a genuine response to loss, or as a cynical commodification of the past. The historical process of Tokyo’s historicization suggests other interpretations. Moving from the politics of the public square to the invention of neighborhood community, to oddities found and appropriated in the streets, to the consecration of everyday scenes and artifacts as heritage in museums, Tokyo Vernacular traces the rediscovery of the past—sometimes in unlikely forms—in a city with few traditional landmarks. Tokyo’s rediscovered past was mobilized as part of a new politics of the everyday after the failure of mass politics in the 1960s. Rather than conceiving the city as national center and claiming public space as national citizens, the post-1960s generation came to value the local places and things that embodied the vernacular language of the city, and to seek what could be claimed as common property outside the spaces of corporate capitalism and the state.

Jordan Sand teaches Japanese history at Georgetown University and has written widely on urbanism and material culture in East Asia.

Snaps from the Field: The Demolition of Kabuti

by Marco Garrido

In October 2009, I witnessed the demolition of Kabuti, an informal settlement in Barangay Cembo in Makati City, Metro Manila. Because Kabuti was located atop a hill overlooking the highway, it was deemed a “danger zone”—an area risky for the people residing there. The local government justified its demolition in the name of its residents’ safety. The residents themselves objected to this reasoning. For them, a place in the city—largely available in areas that are neglected or considered uninhabitable—is key to finding work and improving their lives. Being relocated to the outskirts of Metro Manila means being cut off from livelihood opportunities. Hence, relocated squatters often end up moving back to the city and settling in similarly precarious places. Recently, severe flooding in Metro Manila has been blamed on illegal settlements congesting waterways, thus the claim that squatters need to be relocated for their own good has become more important as a rationale for slum clearance. The Aquino administration is planning to relocate around 100,000 families residing along waterways in Metro Manila. The pictures below suggest that such action, however sensible from a technocratic viewpoint, should be weighed against its human cost.


The ruins of Kabuti, Barangay Cembo, Makati City, Metro Manila.


Moving out the belongings of Kabuti’s residents.


A woman collects her things from the rubble of her demolished home.




A woman in what was once her convenience store.



Heritage & modernity

by Tharuka Prematillake

The unprecedented scale and rate at which economic and cultural transformations are taking place have left people unsettled around the globe. Increased exposure to westernize ideas through media, consumer culture and/or direct contact (commonly equated as ‘globalization’) has increased questioning the nature of distinctiveness/authenticity and has triggered a reevaluation of local values. Singapore is one such example of embracing modernity and being known as “undoubtedly the most Western-oriented city in Asia” (Lim, 1998, p.22), in an attempt to drive towards the rapid economic and social progression. Although, we have successfully embraced modernity, and has become a developed, first world country from being a third world country, it makes us ponder on an intriguing question: At what cost? Some complain that in the process of modernization, we have lost our past identities and connections to places with its restoration of buildings and places to create an orderly, clean and often termed as a “boring” Singapore. Having realized this, in the recent past, the need to preserve our identity and communicate local cultures has become a priority to Singaporeans as a whole, in order to stand apart from the world and make it attractive to tourists and thereby boost our foreign investments. Hence, the need to preserve our heritage becomes imperative given that “heritage attest our identity and affirms our worth” (Lowenthal, 1998, p. 8). But palpably a number of questions arise with regards to the aforementioned thought. For instance, how and to what extent should we preserve our heritage? At what cost should we preserve? To whom should we preserve? Finding answers to these questions are onerous, yet much needed. In this short essay, I try to reflect upon a few other alternatives to embrace modernity instead of completely demolishing the living heritage or built heritage by bringing particular attention to Willim Lim’s article on Asian New Urbanisms.

Given that a place’s primary function is to “engender a sense of belonging and attachment” (Proshansky as cited in Wang, 2010, p. 4), the authenticity should not merely focus on its physical environment. But in Singapore, preserving the physical appearances of buildings to reflect its past heritage seems to have been quite successful. Kampong Glam and old shop houses in Chinatown reflect this quite impressively; but at the same time, a tourist driven New Chinatown seems to have harmed the continuity of its past traditions and local culture of its inhabitants – such as wetmarkets, night markets and street hawkers. Although, preserving past buildings helps to preserve authenticity to an extent, it does not say anything about the people who lived there or their rich cultural values – thus lacks the rich history of that place. Hence, alternative methods in preserving heritage must be considered, as part of embracing modernity while preserving our past heritage, although it could be a painful experience, both “socially disruptive and politically sensitive” (Lim, 1998, p.22) given the scarcity of land available to meet the dire housing and infrastructure needs in Singapore.

Firstly, I feel there should be more efforts to promote local people’s participatory approaches in developing and rebuilding places. So far, when Singapore is considered, I feel that these approaches have become secondary to financial considerations (a close comparison of old and present Bugis street as well as Chinatown would shed some light to this).  On the other hand, a closer look at a living heritage in Toh Payoh Central – a scared tree and a shrine surrounded in dense housing developments (YouTube video titled Leaf of Faith) would provide some insights into how people’s identity and practices seem to be strongly connected with a place they lived in for years.

Thus, in order to preserve heritage it is important to include people’s participation at early stages in decision-making processes or in hands-on actions to rebuild their own spaces, although it could be economically, emotionally and socially painstaking given that people’s needs could vary significantly. Further, as part of improving the local’s participatory approach, the government could also reconsider in employing local architects to design places, as they are more familiar with local roots. However, since mid-seventies till today, the government had given more preference to foreign architects thus dominating international-style architecture in the nation (Lim, 1998).

Secondly, Lim (1998) suggests the idea of providing subsidies including direct grants, low interest loans, low rents and tax exemptions to subsidize heritage sites and conservation buildings. If there were low rents for shop keepers in Old Chinatown in Singapore, I believe more people would have been able to continue living in the area with their local businesses and their mundane lifestyles. Unfortunately, in Singapore, providing subsidies does not seem to be a viable option given the scarcity of land and increase in population. Instead, an “adaptive re-use” (Lim, 1998, p.124) method like in Quencey Market in Boston, Fulton Market in New York, Central Market in Kuala Lumpur and Boat Quay in Singapore could be practiced more often. However, in so doing, the renovations should not begin from the scratch but should ensure that certain aspects of culture and past would remain untouched so that heritage preservation would not be compromised completely. For instance, Germany, a nation that faced great calamities due to two world wars and is now one of the most developed and modern states has adapted this method in some areas to preserve its historical places while embracing modernity. Further, the example of Lebanon County Heritage trail provides insights into preserving past historical places while building expressways. This trail interconnects with historic places and main roads and is considered to boost economic revitalization while physically and emotionally connecting with the past. In doing so, bicycle friendly trails are built for tourists to ride along while taking note of historical places and car parks are built to encourage commuters to park their cars and explore the trail on foot. More on this can be viewed in a YouTube video titled “Lebanon County Heritage Trail”. Although, careful renovation without completely demolishing/destroying the buildings/identity of properties/people may be expensive, this would ensure the long-term sustainability of the rich history and its past heritage. Nevertheless, amidst higher social expectations and rapid technological and economical developments conservation is not possible without some changes; in fact “change” is inevitable. Axiomatically, change is an integral part of planning and is crucial in Singapore where the land is scarce. Thus, to meet the demands the government will always have to allocate resources appropriately (replacing kampongs and dwelling slums with HDB flats and recreational parks, community centres) for a better Singapore for all.

In doing so, some impressive efforts have been made by the authorities in Singapore in an attempt to balance heritage and modernity. For instance, Little India seems to still connect with a past Indian identity and culture with its street names still connecting to the past remnants, temples lasting for centuries and authentic Indian businesses and shops taking its way along the streets. Similarly, churches such as the St Andrew’s Cathedral, Wesley Methodist Church have retained the most of the original facades of their past till today. Also the Chinese and Malay cultural heritage centres are another form of preserving heritage. On a final note, in embracing modernity while preserving heritage hard choices will always have to be made for greater good. And these hard choices are essential for a nation to develop and move forward in a globalized world.



1)       Lim, W. S. W. (1998). Asian new urbanism. Singapore.

2)       Lowenthal, D. (1998). Fabricating heritage, History & Memory 10(1): 5-24.

3)       Wang, S-Y. (January 2010). In search of authenticity in historic cities in transformation: the case of Pingyao China (working paper series, no. 133, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, Singapore).

Bukit Brown: A Living Heritage

by Rita Padawangi

Combining the terms ‘living heritage’ and ‘cemetery’ may sound contradictory at first. How can a burial ground be alive? Furthermore, why ‘living heritage’ and not just heritage? Heritage is most meaningful if it is lived and experienced in the society’s everyday life. Much of the heritage preservation discourse in Southeast Asia has been dominated by experts. This approach on heritage often poses contradictions between past buildings and its relevance to the current socio-economic practices.

Workshop participants pose at a banner left by Bukit Brownies

Exploration into living heritage brought a group of scholars and community partners to experience Bukit Brown in an immediate post-haze sunny afternoon of 1 July 2013. It was the first afternoon of the “Asian Urbanisms in Theory and Practice: The Future of the Vernacular City” workshop, which was organized by the Asia Research Institute in collaboration with the Faculty of Arts and Social Science Cities Cluster, the International Institute of Asian Studies at Leiden University, and the Future Cities Laboratory. Participants consisted of more than thirty Asia scholars and community partners in the Urban Knowledge Network Asia, in which the Asia Research Institute is a strategic partner. Living heritage was one of the main topics in workshop as part of the vernacular city – the city by and for the people.

The Golden Boy, a tomb guardian at Bukit Brown Cemetery

Heritage and nature activists have made Bukit Brown available. Tailored walks for specific events can also be arranged with the volunteers. The workshop participants were guided through Bukit Brown by Dr. Lai Chee Kien from the School of Design and Environment at the National University of Singapore. In this guided walk, there were explanations on tomb architectures, including the difference between Hokkien and Teochew tombs, meanings of ornaments and design styles. A day after the walk, Claire Leow from All Things Bukit Brown delivered a presentation on Bukit Brown’s historical relevance in the identities of Singaporeans today.

Instead of being neglected and forgotten after its closure, the place form communities beyond the relatives of the deceased. Inarguably, the announcement of the plan to build a dual four-lane highway through the cemetery catalysed community activists to preserve the cemetery, which is home to more than 100,000 tombs, naturally shady trees and rich wildlife. But the activities in and for Bukit Brown are beyond reactionary. They reflect the power of place in joining communities to craft, redefine, and reclaim their space.

One of the eight immortals as a tomb guardian at Bukit Brown

Visitors to Bukit Brown can spot signs and announcements that are designed, placed, and maintained by the Bukit Brown community. In-between shaded, bush-covered tombs are clean ones with joss sticks and fresh offerings, scattered hell money and burnt papers, signifying recent visits by the deceased’s relatives. Whether it is horse riding or dog walking, running or cycling, casual outdoor activities are signs of the cemetery’s meaning of space for the living.

Living heritage is the reflexivity between historical significance in the current lived experiences and identities. Rather than a romantic nostalgia that is reminiscent of a glorious past, living heritage is part of the everyday life that makes social-cultural roots in the past relevant in the present, even the future memories and practices. A cemetery can well be a living heritage, and the case of Bukit Brown is a good example of intertwining current vernacular practices and historical roots.

This essay has also been published in our ARI Newsletter (September 2013 issue).

The cost of urbanization?

by Rita Padawangi

TODAY paper reported that a banyan tree in Toa Payoh Central fell a few days ago. No injuries reported, but it damaged a small shrine under its hanging roots.

This tree, the 40+ year-old shrine and the people attached to it was the main feature of one of the short films in the City Possible II Film Festival on 2 July 2013, titled “Leaf of Faith”.

The film left us wondering how the shrine would survive amidst the development push to remove the tree. Resembling a more or less ‘close to ideal’, but not happy ending, finale to the story, the tree fell on its own. The tree can only be removed if the guardian spirits let it die.

From another perspective, the tree had been surrounded by dense housing developments that look pretty much suffocating for the tree itself. This also reminds us to the recent talk on Channel 5 on floods in Singapore: is it natural or man-made? We have seen green areas disappearing in Singapore. The greens surrounding another living heritage, Singapore’s dragon kilns, are also disappearing. Bukit Brown, a natural heritage on its own, is also going to be reduced and subsequently planned for a residential development.

In Jakarta, where floods become more and more frequent and prevalent, urbanization has been blamed for 50% increase in water runoff, which subsequently caused floods. Green and penetrable areas of the Ciliwung River watershed have been reduced significantly since the 1970s and continue to decline. But still, more land clearance and concrete developments continue.

Is there an alternative to development as usual? Is another city possible? If so, how should it be?

Cluster Achievements

Our cluster leader Mike Douglass has put together a colourful powerpoint on our cluster activities and achievements. Some excerpts:

The Cluster has three research streams — Disaster Governance, Spaces of Hope, and The Vernacular City.

Flyers of our first two CityPossible Film festivals (many more to come):

Aggregated lists of Cluster members’ achievements:

Some pointers on the way forward…

You can download the complete PPT file here.

Further information can be found on ARI’s Asian Urbanisms Cluster website. In particular, please take note of current research projects and upcoming cluster events.

Asian Urbanisms Cluster Meeting & Lunch (Wed 7 August 2013)

Thank you again to all who joined us for our cluster meeting at Bar Bar Black Sheep, Cluny Court.

Present: Mike Douglass (cluster leader), Nausheen Anwar, Tim Bunnell, Stephen Cairns, Marco Garrido, Kong Chong Ho, Yumin Joo, Peter Marolt, Michelle Miller, Rita Padawangi, Tharuka Prematillake (research assistant), Asha Rathina-Pandi, David Strand.

After welcoming the cluster members, Mike Douglass introduced the cluster’s three main research themes: Vernacular City, Disaster Governance, and Spaces of Hope. He also shared that the recent City Possible film festival was a big success, and that future festivals might include other venues to screen the films. Mike also shared the following activities:

1)  Attempting to get a tier 2 grant. Principal investigators for this would be Graig and Mike.

2)  Applications for post-doc and (senior) research fellow positions will be closed on 1 September. Afterwards, Mike will shortlist the applicants and will have a meeting with the cluster members to discuss and make decisions.

3)  In January one post-doc is expected to join the cluster from Japan. He will also assist in the upcoming conference on Disaster Governance in November 2013.

4)  Mike also mentioned that he is currently involved in some action-oriented work in Hanoi. As a result of this project, the government has stopped destroying public markets, and park users now have a voice in park planning.

The cluster members then introduced their own current research foci in turn:

Nausheen Anwar shared that she is mainly working on 2 projects:

1)  A book project for which she is preparing a book proposal, currently titled ‘Mobility, Place and Politics in Globalizing Karachi’. The book focuses on issues of migration, political brokerage, and the role of the state in planning/city making, etc.

2)  Nausheen is also the Principal Investigator of a 26-months long project funded by the International Development Research Centre and Department for International Development under the Safe and Inclusive Cities program. Her project is titled “Gender and Violence in Urban Pakistan,” and is focused on two cities: Karachi and Islamabad. The main thrust of the project is on the discursive drivers of violence, its linkages with gender and infrastructure (sanitation, water, health, transportation).  The project secured funding of Canadian $500,000 in March 2013.

Nausheen is also working on a project titled “Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema” which connects with the cluster’s broader Spaces of Hope theme. In this she is a Co-Principal Investigator. Nausheen has received SGD $5,000 from ARI and US$25,0000 from the United States Institute of Peace for this project. The project is based in Karachi and focuses on three different, ethnically and religiously heterogeneous, low-income neighbourhoods. It aims at consolidating mobile video footages taken by people on their cell phones.  The first phase was launched in June and will continue until early January 2014.  Some delays are expected due to Karachi’s law and order situation.

Stephen Cairns is currently exploring the incredible environment he is living in for a project on Protection in Urban Planning. It is a 1-to-1 prototype building project based in Jakarta and Batam.

Kong-Chong Ho is currently working on two projects. One is with HDB and the other is on livability, sustainability and spaces encountered.

David Strand recently conducted a seminar titled A” Walk in the Park: Singapore’s Green Corridor in Light of Manhattan’s High Line.” He mentioned that this project is not yet completed. Currently he is trying to make contacts with relevant people for interviews in order to understand what happened to the green corridor between 2010 until now.

Michelle Miller is currently working on two main cluster events:

1)  International conference on Disaster Governance: the Urban Transition in Asia, 7-8 November 2013.

2)  International workshop on Flooding in Urban Asia, 20 January 2014. This will be co-sponsored by the Pacific Affairs journal.

The two events are intended to widen the spectrum of networks. Michelle also mentioned that the Australian National University is planning to sign a MoU with ARI to work on disaster networks in Asia. China’s Nanjing University also intends to collaborate in the future. Mike emphasized that the word ‘governance’ is used to include civil society and suggested that the projects  are intended to bridge the humanities and social sciences.

Michelle is also continuing her work on the following projects: Decentering Nation (with Tim Bunnell), and Situating Decentralization in an Urban Milieu.

Asha Rathina-Pandi mentioned that her dissertation was on the impact of blogs and media on political activities in Malaysia. At ARI she intends to work on publications regarding the fall of the Malaysian political party and do more work on physical (urban) space. Asha will be presenting a paper on linkages between physical and online spaces for the conference titled “Conceptualizing Cyber-Urban Connections in Asia and the Middle East” which will be held in January 2014.

Yumin Joo is an assistant professor at the LKY School of Public Policy and only recently joined ARI as an associate. Her interest is on urbanization in Asia and focuses mainly on a) urbanization (mega events), to understand what they do for secondary cities; b) (together with LKY school colleagues) Asia’s Global Cities: Mayors, Networks, and Global Status,” which compares three global cities, namely, Tokyo, Seoul and Bangkok; and c) housing policies of Korea and Singapore.

Rita Padawangi mentioned that she co-organized a workshop with Tim Bunnell and Mike Douglass on Geographies of Aspiration, held in July 2013. This was organized by ARI and the Cities Research Cluster at FASS in NUS. The purpose was to better understand how cities are constituted through geographically extended relations. Rita is planning to have a conference in July next year. She mentioned that she would now focus on publications pertaining to the cluster’s Vernacular City theme.

Tim Bunnell will be co-organizing a workshop on Friendship and the Convivial City in September. It aims at initiating a research agenda around the social and spatial configurations of friendship, which have implications for urban dwellers’ experiences of city life, and in opening up potentialities for new ways of living together with diversity. Tim is also completing his book manuscript entitled, “From World City to the World in One City: Liverpool through Malay Lives” for the IJURR-Wiley-Blackwell book series on Studies in Urban and Social Change. He is also working on a research project (Ministry of Education, Tier 2) on “Aspirations, Urban Governance and the Remaking of Asian Cities.” Tim is the principal investigator of it and his own research is conducted in the city of Solo, Central Java, Indonesia.

Peter Marolt is currently working on a couple of projects. They include a (second) co-edited volume on Online China: locating society in online spaces (for Routledge); an edited book project on Global Insurgencies (with Mike and Rita); collaborating on the Urban Aspirations research project (PI: Tim Bunnell); an upcoming conference on “Conceptualizing Cyber-Urban Connections in Asia and the Middle East” (with Asha). Peter is also working on a book manuscript titled Cyber China: making space for change.

Marco Garrido’s work focuses on the impact of emerging patterns of spatial inequality in Metro Manila on class relations and the political views of the urban poor and middle class. He intends to connect a spatial configuration of class interspersion with political polarization – specifically, the resurgence of populism on the one hand and, on the other, the rise of a reformist politics.

The convivial lunch meeting ended at 2.30pm.

Notes of meeting recorded by: Tharuka Prematillake

Film Festival : CityPossible II

The CityPossible II Film Festival

Date:  02 Jul 2013
Time:  18:00 – 21:30
Venue:  The Substation Theatre, 45 Armenian St, Singapore 179936
Organisers:  Dr PADAWANGI Rita, Prof DOUGLASS Michael
Download Files: Program and Sypnosis

This event is co-organised by FASS Cities Research Cluster, Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA), ARI Asian Urbanisms Cluster, and the Future Cities Lab.

The CityPossible Film Festival is back for the second time in Singapore! We continue to ask the question: What is the possible city?

Current urban development trajectories encourage commercialisation to extract profit from various layers of the increasingly urban society. Meaningful communities are challenged to find space, time, and resources when they are diverted to focus on lifestyle and consumption within placeless architectures. Unfettered capitalism pushes cities to become engines of growth rather than theatres of social life. The CityPossible Film Festival brings together the stories of people who have joined together to resist the loss of their life-spaces and to remake the city through their own visions of what could be. From the street corner to the metropolis, these films inspire us as we celebrate the human spirit through cinema.

This is held in conjunction with the Workshop on “Asian Urbanisms in Theory and Practice: The Future of the Vernacular City” on 1-2 July 2013.

Admission is free, please register your interest with Ms Rachel Devi Amtzis (, if you’d like to attend, and indicate your name, email, designation, organization and contact number.

Please note that seats are available on a first-come-first served basis and we will not be able to allow entry once the theatre is full.

Workshop Convenors:
Prof Mike Douglass
Asia Research Institute and Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore
Dr Rita Padawangi
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Please visit this link or the SubStation website for more information on the above film festival.

Conference : The Future of the Vernacular City

Asian Urbanisms in Theory and Practice: The Future of the Vernacular City

Date:  01 Jul 2013 – 02 Jul 2013
Venue:  ValueLab, Future Cities Laboratory, CREATE Building 6th Floor, U Town NUS @ Kent Ridge
Organisers:  Dr PADAWANGI Rita, Prof DOUGLASS Michael, Dr BUNNELL Tim

Co-organised by the FASS Cities Research Cluster, Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA), ARI Asian Urbanisms Cluster, and the Future Cities Lab

This workshop will bring together scholars in the region to assert the relevance of urban theories in practice, followed by a special focus on the vernacular city. This workshop will work towards developing an urban theory that is grounded in the complexities, diversities, and richness of cities, particularly in Asia. The separation between social and cultural emphasis in urban theories and the practicality of financial and economic considerations in urban policies is problematic and needs to be addressed. This workshop taps into the resources and the network of the Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA) that has recently started working on building urban knowledge in Asia (April 2012). In particular, this workshop will address the following three themes:

1. The Idea of the City
What is the city? The disconnect between urban theory and urban policies stems from different visions of what constitutes the city, what the city should be, and how it should function. This theme will come up with an epistemological approach to cities by looking at how knowledge of Asian cities is acquired and shaped, and by whom. The conscious move to represent Asian cities will provide updates to and will reshape urban theories to increase their relevance to broader sets of urban realities.

2. Cities by and for the People
The focus on economic growth in many developing cities has often left behind the people dimension. There have been efforts to promote participatory approaches, but eventually these approaches are secondary to financial considerations. To reassert the importance of the city as a social and cultural reality, there needs to be a thorough examination of urban residents’ opportunities and challenges in shaping Asian cities. Residents’ participation can be through various levels of participation in decision-making processes or hands-on actions in building their own spaces in the city. The objective is to integrate the theoretical importance of civil societies in determining their urban realities. This highlights the people’s role of in crafting urban places in the form of action, decision-making and policies in the actuality of Asian cities.

3. The Future of Cities
This theme will address the critical issues that define urban life and the future of urbanisation in Asia. The discourse on future cities has been much dominated by technological imaginations and utopias that confines humanities and social sciences approaches in projecting the future of cities to empirical statistics. However, technological developments are dependent upon how those technologies are socially derived, politically framed, and culturally accepted. It is important to revive the importance of urban theory to construct a holistic view of the future of cities that addresses the built environment, infrastructures, and the socio-cultural fabric.

Please visit this link or this link for more information on the above workshop.

Hello world!

The Asian Urbanisms cluster explores Asia’s diverse urban experiences historically, contemporaneously, and toward the future.  It seeks to contribute to theory and applied research on the reflexivity of society-space relationships in the built environment and city life from local to global scales, in diverse contexts in Asia, and through comparative studies with other world regions.  The orientation of the cluster is towards research that speaks in transformative ways to urban-related theories, debates and public policy issues in and beyond Asia.  Avenues for research include (but are not limited to): livable cities past, present and future with regard to vernacular urban heritages, modernization and globalization; urban discontents, insurgencies in cities and through social media, and spaces of hope through participatory city-making; and disaster governance in an age of urban transitions and global climate change. AUC is developing three themes that will serve to organize research, grant proposals, workshops and conferences, publications, and related events and activities. The three themes are:

Disaster Governance.  The intention is to bring social sciences, arts and humanities, and physical/technology sciences together to make Singapore a hub in Asia for research and training on disaster prevention, adaptation and humanitarian assistance.  The term “governance” is adopted to give emphasis to public involvement in all aspects of research and practice related to natural disasters.  With its rich history of transdisciplinary research on key dimensions of disaster governance in Southeast Asia, ARI is well position to be the center of this activity.  Asia’s urban transition that is focusing on very large urban regions, most of which are located in disaster-prone coastal regions, brings to the fore the Importance of AUC research on disaster governance.

Urban Heritage and the Vernacular City.  This theme brings AUC together with other NUS programs such as SDE that are concerned with culture-built environment interdependencies in cities.  The term vernacular city is used to direct attention to both historically inherited urban structures and living culture as they are expressed through place-making and local production of urban spaces by people who reside in the city.  This research theme seeks to make international linkages with organizations in and beyond Singapore that are doing similar research, such as the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS).

Spaces of Hope. This theme covers a wide range of research on social mobilization, the rise of civil society, discontents, and insurgencies.  It also includes cyber-activism.  Most of these activities take place in cities and can be seen emerging with the rise of urban middle and working classes, communications technologies, and political change.  It reaches beyond protest to consider projects to create alternative urban spaces.  It also links with such issues as citizenship, transnational migration, multicultural societies, liveable cities, and the right to the city.