Why the fuss over Bukit Brown?

A poster urging Singaporeans to save Bukit Brown. (Photo courtesy of SOS Bukit Brown)

By SOS Bukit Brown

WONDERING what's the fuss about the 8-lane highway that the Government is planning to build through the historic Bukit Brown Cemetery? Here're 5 of the most frequently asked questions.

1. Isn't it a good thing to destroy a part of Bukit Brown for faster roads & a residential estate? After all, the dead don't mind & the living will benefit. How much new housing area can be created with the destruction of Bukit Brown?

Err, we're not sure the dead don't mind! But even if they don't, the enormous historical, cultural, environmental value of Bukit Brown far outweighs the benefits of a four-way road that seeks to " bring relief to the increasingly congested Lornie Road." (ST, 20 Nov 2011).

We believe that other creative solutions can be found to relieve traffic congestion. Furthermore, there are only 111 cars per 1,000 people* in Singapore. Why should Bukit Brown and so many other precious historical sites make way to serve this small proportion of the population? Destruction is forever.

As for the benefit of new housing, the government's plan is to build a "future estate that spans more than 200ha — bigger than Serangoon and slated to have a mix of private and public housing. Although this will be developed only in 30 to 40 years, the new road is necessary today to bring relief to the increasingly congested Lornie Road."

While this will benefit people, we feel that the government can choose to provide more housing area by first developing many other spaces that have much less historical & cultural value compared to Bukit Brown. (eg. golf courses)

In fact, the Final Report of the Focus Group on Land Allocation submitted to the Ministry of National Development in December 2000 already calls for the preservation of green spaces and building buildings taller to make land use more efficient. The Land Transport Authority's 2008 Land Transport Master Plan likewise advocates both making public transport, especially rail, the mode of choice for commuters and controlling vehicle population growth. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam reiterated these points in his recent 2012 Budget Speech. Preserving Bukit Brown is consistent with these goals.

* For official figures from the Department of Statistics, Singapore, see:
http://www.singstat.gov.sg/stats/keyind.html#socind (See under "Social Indicators")
http://www.singstat.gov.sg/pubn/reference/sif2011.pdf (See page 18)

2. The government has indicated that they will only destroy 5000 graves. That's only 5% of Bukit Brown. And they aren't the graves of "famous people". So isn't that OK?

Famous or ordinary, we want to symbolically honour them all as pioneers of Singapore. And we feel that this proposed destruction of 5% of Bukit Brown in 2012 is merely testing the waters of public opinion. If we do not speak up against it now, one day there will be the eventual & complete destruction of Bukit Brown, and with it, the great value of this shared historical space.

3. There is already some documentation work going on for the graves that will be destroyed. Isn't that adequate for preserving our memories?

We thank Dr Hui Yew-Foong & his team for doing this back-breaking work of documentation. This should go on even if Bukit Brown is preserved, as the gravestones will eventually become illegible due to wear & tear. However, we believe there is a huge intangible difference between reading about Bukit Brown's documentation in a book or museum, and having the actual sensory experience of walking in a physical space among the trees and quiet gravestones, reflecting on our shared history and culture. We want this for our children too.

4. Hardly anyone remembered Bukit Brown before the proposed destruction. Now suddenly there's all this hype. Surely this will all die down? (no pun intended..)

In our rush to study, work, earn & just keep up with this frantic pace of life, we have neglected so much of our history & culture. This wake-up call has made many Singaporeans take a trip to Bukit Brown to enjoy the scenary, & appreciate its great historical & cultural value. We want to preserve this not just for Singaporeans in 2011, but for generations to come.

5. How feasible is it to preserve Bukit Brown as a heritage park/ cemetary park?

We believe it is highly feasible. From Paris to Penang, London to Los Angeles, Montreal to Malacca, and many many more, cemeteries are integral to the living space of many metropolitan areas, serving as parks, heritage sites, and public spaces. Some have more than one cemetery park. If other cities can, why can't Singapore? Here are some links to cemetery parks in cities around the world:
- Yanaka Cemetery, Tokyo, Japan
- Aoyama Cemetery, Tokyo, Japan
- Bukit Cina, Melaka, Malaysia
- Protestant Cemetery, Penang, Malaysia
- Hong Kong (Happy Valley) Cemetery, Hong Kong
1.    http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=2177241
2.    https://www.flickr.com/photos/49694825@N08/4927332102/
3.    http://hongkongcemetery.blogspot.com/

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