A look at how Tampines North used participatory design approaches and community engagement methods to get residents more involved in renewing their neighbourhood.
The Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP), fully funded by the Singapore government and implemented by the Town Councils, was introduced in August 2007.
Under the current NRP framework, improvement works are made to the living environment at both the block and precinct levels in public housing estates. In most NRPs, residents are asked to select their preferred improvement works from a predetermined list. Some of these would include block-level improvements (e.g. new letterboxes, lift lobby tiling) or precinct-level improvements (playground, fitness corner).
Even though residents and stakeholders have a say in the renewal and improvement processes, they typically have a limited scope in terms of expressing their preferences through such conventional communication methods.
However, in 2017, Tampines Town Council Chairman and Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC, Mr Baey Yam Keng, wanted his residents to give their feedback more proactively. Previous efforts only brought in limited number of responses and feedback from the residents.
To tackle this issue, Mr Baey Yam Keng, who desired a deeper and more authentic way of engaging the residents, turned to participatory design approaches and creative community engagement methods to include the community in the decision-making process1.
Non-profit design, planning and educational organisation Participate in Design (P!D) was engaged by the Tampines Town Council and given the opportunity to rethink how residents and stakeholders could be more meaningfully involved in the design and planning of their living environment2.
Residents of Tampines North sharing their design ideas as a part of
The Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP).
A series of participatory design activities were conducted, including expert interviews, walking conversations, stakeholder workshops, pop-up design clinics, community feedback workshops with residents, and idea-board engagement3 during the period of February to April 2017 in efforts to include residents in the process and to gather insights that reflected needs and aspiration from the residents who will potentially be the users of the new facilities.
P!D also conducted stakeholder interviews and workshops with Mr Baey, Town Council staff, grassroots leaders and the RCs to understand their vision, mission and ideas so that the plan would be well-aligned.
Beyond the traditional approach of engagement, residents were approached on a personal level through various creative publicity stunts and expanded the reach with the use of a powerful tool – social media. Stories of the residents were documented and shared across social media platforms to create awareness for the NRP and to inspire not just Tampines' residents but the general public to take part in such programmes.
Workshops conducted by public, private and civil society organisations, for
residents and Town Council Staff.
Through these workshops, residents and Town Council staff were able to communicate better. This allowed them to empathise with each other and gave staff the opportunity to dispel misperceptions on what could or could not be done. The sessions also allowed the authorities and architects to better understand and share their ideas of how things would look like. This helped to build a sense of ownership and participation from all stakeholders.
The participatory approach helped bring together some 4,000 residents and stakeholders to plan and design their living environment over a period of three months from February to April 2017.
Residents lauded the process, saying that it was the first time they had really been engaged and involved. They now understood the complexities of neighbourhood renewal and had a better understanding of the stakeholders’ landscape.
Although old folks and the working crowd were typically hard to reach, the exercise managed to draw responses from a good balance of the different groups in the neighbourhood. All the residents who participated in the workshop felt that it is important for them to be involved in the design process of the NRP.
More than 3,000 responses from the Pop Up Stories Market and Ideas Banner were gathered while 170 stakeholders and residents joined the workshops, walking conversations and interviews.
Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) at Tampines North, 2017. Residents interacting with a
series of participatory activities conducted.
In the initial stages of ideas presentation, the architect recommended removing a playground in the middle of a round market to make way for a new plaza. However, many residents were against the idea as it allowed the residents to let their children play while they shopped for groceries. This was an example of how a key community space was retained as a result of the engagement.
For Mr Baey, the approach helped the Town Council feel confident that “that the amenities, facilities added will be what the residents really want and I think the process also helped them appreciate the estate better, understand the constraints faced by the authorities and more importantly, a greater sense of ownership of their estate and I hope the residents will also make an effort to take care of the public facilities and take care of the environment.”
1 P!D. (n.d.) Tampines North Neighbourhood Renewal Programme. Retrieved from http://participateindesign.org/tampines-north-nrp
2 Yabuka, N. (May 2017). Wanted: Neighbourhood Identity and Community Gardens. Retrieved from https://www.indesignlive.sg/insight/wanted-neighbourhood-identity-community-gardens
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