Updated: Sep 27, 2022
By Goh Guan Zhen
… even though installations had not begun at the void deck, the process itself had already seen the start of community building.
Starting out on a journey
At the beginning, the team observed that many neighbours in Singapore said “hi” and “bye” to each other but hardly went beyond these greetings. We imagined and discussed what a vibrant community might look like, both physically and socially, through this void deck space. It was exciting to criss-cross architecture, social work and psychology.
Residents actually came!
Next, we saw the importance of involving residents in this conversation. We pasted posters to invite anyone who was interested to join a townhall meeting. We did not know who and how many would turn up. I thought if there were even five residents, I would already be very happy. Unexpectedly, several people appeared at the arranged time and more streamed in. Some came simply to find out what a townhall meeting was as they had not heard of it. This grew to become a crowd and others came over to see what was happening or got pulled in as they walked by. Wow!
Sparking community conversations
With a larger group, there were more voices. Some residents gave suggestions on what could be built at the void deck. Others shared concerns if the facilities would become a white elephant or whether users would be considerate in taking care of the place. We reached a consensus through an open poll and a slight majority supported the building of a communal area for residents to relax and use. The sense was that people were open to give this idea a try. Some were willing to donate furniture or participate as team members. One person even immediately called up a contact to see if discounts for paint could be made for community projects. This townhall meeting had now sparked community conversations and contributions.
Getting down to work
The next phase kicked in which was to work out the nitty gritty of what was to go into the void deck. The discussions took place online, face to face and over the phone with residents, team members, community volunteers and contractors. It felt like we were invisible hands trying to mould clay into a sculpture. This required everyone to talk through things in order to make decisions that were community centric, aesthetic, practical and fit within the physical space and budget. Gradually, things began to take shape and there was greater clarity on how the place, programs and people came together.
Through these, I learnt three things about community building. First, it starts with imagining what a cosy corner and neighbourhood could look like. This fuelled team members and residents alike. Second, work through the differences. With many people, there will be different opinions and commitment levels. It was necessary to understand each other, seek consensus, give and take, and work with what we have. Third, let the community surprise you with its strengths. The townhall meeting showed that people were interested in civic affairs and some residents continued to give their time and energies to work out the project details. All in all, even though installations had not begun at the void deck, the process itself had already seen the start of community building. And for that we give thanks and celebrate.