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Journal Article

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The term 'landscape" embodies multiple levels of meaning: it articulates the ideological intent of the powerful who plan or shape the landscape in particular ways and at the same time reflects the everyday meanings implicit in the daily routines of ordinary people associated with the landscape. Through an analysis of four themes constituting the landscape of Singapore's Chinatown, we unpack two different but interdependent versions of landscape reality: the construction of social meanings from the state's perspective and those derived from the lived experiences of Chinatown's inhabitants. In our first theme, we explore the multiplicity of meanings invested in Chinatown's housing landscape. For the state, urban renewal and public housing schemes in Chinatown represent the redrawing of landscapes along modernist lines informed by efficiency and rationality of land use, in tandem with the larger goals of nation-building. Among residents, however, the vision of modern living in everyday life was only a reality for a few; others experience the landscape in more contradictory ways. Second, in the landscape of community building, we show that state-initiated efforts at inculcating a sense of community have replaced the old spontaneous, interpersonal ties and the strength of organised vernacular associations. Inadvertently, these state strategies have in some ways actually been damaging and deleterious to community ties. In our third theme, we show how the state has, to a large extent, successfully rewritten the socially and physically polluted landscapes of Chinatown. Yet, there are examples of resistances where the state's vision of an unpolluted landscape has been punctured. Since the mid-1980s, a fourth imperative has emerged in the state's management of the Chinatown landscape in the form of attempts to conserve the landscape as a "historic district", a repository of the nation's tradition, history and culture. We show that there are different interpretations of the state's effort to revitalise Chinese culture in the conserved landscape and its attempt to cast Chinatown in the role of a "common bond place" for all Singaporeans. Singapore's Chinatown is thus a multicoded landscape inscribed with a multiplicity of meanings. It is neither used entirely as an ideological tool for manipulative ends nor does it fully embody the authenticity of daily experiences. © 1994.


Singapore, Community attitudes, Cultural perspective, Developing country, Housing, landscape change, Planning policy, Socio-spatial studies, State role, Urban conservation, Urban planning


Asian Studies | Urban Studies

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Habitat International





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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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