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Abley Apr 20245 min read

Walking the fascinating streets of Singapore

I’m Ashrita, a Transport Planner at Abley in the Land Development team.  In 2015, my husband and I moved to Singapore, returning four years later in 2019. When people think of Singapore, they think of high-rise buildings, the buoyant banking industry and world-class shopping. I want to paint a different picture, one of sophisticated land-use and transport systems. Six million people living on an island the size of Lake Taupo, one-third of whom are foreigners. This is high density living.

In Singapore, we lived in a tiny 2-bedroom apartment, with excellent common amenities and fantastic bus service. We had a playground, several pools, a gym, and barbeque facilities at our doorstep. We also had rubbish chutes leading to the basement, where you can also find carparking and a poor attempt at recycling. In our four years, I can think of only a handful of times that I missed having a car.

Let me take you through my evening ....

It’s 6pm on a Friday evening, my colleagues and I leave the office, and walk to Raffles Place, one of the busiest stations in Singapore. The underground alleys connect the green east-west train line to the red north-south train line in the heart of the city, making it the busiest station in Singapore. 

I bid farewell to some of my colleagues on the fast escalators, I keep left, stand in a single file line, and occasionally brush shoulders with busy commuters on the right, overtaking me. I tap in my commuter card, still managing a conversation in the commotion which is peak hour in Singapore. I queue up for my train, finding a few inches of standing space on the platform. Thank goodness, for aircon. I make my way onto the crowded train and manage to open my book and read without touching anyone around me. Somehow unconsciously, I have mastered the act of standing still while the train gradually stops and quickly accelerates at each station.

My husband and I conquered the art of catching the right train to catch the right bus to avoid the seemingly-long wait of 5 mins for the next bus. Even with a stroller, we were public transport ninjas, able to quickly zig-zag our way past queues and automatic barriers, elevators, lifts and onto the connecting bus. This was a pre-Covid era. We would commute to our workplaces on these trains, closely packed in like dominos, not touching anyone or anything, with only enough space for the small screen to stare at. Tapping out the station was also a perfect science, card out, tap out, and walk out. It’s hot, everyone is sweating, and life is good. Submerged in a good book, I realized I had not read so much since university and being in a packed train is more fun than being on a packed highway.

Photo by Adiptalk on Unsplash

Soon, it’s my turn to get off. I check the app on my phone, 5 mins for the bus. I think I can make it. The train stops, I rush off, on the right side of the escalators, walking faster, 4 mins for the bus, tap out with my commuter card and power walk to the bus stop across the road. I can see the bus around the corner, I’ve made it. Next to the bus stop, Foodstalls, (hawker centres) are getting ready for their busiest period, the night-time business. The aromatic smell of sambal lingers in the air. Why cook at home when you can get a cheaper meal out? In the small four-walls, living in extended family households, home is often not a destination of choice after work for many Singaporeans.

In the absence of having a car, I learnt how to cycle (I was a wobbly cyclist before), how to run long distances and how to enjoy the streetscape at a micro-level. I learnt which walking route was the quickest to the ‘wet market’ (fruit, vegetables, fish and meat markets), which parks had the best amenities and which walking paths would get me to the beach the quickest. While walking and running, I got to know which gardens had the best mangoes over-hanging the footpath, and what day the neighbouring Muslim graveyard held it’s weekly evening ceremony. All the things I would miss if I didn’t interact with my street.

Back at the apartment, I take in its pools, gym and BBQ facilities and pinch myself. How did we end up in this paradise? I think about my upcoming 10km running race. It’s not long but in this still air and tropical heat, every kilometre feels longer. It’s 9pm and the suburb is still alive. Running the streets, I take in the narrow lots, “landed houses” which are unlike anything I had seen in New Zealand, completely void of building setbacks, long driveways or a back berm space. Houses are seen and felt from the road, and most would be ‘terrace houses’, 3-storey in height and on narrow lots – effective use of land, in my opinion and only one car per household.

Singapore land houses

Photo by Kate Branch on Unsplash

I make my way to the park, there’s a group of elderly Chinese-Singaporean ladies enjoying the night breeze, the park benches, and the exercise equipment. I can hear and smell the hawker centre in the distance before seeing it. I get closer and see families enjoying a meal and teenagers in the neighbouring ice cream store. It’s 9.30pm now and the streets are vibrant and safe.

I’m not far from the beach. So many of us walk, jog, run, cycle or simply relax, in the warm breeze at East Coast Park. I do a quick loop and make it back to the apartment at 10pm, with only one concern on my mind. My running pace. I think about my old life back in Auckland, what 10pm would look like, and I wish it was a bit more like this.

Photo by Joylynn Goh on Unsplash