Busy Reclaiming Spaces


I knew this would happen, and it did.

Since school began, I’ve hardly been able to read or rave, and so this site has been neglected a wee bit. The culprit is my final-year project: an illustrated feature on reclaimed spaces in Singapore.

The idea is abstract, so I’ll try to make it simple.

Singapore as a piece of land is highly regulated and over-determined: in a particular space you can and cannot do certain things. These restrictions come in the form of laws, physical barriers, and the powers behind these restrictions could be the government or private owners. Yet, there are Singaporeans who knowingly or unknowingly challenge this status quo by “reclaiming” the spaces for their own uses. These are the people whom I hope to document, I want to know the issues they face “in” and “over” these spaces.

A very clear example are (illegal) hawkers at MRT stations. Just the other day, I observed how four men sold fruits at Choa Chu Kang MRT station. They laid out a portable table near the taxi stand where their getaway van was parked on standby. Three of the men acted as look-outs and the fourth guy cajoled the pedestrians to buy the fruits at $2. Incredibly, when they were almost sold out, the hawker wrapped up two bags of fruits and gave them to the security guard who patrolled the station! He also gave a bag of fruits to the staff of the Guardian store as he had been operating outside their shop front. And then they left, leaving not a trace of their momentary reclaimation of economic space.

So what you might ask? One reason why these people may have operated in this manner is because they cannot afford the capital to rent out an actual store. Their clandestine operation is cost-effective because they pay no rental and they sell their products at where traffic volume is highest. Moreover, they hardly have any overheads as they operated out of a table alone! One might even think these guys are entrepeneurial, but the fact that their operations are considered illegal suggests that the system is not built to encourage such efforts. The trend of MRT stations monetising their spaces by creating shop space is the physical embodiment of such a system as it is likely to squeeze out the spaces that such illegal hawkers can “reclaim” in favour of hawkers that can pay SMRT rental.

The reality check for me is how am I going to get these guys to talk to me? For some strange reason, the people I’ve been trying to talk to keep thinking I’m working undercover for the authorities and I am trying to bust them.

In any case, I would appreciate any feedback, suggestions or comments for my project!


One Response to “Busy Reclaiming Spaces”

  1. 1 x².

    dear justin,

    once again, your lofty ideas touch a raw nerve. as with nearly all clandestine operations, trust is key to your quest for insider information. in most studies of practices of questionable legality and morality that i’ve read or seen, the gaining of trust is paramount to the success of your study. following that, the best way might be to simply become one of them. perhaps u could ask one of them for a part time job.

    having said that, your secondary role as a student obviously wont grant u much time to become a street hawker yourself. for a start, u could try the sembawang uncle who reclaims his space by selling cold drinks for 10 c less than the vending machine charges? if all else fails, you could resort to incentivising your interviewee. i wouldnt recommend using 2 dollar bills tho.

    all the best for your fyp. keep it up!

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