Thursday, 17 May 2007

En blocs Creating Rifts in Neighbourliness

Now that the MinLaw Public Consultation is over, I've been slowly getting back into updating the blog. The En-bloc List is updated as usual, and I'll be abstracting parts of the letter I wrote to MinLaw onto the blog when time allows.

In the meantime, an article in the oddest of places in the Straits Times - Mind Your Body - talked about the issue of neighbourliness. Written by Sharon Loh, it points to the issue of strong bonds and long-term ties by people who stay in the same neighbourhood for years. What en blocs seem to have done, and Sharon rightly pointed this out, is to not only create rifts among neighbours (ugly rifts at times between majority and minority owners), but also to remove the need to be neighbourly, particularly when (a) some people don't even stay in the estates but rent them out (owner-investors), (b) you anticipate moving out in 10 years when the enbloc consensus becomes more tenable at 80%. Social relations is often the glue of any nation, but what is en-blocs doing to middle-class Singapore, when it is forcing a large number of citizens to relocate? This relates to one of the myths I have written, about the need to consider social stakes in any en bloc process.

Love thy neighbour
Straits Times 16 May 2007

Recent events have been making me think about neighbourly ties, never as strong since high-rise dwellings replaced kampungs, apparently.

More than the reports of warring neighbours in court, I am disturbed by the rash of collective sales, some of them acrimonious. It is tyranny of the majority - neighbours forcing neighbours to sell their homes.

Are our homes merely financial assets? If they have no emotional ties, we are in trouble.

I thought another sign of trouble was the story of an elderly woman who fell in her kitchen and lay there for two days before neighbours noticed she had not left her house.

But that turned out to be a story of good neighbours. Once the alarm was raised, a group of them swung into action to make sure she was all right.

Maybe all good neighbours are not lost. I have been the recipient of many quiet acts of kindness from my own, most of whom, I am ashamed to say, I still barely know.

What is neighbourliness?

According to a paper by UK think-tank Smith Institute, it is not 'heroic forms of help and support' but 'small and unremarkable actions and behaviour that give people a sense that they are secure and at home in their own places'.

Neighbours do not need to be best friends. Keeping an eye on each other's property, exchanging greetings and not making too much noise late at night are small things we can do for each other.

Perhaps neighbourliness has receded because we are no longer so reliant on one another. My mother had to ask the family next door to keep a watchful eye on me and my brother when she went to work because none of our nannies would stay.

These days, with many more resources, there is much less need to go next door for help.

But as the population ages, that proximity will become important. More than anyone else, elderly people who live alone and are no longer as mobile as before, need their neighbours.

Neighbourliness is a balance of reciprocity and altruism. People look out for each other not only because they expect the same in return but also because they gain satisfaction from knowing they can help. Old people do not want to be dependent on others, but interdependent.

How can we promote neighbourliness? One correlation is age and length of residence. Older neighbourhoods tend to have stronger bonds, so perhaps we should work on long-term ties.

In the end, though, a good neighbour is something we choose to be.

I hope more of us will choose it. Welfare groups say that people, especially the elderly poor, are falling through the cracks because they do not know where to get help.

Government and welfare agencies can do only so much. We are each other's eyes and ears.


Anonymous said...

All this unneighbourliness began with the flawed asset enhancement policy fueled by cheap HDB loans tied to CPF interest rates and corrupted by the get rich yourself or perish by the wayside ( as government is not going to look after the minority poor lest it encourages a crutch mentality ) mindset so enamoured of by our millionaire politicians.

The Pariah said...

I am even surprised that The Straits Times even wrote an article relating to enblocs.

In Mar 2007, a ST Money Desk reporter contacted Dr Minority and another ST Money Desk reporter contacted The Pariah. I was told that the interview was for the purpose of ST doing a big spread on Enbloc Minority Dissent because the ST reporter felt that it was time for a counter-balance perspective to the Enbloc Majority Consent blitz previously published by ST.

We each provided our inputs to both reporters and gave the reporters other Minority Dissent contacts as they wanted to have a variety of views/experiences for the big ST spread.

It is now May 2007 ... and the hopeful idealist in me thought that newspapers (even in Singapore) have a public duty and a civic conscience ...

Well, at least the Today paper did a more credible journalistic job in my opinion!

Anonymous said...

Pariah hit the nail on the head! It is depressing to even flick through ST, it is so full of what the editors and journos think the government wants it to say.

Why would the government want to cool down the en bloc fever when it is raising prices of property all round and encouraging speculation?

The big boys and girls have plenty of money and if they live in condos, they have more than one so moving is not a problem. Many live in landed homes complete with Gurkhas at the gate.

Singaporeans are ugly because they follow the government's example; the government does not practice what it preaches.

Let us just hope and pray that Singapore is not destroyed beyond recognition by the greed and ignorance of the chosen few.

Dr Minority said...

Hi Pariah,

I have it on good authority that said reporter will be publishing something soon. What it'll look like, and what comments of ours will be included, is something else altogether :)

Let's see, shall we...