Last weekend, the Kampong Glam business community jointly organised the Samsara Sunday Fair at Kampong Glam. They pushed for road closure at Haji Lane from 12am to 5pm, and took care of all the logistics, from the design of banners to crowd control measures.
Visitors had a great time, enjoying the many outdoor activities like hand painting and juggling performances. They did not have to watch out for traffic. All had a car-free carefree weekend and what a change! Particularly wonderful was that the shopkeepers did all of that by themselves.
I liked what I read of the event.
Indeed, many big cities have made a conscious decision to be more pedestrian-friendly. In fact, one indicator of liveability is the extent the city dwellers embrace car-free zones.
Successful examples of pedestrianisation abound: New York City’s Times Square, London’s Trafalgar Square, Tokyo’s “Pedestrian Haven” in Ginza come to mind.
We have some local successes. Albert Mall has been fully pedestrianised since 1998. This is where Albert Centre, Fu Lu Shou Complex, Waterloo Street’s Kwan Im Temple and Sri Krishnan Temple are. With its many outdoor kiosks and cafes, Albert Mall is a popular hangout for Singaporeans, tourists and visitors.
But it is not always easy to close roads as we must also account for the interests of motorists and other stakeholders in the neighbourhood. But we can take small incremental steps to test out the initiative and grow more converts.
The Haji Lane weekend example shows how we can create small car-free areas in the city which are welcome by businesses and visitors. Small sections of road closures over weekends or evenings do not affect arterial roads and motorists. Where there is a local community champion, we can do more – for instance, promote cycling.
The Samsara Sunday Fair has encouraged us to plan pilot projects to close off roads on a more regular basis, for example at Haji Lane in Kampong Glam and at Club Street / Ann Siang Road in Chinatown.
If more local communities step forward, the reality of more car-free carefree weekends will materialise faster.
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