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Shaping towns through meaningful engagement

In the eyes of most people, building a town may seem as simple as laying bricks and paving roads. But to Ms Joyc Leong, most of the work lies in narrating the story of a charming neighbourhood through its living spaces.

The 27-year-old Housing Board (HDB) scholar is a part of a team that is helping to rejuvenate heartlands like Pasir Ris, one communal space at a time.

“I’ve always been curious about how heartland areas are planned and how they can be improved,” says Ms Leong.

“For example, whenever I see grass balding in the shape of a pathway, I’d wonder why an actual pathway is not built at that spot. This shows the disparate views between users and designers and I want to bridge that gap.”

With a passion for ideating architectural improvements, she applied for the HDB scholarship after her junior college studies. She wanted to make an impact on HDB estates where most of the population reside.

Today, Ms Leong is as an executive architect working on Remaking Our Heartland 3, a programme spearheaded by HDB. She is involved in drawing up master plans that will give middle-aged towns like Pasir Ris a facelift.

To do that, she studied the roots of the town and worked closely with residents of the heartland to improve the liveability of the area while preserving its cultural story.

Focus group discussions involving dwellers of the heartland and pop-up booths at key community spaces were just a few of the methods Ms Leong and her team adopted to get a better understanding of what Pasir Ris meant to residents and the amenities they felt were lacking in the neighbourhood.

“It is very important to build something that the residents of Pasir Ris want and will use, instead of something we think they want and hope will use,” she says.

Keeping in character
When it comes to design, Ms Leong and her team place great emphasis on preserving the unique character of the town. Pasir Ris, which translates to “white sand” in Malay, is named for its long stretch of white, sandy beach along the north-east coastline of Singapore.

As such, new additions that came with the rejuvenation exercise were carefully designed with coastal touches and marine themes so that its story continues to live on.

“The most fulfilling aspect of my job is being able to shape towns and create places for the people, together with them,” she says.

“It is not just about designing public spaces that are aesthetically pleasing, we have to consider the interactions between people and their living spaces in order to create meaningful places for the community.”