Holistic strategy for Bukit Brown

Letter from N Varaprasad Today Online 12 Nov 11;

NOW that the Government has announced that the redevelopment of Bukit Brown will proceed, attention has shifted away from the proposed bypass road from Upper Thomson to the PIE interchange at Lornie/Adam roads, to the development of the old cemetery. It also appears that the road will proceed first as a priority to reduce congestion along Lornie Road.

Over the past few weeks, I personally went to experience the peak morning traffic from Upper Thomson to the AYE (the outer ring road system), starting respectively from Mandai, Yio Chu Kang and MacRitchie. I did so twice from each point.

While the traffic was not fast-moving and was slow in places, this was more due to various traffic lights or the occasional accident.

The flow was generally smooth especially along Lornie Road, and the only bottleneck was at the exit to Commonwealth Avenue. After that, flow was good as the road emerged to become the ultra-wide and underused Portsdown Avenue.

However, the jam was transferred to the rest of Queensway heading towards Bukit Merah.

I would like to suggest that the proposed bypass road through Bukit Brown be planned and built as an integral part of the new development, primarily serving the residents there, rather than as an alternative route to the PIE.

That way, the redevelopment need not be built around this road, but as part of a holistic urban plan.

Based on my experience as recounted, there is no need to rush to construct this new road as the congestion is bearable and road speeds acceptable.

Preserve site for the sake of the living
Straits Times 13 Nov 11;

Bukit Brown Cemetery is a unique resource for the psychological health and well-being of our country ('Bukit Brown: Room for some flexibility'; last Sunday).

When we travel to countries such as Italy or China, the old cities and landscapes impress us with feelings of antiquity and age.

I have just returned from a visit to Italy, and when I caught up on the discussions on Bukit Brown, I realised that it may be the only place in Singapore which provides such a sense of the past.

Surrounded by the old tombs of previous generations, we feel a sense of connection to those who went before, who were born, lived and died, just as we will too.

We are conscious of ourselves as part of the great stream of human history.

Our daily materialistic concerns seem less important. We feel a kind of consolation in the face of our mortality. This consolation effect is stronger at Bukit Brown than at any columbarium or new cemetery.

We feel the depth of time at Bukit Brown. It reminds us that we are just one point on the graph of time. It lifts us up to see a wider perspective, which could make our thinking less insular and arrogant.

This gut-level effect will not be achieved by any virtual or photographic replication of the tombs.

The hill of Bukit Brown, untouched by bulldozers, preserves the harmony of ancient land forms, bringing us a sense of serenity.

The huge mossy trees surround us with the power and enduring strength of nature, integrated with the silent handiwork of our ancestors. This deep harmony is not to be found in the manicured landscapes of modern parks.

Poets and philosophers have found serenity and wisdom in graveyards.

Thomas Gray's Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard comes to mind, reminding us that 'the paths of glory lead but to the grave' - a humbling note to save us from presumptuousness and vainglory.

In such places, 'far from the madding crowd', we can hear what Wordsworth calls 'the still, sad music of humanity'.

I do not know about Chinese poets and philosophers. Perhaps other readers can share on this.

We must preserve Bukit Brown for the sake of the living, not the dead.

The cemetery is a national treasure, and future generations would condemn us if we destroy it.

Stella Kon (Ms)

Bukit Brown steeped in spirit, stories of pioneering generation
Straits Times 13 Nov 11;

While I agree with Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin that national priorities must prevail ('Bukit Brown: Room for some flexibility'; last Sunday), I appeal to the Government not to develop for development's sake.

Bukit Brown cemetery is a unique Singapore estate, and many of our forefathers rest there.

Their struggles and success stories, intricately engraved on gravestones, are an inspiration for future generations.

Bukit Brown is a priceless piece of estate and a national icon to be treasured. It is far more valuable than any of the buildings that we have conserved, for herein lies the spirit, soul and stories of our pioneering generation.

My grandfather Tan Yong-Thian (also known as Tan Ah-tian) came to Singapore in 1882 at the age of 27 from Chaoyang, in Swatow, China.

He started life in Singapore as a building contractor and later invested in various plantations. He was the first Chinese to distil patchouli oil successfully and his company, Chua Seng Heng, became the largest producer of essential oils in the Straits Settlements.

My grandfather was buried in Bukit Brown cemetery.

Motivating stories like his reflect the spirit of enterprise that we are always encouraging. The stories and burial sites are invaluable, thus we should preserve Bukit Brown.

We should also breathe community life into this place. It can be an enhanced national park, where places of worship, fitness parks and a museum can be set up, attracting both Singaporeans and tourists.

Let us not sacrifice Bukit Brown. Traffic and roads can be diverted elsewhere but not to Bukit Brown, the resting place of our forefathers. Once lost, it is gone forever.

Robert Tan