Renowned architect advocates the rethinking of rural and urban spaces to alleviate poverty.
Contributed By Raymond Tan
At the monthly U@live event, at the Shaw Foundation Alumni House on March 30, Tay Kheng Soon, a principal architect at Akitek Tenggara and adjunct professor at NUS, presented his thoughts on Rubanisation—the title of his talk, and also a term referring to the reconceptualization of rural and urban spaces as one same space. He purports that this change in mindset is necessary in the effort to eradicate poverty.
U@live showcases members of the NUS faculties who champion causes for the betterment of society.
To make his point, Tay said that people living in rural areas will want to go to the urban areas in search of a better life. Because many will wind up jobless due to being unskilled, they will land themselves in the slums of the cities, where crime thrives and poverty is rampant.
He further suggested that when cities improve the living conditions of the city slums, it will only act as incentive for more unskilled residents in rural areas to move over to the cities, and the problem of poverty is perpetuated. The only way to stop this vicious cycle is to improve conditions in the countryside, and to do that, Tay believes that it is necessary to stop viewing rural areas as a separate space from urban areas.
Tay’s controversial thinking raised some eyebrows, but his track record gives weight to this idea. One of five first locally-trained architecture graduates and post-colonial architects in Singapore in the 1960s, Tay has built himself a reputation as one of Singapore’s foremost thinkers, particularly in the area of urban spaces. He has been a member of independent think-tank Singapore Planning and Urban Research Group since 1964, which influenced decisions such as moving Singapore’s international airport from Paya Lebar to Changi.
Tay’s rubanisation theory proposes the building of new landscapes which bring four key attractions of urbanisation to the rural areas of a country: medical research and treatment, academic research and teaching, media, arts, content development and entertainment, and finally, material culture and shopping.
Tay’s vision is for a “living web spread over valleys and waterways, co-existing with farms and plantation forests. The web will be punctuated by clusters for education, entertainment and manufacturing.” Ultimately, his call is for a conscious global effort towards rebalancing the urban and the rural, the wealthy and the poor areas.
Rubanisation may be a long way off but already, some countries are beginning to think along these lines (see How To Build A Sustainable Social Enterprise, above).
Even for those who disagree with Tay’s vision, it’s impossible to miss his underlying desire for people to broaden their thinking capacity, to use the right brain as much as the left.