The new hawker center public consultation panel headed by Elim Chew seeks to gather opinions from the public on how to build a better hawker center. City News talks to some Singaporeans.
Contributed By Christal Ong
On Dec. 2, a hawker center public consultation panel appointed by The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources to provide ideas on the ten new hawker centers to be built over the next decade was announced. Entrepreneur Elim Chew, founder and president of the 77th Street chain of fashion stores, heads the 19-member panel, which includes Teo Mee Hong, executive director of the Social Enterprise Association, Danny Chong, a representative from the Hawkers Association and KF Seetoh, founder of Makansutra, a business that promotes Singapore cuisine.
The panel is tasked with finding ways to engage members of the public to get involved in creating the new generation hawker centers. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for these three key areas: not-for-profit management models (i.e., how to employ social enterprise ideas in the business model), design (i.e., how the space and design of the new hawker centers can better serve diners) and community integration (i.e., how these new hawker centers can be useful in integrating the increasingly-diverse population in Singapore).
So far, the panel has brainstormed on different management models to ensure food affordability as well as infrastructure and design improvements to enhance cleanliness, hygiene and resource efficiency.
EVERYBODY HAS A GOOD IDEA
What do some members of the public think? Response to this topic has been forthcoming.
Chef Thomas Lam, who possesses years of experience running a food stall, feels that more opportunities can be given to the handicapped and ex-offenders in manning a stall. “I envision that hawker centers will build lives. We want to enforce the perception that those who are handicapped can earn their own income. The public must also be willing and open-minded to be served by them.”
Lam believes that the Yellow Ribbon Project can be put into practice for those seeking employment. “Some of these ex-offenders may have culinary skills and are just waiting for that opportunity to use them gainfully. It will be good to implement a scheme to integrate them into society again.”
Choo Yun Jie, a sales professional, is disturbed by the plight stall owners face in the current hawker centers. “Whenever there is upgrading at old hawker centers, the costs may translate to higher rental costs borne by hawkers. Sometimes, the stall owners who sell good food may be forced to close shop due to the inability to pay higher rent. Their stall is ironically replaced by another stall owner who can afford to pay the rent, but who provides sub-standard food,” he observes. Paradoxically, the higher rental costs may translate into higher food prices for the consumers, who may not even get to enjoy their favorite food.
Joshua Teo, an IT consultant, feels that hawker centers can allocate space for small, non-food businesses to create opportunities for more than one group of entrepreneurs. “For example, traditional cobblers or key makers are rarely found these days. If hawker centers can be a place where these businesses can operate, customers can have a meal while getting their errands done.”
Esther Yap, a financial consultant, hopes to see new hawker centers built in the Central Business District, where she works. On the other hand, Lam prefers that the hawker centers be located in HDB hubs, where rental prices may be lower. “More people want to eat at convenient places instead of traveling to town and paying more,” he says. Choo and Teo also hope that more hawker centers can be built in newer HDB estates such as Punggol to cater to the young families located there.
All four that City News spoke to agree that affordability remains one of the top concerns. Regardless of upgrading or inflation, they feel that the increase in cost should not filter down to hawker stall owners, who will then be compelled to either absorb the increase or charge their patrons more.
BETTER INFRASTRUCTURE, MORE GRACIOUSNESS
Proving the hawker centers against the elements, such as keeping the sun and rain away while ensuring good ventilation is one of the foremost design issues, according to Chew.
Next, given that most hawker centers have chairs attached to the ground, which may not be handicap-friendly, Yap proposes that the future hawker centers allocate more space for tables with portable chairs. This will provide more accessibility to the physically-challenged, especially those in wheelchairs, to sit and have their meals. In addition, the hawker centers can furnish baby chairs to provide a more family-friendly environment.
“We can create a little Dempsey Hill within our hawker centers,” suggests Lam. He feels that more creativity can be employed when designing future hawker centers. “We can enhance the ambience at hawker centers by using lively color schemes and utilizing different types of seat arrangements such as high chairs and bar top seating arrangements to create more interesting social spaces.”
Choo proposes that the wireless connectivity and power points can be installed in hawker centers. “This will attract more youngsters to visit the hawker centers, as compared to air-conditioned eating places.”
“Hawker centers are a way of preserving Singapore’s food culture and heritage,” Chew shares. “It is such a simple joy to be able to enjoy good food at the hawker center with my family and friends.” She believes that everyone plays a deciding factor in determining the final outcome of the future of hawker centers as social enterprises.
The panel is expected to complete their information-gathering by the end of January 2012. Feedback will be reviewed and recommended to the government for the building and management of the new hawker centers.
Elim Chew is looking for 1,000 responses and ideas for the new hawker centers.
Log on to Facebook page “My Hawker Centre” and contribute your opinions.