12/04/13 11:00am


The High Line in New York City is one of the most well-known elevated parks, but around the world there are many similar urban reclamation projects underway. The success of the High Line inspired many other cities around the world to reuse and rethink space around old rail lines. Here are 10 plans from Europe, Canada, Australia, Asia, the United States and Mexico.

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09/19/13 3:00pm

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Earlier, we wrote about the rise of cafe culture in Singapore, with new cafes opening regularly in Singapore’s new hotspots. This is happening at a rate so rapid that the pattern is more than academic; it is palpable, striking to anyone traversing the outskirts and venturing out of the city’s traditional consumer and business hubs.

But what does the term ‘cafe culture’ mean in Singapore? It’s not entirely synonymous with expensive drinks, a privileged clientele, and latte art. Arguably, cafe culture was not imported into Singapore when Starbucks first arrived here almost 20 years ago; it has existed long before that and remains an indispensable part of local culture, although it tends to be less glitzy and less documented by those in social media.

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08/29/13 3:00pm

What do you want to change about your city? In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a group of citizens started the #betterKL movement, an initiative to crowd-source constructive ways to improve the city they live in. The grassroots movement sought to move the focus from quotidian gripes about urban life to ideas about how to make the city better.  ”Don’t just live in the city, live for the city,” the BetterCities manifesto urges.

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08/20/13 12:00pm

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Singapore is not a city known for street art. In fact, art in public spaces is strictly monitored in light of tough state laws against vandalism. Some argue these laws are a manifestation of the state’s desire to maintain control over public spaces and curb dissident access to platforms where their message can spread. The government, on the other hand, posits that such laws are required to protect property funded and used by the public.

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05/17/13 4:00pm

GARDENS BY THE BAY

Singapore is well known for its nature-based attractions including the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Night Safari and the recently opened River Safari.

Gardens by the Bay is the newest addition to these green space innovations, making this architecturally brilliant metropolis truly a “City in a Garden.” The location of this new attraction, which lies on reclaimed land along the marina, was originally intended as space to extend the financial sector.

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07/05/12 12:43pm

Many around the world know Singapore as a fast-paced, modern city, whose landscape is constantly evolving. It’s with good reason; each visit I make back home sees yet another looming addition to the Singapore skyline – a new shopping mall, a shiny skyscraper, or a multi-million dollar condominium complex. It seems that each passing year sees the Singaporean lifestyle only accelerate in its pace and busyness.

It was with pleasant surprise, then, that I found out during my last visit that the last year had seen dozens of cafes popping up across the country. Many of these cafes were serious about their coffee, selling specialty blends at high prices, and people were enthusiastically lapping it up. I wondered if this was a sign that life would finally start to slow down a little in my city.


Intrigued, I recently made my way to The Muffinry, a tiny but popular space tucked away at the tail end of Telok Ayer Street, near the Central Business District. It opened its doors for business less than a year ago, in August 2011, but has since been featured in numerous publications and food blogs. On the menu are freshly baked muffins, breads, as well as specialty coffee.I managed to talk to the founders, Shareen Song and Chris Leow, for a bit, and got them to tell me their story about how they started the café. Shareen used to bake regularly for church charity events, and at her husband’s encouragement, decided to carve a business out of her passion. Along the way, she learned that Chris, a long-time family friend, was interested in setting up his own café. Chris studied aerospace engineering at the University of New South Wales, but found that he preferred learning about coffee instead. A year before, he had set up a café in his dorm room, using his surfboard as a table. It was aptly titled Surfbox, and now continues to run as an independent business.

When Shareen approached Chris, he was in the middle of his final examinations, but decided to dive into the business anyway, and flew back to Singapore after his last paper to get The Muffinry started. A few months and a lot of hard work later, The Muffinry opened to much success.

The Muffinry is but one of the many new establishments that young entrepreneurs have set up in the last couple of years. The Plain, The Orange Thimble, 40 Hands, and The Pigeonhole are some of the other popular cafes among the 20-something crowd. I learned that many of these founders had also studied overseas, with reviewers even characterizing 40 Hands as having a Melbourne-style feel. It seems that they returned to Singapore with a little more than a graduation certificate from a foreign university – they also brought back a bit of their experience, and were excited about tweaking the Singaporean culture with what they had learned.

Ultimately, the rise of cafes will mean a few changes on the local social scene. Instead of hanging out at crowded shopping malls, young Singaporeans will now have the option of catching up at cafés. Instead of eating at hawker centres (local, open-air food courts selling Singaporean food) or chain restaurants, they can widen their tastes to gourmet sandwiches and specialty coffees. Instead of rushing about, an increase in the number of cafes means that Singaporeans will come to slow themselves down. Perhaps we might even begin to see more aspiring writers and freelance-types seated at the tables, as the crowd at The Pigeonhole suggests.

In the decades since Singapore’s independence in 1965, Singapore has accelerated economically, turning from a Third World country into one of first-world status. But perhaps we’ve moved so quickly economically that our psyche has been lagging behind, and it is only now that we’re beginning to bridge that gap. The cafes are simply a small reflection of this.