Blog

Being an Urban Explorer Guide

Photo credits: participateindesign.org

Photo credits: participateindesign.org

Was an urban explorer guide one Saturday morning for Participate in Design, a local non-profit specialising in community-owned spaces and solutions. I love the idea of co-creation, the idea of community space that designed by the community, for the community. 

The urban explorer challenge is a amazing-race like activity for residents to interact with various key spaces in the district, to gain insight to what matters to them, their common behaviours, and what they think about nature versus man-made facilities.

Photo credits: participateindesign.org

Photo credits: participateindesign.org

Being the ‘tour guide’ for a group of 6, walking around the whole neighbourhood the entire morning was no easy feat, but I did learn and gain so much. My group consisted of a Malaysian landscape designer, a french architecture researcher, an indian mother with her five year old child and two sisters she was looking after.

One of the heartwarming things I took away was that community spirit is still very much alive- the indian lady told me how she’s friends with her neighbour, and their children visit each other often, and go to the playground almost every day.

While working around the neighbourhood there were so many playgrounds- the children pick different ones to play at every other day, and their favourite was unanimously the the biggest one with a double-storey slide.

The activity held at the playground was to let the children draw their dream playground. While presented with ideas ranging from mud and sand covered play areas, water parks and the standard plastic-y playground, I was surprised the kids chose the water park. Guess there's something about novelty that makes something more desirable.

There was a light tower-like structure that let you see the surrounding garden park from a vantage point, which I found refreshing because there’s nothing like that in the dense and residential area I'm from. Two teams debated about the pros and cons of having the community park, and I was pleasantly surprised that there was general consensus about keeping the garden instead of having a shopping mall. It could be because of the age group, or how the people are already used to the greenery, but I was glad that it was the case. The view was pretty good.

One of the girls even said that a ‘pro’ of the park was that she could destress there after school (which I’m not too sure about given Singapore humid weather), but it was nice she thought that way.

Thereafter we also walked a long way to a forested area, where the group looked really uncomfortable dealing with mosquitos and the sweltering heat. Compare that to how welcoming they were to nature before— what I took away was that nature is only good when it’s comfortable and convenient. We steer towards the perception that nature is good for our environment, but our idea of nature is often skewed towards neatly trimmed parks and carefully maintained community gardens. Thick canopies (especially those with swamps and random bugs) are not so welcomed. Food for thought!

Photo credits: participateindesign.org

Photo credits: participateindesign.org

All in all, this little morning adventure reminded me of how the very essence of design lies in the fact that it is human. Witnessing the participants interaction with the environment, made me more aware that when we design with people, the outcomes are often more rich and fulfilling than we expect.

Esther YipComment