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Speech by Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Minister of State for Manpower and National Development, at the Launch of the “Designing Our Age-Friendly City” Urban Lab Exhibition

  Published: 17 October 2019

A very good afternoon, I am happy to be here to open the eighth instalment of the Urban Lab exhibition series.

This exhibition’s topic is timely and pertinent, given Singapore’s ageing population. Today, we are seeing a very different profile of retirees, seniors and mature workers in our community. This is because we have made much progress over the years, in terms of improving Singaporeans’ long-term health and physical well-being. In fact, Singaporeans have one of the world’s highest life expectancies. With more people living longer, healthier lives, seniors are becoming a larger part of our population. Today, one in seven Singaporeans is aged 65 or older. By 2030, this proportion will become one in four.

As our demographics evolve, we want to help our communities adjust to this change. To this end, our built environment must also evolve to the demographics that we have, and therefore it plays a critical role. While we continue building Singapore, we need to re-evaluate and re-imagine how our approach to development can strengthen our communities and support healthy ageing. This is where the Urban Lab exhibitions can contribute. By showcasing research and innovations in various urban areas that affect our lives, we can encourage further discussion, and more research and collaboration to meet our future needs.

The Government has already been introducing some measures to make our neighbourhoods more conducive to healthy ageing. For example, the Land Transport Authority (LTA)’s Silver Zones scheme introduced design interventions in residential areas to make it safer and more convenient for senior pedestrians to cross the roads. These include distinctive signs, road features and markings that aim to lower vehicle speeds and guide pedestrians to where they can cross safely. Since 2014, 17 Silver Zones have been progressively implemented. On average, we have seen this reduce accident rates involving senior pedestrians by about 75 per cent – it is no mean feat. LTA earlier announced that a total of 50 Silver Zones would be implemented by 2023.

Meanwhile, NParks has been progressively opening Therapeutic Gardens designed with senior-friendly features in our parks. It has also introduced customised horticulture programmes in these Gardens to help seniors improve their physical and mental well-being. Furthermore, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of National Development (MND) have been studying new models of housing to better support ageing-in-place, and we will continue to engage stakeholders and the public on our plans. We recognise that social and healthcare needs of seniors will evolve as they age. Some of these needs can be met while seniors continue to live independently at home. We have therefore been studying an assisted living model in public housing.

We should continue to work closely with the community, including research institutions, on more innovations to support healthy ageing. Let me share two areas that URA and MOH are currently studying with their research partners, and which are featured in this exhibition.

Design for ageing-in-place

The first area of focus is how the design of our neighbourhoods can better support our seniors' everyday lives. Particularly for seniors, their sense of belonging, friendship and purpose – many of them would have stayed there for 20 to 30 years, and they are often rooted in their neighbourhoods, as this is where their memories, daily routines and their friendships are built. We therefore want to help seniors to age-in-place, in a familiar environment, with familiar community, for as long as possible.

A study led by the Singapore University of Technology and Design investigated three neighbourhoods – Toa Payoh West, Hong Kah North and MacPherson. They sought to understand seniors’ interactions with their neighbourhoods, and how these affected their overall physical, social and mental health.

After conducting further research, and identifying gaps and opportunities, three architecture firms suggested design interventions. A couple of them also created prototypes to test their recommendations. In the case of MacPherson, the research done there found that quite a number of seniors were socially isolated, or either did not feel safe or confident to come out of their homes because of various impairments. At the same time, the study identified void decks as underutilised spaces that they may use. In response to these findings, Lekker Architects proposed the “Kam and Goh” kopitiam. This mobile kopitiam used familiar motifs, such as traditional beverages like kopi, and old-school tiles. The kopitiam was placed at void decks, on the theory that bringing such a comfortable and familiar setting near to the seniors’ homes would encourage them to venture out and interact with others. And indeed, it was well-received by seniors staying nearby as 88 per cent of those surveyed said they had interacted with someone else while at the mobile kopitiam. The respondents also said they would be more willing to leave home with such a feature below their blocks. It is about bringing that familiarity, and that watering hole that seniors can come together. Rather than staying at home and being isolated, they found friends even in a place that they are quite familiar with.

Design typologies for future nursing homes

While we look to such interventions to better support ageing-in-place, some seniors still need care services beyond what is provided at home. To meet this need, eldercare facilities such as nursing homes and senior care centres within residential estates provide a range of care options for seniors while continuing to embed them in the community.

We have been improving the design of our nursing homes, for example, by creating a variety of spaces for social interactions, and enhancing the living environment of our nursing homes to meet the evolving needs of seniors.

To further imagine how these spaces can better integrate seniors with the surrounding community, another study, led by the National University of Singapore, aimed to help develop innovative typologies of nursing homes to better support community and resident-centred care models. These research findings were then translated into conceptual design ideas that not only considered the needs of the residents and staff of a nursing home, but also seek to invite the community in – so that it is not an enclosed space that is exclusive to a group. Some of these ideas include more personalisation of space and enhanced privacy for residents; and greater integration with the surrounding community through shared spaces such as community cafés, sensory gardens and multi-generational playgrounds.

Conclusion

One of Singapore’s strengths is planning ahead. We evolve and adapt the way we do things, in order to better meet the needs of our people as contexts change and as demographics change. It is heartening to see the research and innovations on display today, and that their focus is also very much on people.

As we continue to innovate, partnerships will be key. These research projects I mentioned saw government agencies, academic researchers and architecture firms working together to conceive thoughtful and forward-looking proposals and designs. The community was also involved as part of the research process. They took part in workshops and focus group discussions to share about their neighbourhoods, and suggest ideas. I hope that some of these ideas can be translated into viable urban living solutions that can help to support Singaporeans as they age.

I encourage everyone to see key issues in our future, such as the one on healthy ageing addressed today, as opportunities to consider new and better ways of doing things. Do take a walk around the exhibition, and view it with an open mind. Allow it to inspire other ideas or discussions, so that together, we can build a better Singapore. Thank you very much.

 

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