Almost Crimes

Text by Eugene Tan

The sign says 'trespassers will be prosecuted' and past instances of spatial infractions prove the sign doesn't lie. However, these breaches also question and then clarify the concept of public space and our right to the city of Singapore. Here are four urban interventions that were first conceived outside of the law, exposed, and eventually made legal.

Inaccurate reconstruction

From pop-up barbers to jungle brothels, illegal spatial acts are often pounced on by media outlets and rightfully shut down by the authorities. However, certain spatial interventions started out as unlawful, but had genuine communal, and/or place-making intentions which made cases for their continued existence.

These positive examples are not only valuable as community assets, but also aid our understanding of Singapore. They represent the coming together of the proverbial 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' ideologies, and hint at ways in which the individual can play a part in shaping the nation (ideally, without fines).


Seletar Jetties

Coming into question for existing outside of the law, the resolution to the saga surrounding some of these jetties could be viewed as government agencies and operators meeting in the middle.


Clementi Farms

A loose collective of resident-farmers and the state land they had been quietly working for nearly 30 years were thrust into the spotlight when they told to clear out. Mediation from the area's MP and the authority's appreciation for their ground-up efforts, however, allowed for a compromise between all parties. The re-tooled community farm still stands today, a symbol of the sites many actors and their actions.


Haji Lane Mural

Flagged by the Urban Redevelopment Authority for its use of non-pastel hues, the artwork outside a corner shophouse gained online support for its bold attempt at giving character to the street. The mural was allowed to remain after the URA clarified its position on facade colours in Singapore's conservation areas.


Toa Payoh Christmas Decorations

Despite receiving fines for each Christmas at which his decorations were put up, Mr Martin Silva persisted with his communal vision, eventually gaining the attention of the area's MP who helped move the ground-up project towards legitimacy.