The Identity

So what, then, really, is the larger impact of this urban renewal taking place at Arab Street & Haji Lane? The Malay character of the area is lost, and eventually, Singaporeans will forget that a culturally rich town centre once thrived here. The rapid influx of modern shops have pushed the Malay identity out, diminishing the culture. In fact, hardly any Muslims still live in the area. We recognize the need for sustainable urbanization, but this does not cancel out the importance of remembering the past.

As of now, the government is according Kampong Glam conservation status, which means that some areas require the façade to be maintained, while others don’t. This is clearly insufficient when it comes to preserving the ambience of the area, especially since Malays in the past centered their life and work here. With the streets come the memories and attachments, and these cannot be retained by simply preserving exterior architecture but completely altering shop interiors. Indubitably, the new Haji Lane draws in shopping crowds and, by extension, revenue, but the lack of awareness of historical significance is disturbing.

The cornerstone of our solutions boils down to a shared identity.

We at Spaces for Identity campaign for a complete preservation of this area. Urbanisation is happening too rapidly and too prolifically for reversal, but we can work together to stop further commercialization, while promoting awareness of this cultural significance.

There are several ways this can be done:

Future shops occupying spaces at Arab Street & Haji Lane must retain the architecture, and preferably keep the interiors constant with styles in the past as well. The government could lease the shops to small Malay and Middle-Eastern businesses, incorporating the old lifestyle back into the modernized area.

Graffiti depicting Javanese figures

Merging youth subculture and history may not actually be as impossible as it seems. This is a graffiti artwork on a wall, part of the exterior décor for an eatery. It clearly contains Javanese elements, and more of this is what could perhaps steer preservation in the right direction. Preservation does not mean putting a complete halt to progress – it means moving forward with our historical and cultural roots in mind.

Furthermore, both Arab Street & Haji Lane should be accorded equal preservation efforts. The precarious balance between historical and urban landscapes should be held, reconciling the two cultures as far as possible – these two streets provide us with the ideal opportunity for this. Although the atmosphere at Haji Lane may be vastly different from Arab Street and even more of a stretch from its original purpose, it serves as a counterpoint to help us appreciate this history further. The contrast between the current purposes of both roads, albeit being next to each other, is actually representative of the fusion of cultural heritage and modern subculture.

By preserving both streets alongside one another, it signifies our recognition of heritage in Singapore, while reconciling this with our knowledge of Arab Street & Haji Lane as a shopping district nowadays.
Spaces for Identity invites you to join us in our campaign to advocate for the total preservation of Arab Street & Haji Lane, in order to preserve the unique character of the area, and to create an identity faithful to Malay heritage.