From ‘Restaurant ban to ease traffic at Serangoon Garden’, 25 March 2012, article by Toh Yong Chuan, Sunday Times
…Acting on residents’ complaints, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) imposed a ban last month: No more Serangoon Garden shophouses can be turned into food joints.
Existing eateries can carry on if there are no complaints. New food businesses can move in only if they take over the space of another. The ban does not apply to pubs and KTV nightspots. These, says the URA, result in problems such as social disturbance, and thus have always been subject to ‘stricter evaluation’ outside the new ban on eateries.
It told The Sunday Times that the ban has been implemented to avoid worsening ‘severe parking and traffic problems caused by the presence of eating houses’.
Four other neighbourhoods have been added to the URA’s little-known list of areas where there is ‘a moratorium on the further increase in the number of eating houses’. They are Tanjong Katong Road, Sembawang Road near Yishun Ave 3, Greenwood Avenue and Binjai Park.
Of the 5 C’s, CAR is king, and Cuisine isn’t even on the list. Putting a ban on eateries will not address the underlying traffic problems at Serangoon Garden, an estate that has been plagued by congestion all the way since the fifties, believe it or not. To link the stagnant disamenities to the slew of restaurants rather than a more fundamental issue of infrastructure or vehicle management smacks of lazy blame-shifting on the part of URA and a woeful decades-long lack of imagination when it comes to urban planning and liveable spaces. What is it exactly about this place and its ‘laid-back charm’ that the government, after half a century of road widening, CTE building, and parking enforcement, is still scratching its head over? And why target ‘food joints’ when fish spas, hairdressers, bakeries and bubble tea shops draw crowds and cars as well? Did someone study the relevant questions before this blanket ban was made, like why SG is so damned popular in the first place? Are bus services and taxi stands inadequate? Would opening another Hong Kong cafe make a difference?
If you can’t build a multi-storey carpark to spoil drivers, get enough officers on patrol to put people off illegal parking to placate residents, or can’t bear the whining of motorists who insist on driving to SG in spite of its half-century old reputation as a congestion sinkhole, why not just put a stopper on the eatery sprawl and hope for the best? Because that’s what’s basically happening here, like a soccer captain on a losing streak telling his team to crowd out the goalposts and fight for stalemate rather than attempt a single shot at goal. By all means reserve a plot of land for a foreign worker dorm, but stifle local business opportunities because you’ve run out of ideas? What the fish indeed.
Residents will still complain about their idyllic ‘village’ vibe being ruined by crowds. Drivers will still complain about inadequate parking spaces, and nothing else is being done here by the authorities other than the brute swagger of an iron first that’s made to sound efficient on paper but is in fact as robust as plugging a bathroom leak with cotton swabs. Even if you close every run-of-the-mill diner down to restore the ‘tranquility’ of SG, all you need are a few quality upstarts, a glowing magazine review or a perfect rating on HungryGoWhere to get the hungry crowds chugging back again. SG is ‘where it’s at’, whatever ‘It’ is. Instead of nudging the system in a carbon-friendly, sustainable direction through price controls, deterrents or roadblocks ala Holland Village to foster a pedestrian culture (not kowtowing to a chope-and-honk one), aspiring establishments are subjugated by the blunt instrument that is blubber-headed bureaucracy. And here we are, self-proclaimed World City extraordinaire, dishing out LKY prizes to city mayors when we have an oppressive, overcrowded, automobile-addicted dystopic enclave that thinks it’s still a charming virgin hamlet in the woods, brewing right under our noses for as long as LKY was even in power.
For a city that prides itself in innovative urban design and resourcefulness when it comes to land use, the URA’s tough love on the FnB business is perhaps a bit too much to stomach.