Thursday, February 26, 2009

Urban Composting - Part 2

Here is part 2 of the article from the venerable New York Times.

Experienced composters said that saving food scraps soon becomes part of a daily routine, and that the payoff is worth the extra work.

“To be actually able to reuse your food is amazing,” said Ben Stein, 30, a computer programmer who, along with his wife, Arin Kramer, 29, a nurse practitioner, composted for six years in their apartment on the Lower East Side before they moved to a brownstone in Brooklyn last year.

In Manhattan, they kept the bin under the bed, which Mr. Stein said led friends to think, “it’s disgusting, and you’re absolutely crazy.” In Boerum Hill, they can compost in their backyard (where microbial activity and decomposition slow down or stop in the winter, but pick up in the spring).

One friend recently surprised the couple by taking them up on their offer to compost his “veggie waste” for him.

“He delivered a bag of cuttings and scraps that took up half his freezer,” Mr. Stein said.

Is all this effort doing the planet good?

Composting does not have as big an environmental effect as recycling, Environmental Protection Agency figures show: recycling one ton of mixed paper is four times as effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions as producing the same amount of compost.

But keeping food discards out of landfills does more than twice the good of keeping mixed paper out, E.P.A. officials said, because decomposing food that is buried and cut off from air releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, at higher rates than paper. (The ventilation in composting prevents methane creation.)

The real environmental benefits, of course, come when composting is done on a large scale. Robert Lange, the recycling director at New York’s Department of Sanitation, said the city investigated this route a few years ago, testing food scrap collection in some neighborhoods but finding it a tougher sell than recycling.

“Most people will not store food waste in their apartment,” Mr. Lange said, adding that many worried about odors and vermin.

Still, groups that operate food scrap collection services say they have seen a marked jump in participation over the last year. The Lower East Side Ecology Center, which collects scraps at two Manhattan locations and runs its own food composting facility at East River Park, said that Saturday drop-offs to its Union Square Greenmarket location have nearly doubled, to almost 500 gallons.

But reducing the amount of trash produced in the first place should be the highest priority, experts say. And some note people would also do better to consider what they eat and to switch away from foods like beef, the production of which is associated with high emissions of carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas.

Still, Mr. De Pasquale and Ms. Stern — who also get renewable power from ConEdison Solutions, a subsidiary of Con Edison that provides wind energy — are convinced they are making a difference with their at-home composting.

And after more than three weeks, the couple’s worms seemed to be doing well in their dark corner near the bathroom. So far there have been no escapes and only a slight smell that Ms. Stern said she fixed with some dry newspaper.

They plan to use the compost for their house plants and share any leftovers.

“I think it’d be a great holiday gift,” Ms. Stern said.

Her husband agreed. “We can send it out to my parents in California.”

So, who wants to try get this going with NEA? Contacts anyone?
Many thanks to Sylvia again for sharing this article.

Going Green - Urban Composting? Part 1

Fellow resident Sylvia Tan, just sent me this article from the New York Times on how urban food waste, can be put to good use, instead of just being incinerated.

With all the food outlets in Tiong Bahru, perhaps it could be put on trial?

Anyone with ideas on how to carry this forward with our NEA?

New Yorkers try Composting with Worms

Published: February 18, 2009

ON a recent Saturday afternoon, Stephanie Stern and her husband poured 1,000 wriggling red worms from a brown bag into a plastic bin outside their bathroom, looked down and hoped for the best.

If things went well, the worms, already burrowing into their bed of shredded newspapers, would soon be eating three pounds of food scraps a week, reducing the couple’s trash and producing fertilizer for their plants.

If not, the bin would stink up their one-bedroom apartment in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and attract clouds of fruit flies.

“I’m a little nervous because I’ve heard the stories,” said Ms. Stern, 32, a museum educator.

Composting in New York City is not for the faint of heart. It requires commitment, space and sharing tight quarters with rotting matter and two-inch-long wiggler worms that look like pulsing vermicelli.

But an increasing number of New Yorkers have been taking up the challenge, turning their fruit skins and eggshells into nutritious crumbly soil in an effort they regard as the natural next step to recycling paper, bottles and cans. Food accounts for about 13 percent of the nation’s trash — it is the third largest component after paper and yard trimmings — and about 16 percent of New York’s.

“There’s a growing awareness of its value,” said Elizabeth Royte, the author of “Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash.” “We had a recycling revolution, now we need a composting revolution.”

Nationwide surveys by BioCycle, a monthly magazine that advocates the recycling of organic waste, have found that large-scale food composting projects among municipalities, colleges and farms nearly doubled between 2000 and 2007, to 267 from 138. Individual efforts are harder to measure, but appear to be on the rise, particularly in areas like New York City, where municipal programs are rare or nonexistent. Although some cities, like San Francisco and Seattle, offer residents regular curbside collection of food waste, large-scale composting presents challenges that may make it hard to catch on, waste-management experts say. The City of New York, which runs two compost facilities for backyard waste, has no similar program for food.

That leaves food-waste composting up to community programs and gardens that accept donations of food scraps, and to people like Ms. Stern and her husband, Chris De Pasquale, 34.

Ms. Stern had plenty of company, a few hours before the couple welcomed their 1,000 new roommates, at a workshop run by the Lower East Side Ecology Center at a library in the West Village, where a capacity crowd of about 70 people listened raptly to descriptions of how to set up and feed a “worm condo.”

The workshop covered the indoor composting method known as vermicomposting, in which worms are enlisted to speed up the decomposition of organic material, eating through scraps of it and excreting the “castings” that make up compost. (There are also commercial composters like the NatureMill, shown in the article below.) The “condo” where this should take place is a 16 1/2-inch-wide, one-foot-tall bin with air holes in which shredded newspaper sits atop green trash like the ends of carrots. Despite the enthusiasm of the audience, particularly the children, as containers of compost and worms were passed around, some of its members seemed to have misgivings. “Will the compost bin attract roaches?” one asked. (Not if you don’t let the covered bin get smelly, he was told.) “What happens when you go on vacation?” (The bin can stay unattended for up to three weeks.)

A few were trying again after unhappy first experiences.

“Everything got disgusting in there,” said Rachel Franz, 25, who tried composting in Ithaca, N.Y., in 2006, following instructions from friends. “The worms started dying, and it got really moldy,” she said. “When I opened it, the worms were trying to escape.”

If the worms want out, said Carey Pulverman, the workshop’s instructor and the project manager at the Lower East Side Ecology Center, “something is wrong.”

Happy worms eat about half their body weight in a day, and the compost is ready for harvesting in about four and half months, Ms. Pulverman said.

But if the paper is too wet, she continued, seepage or smell ensues. Certain food and organic matter is bad for indoor bins because it smells while decomposing (meat and dairy), attracts mold (bread) or may introduce insects to the bin (dry leaves).

None of this deterred Ms. Franz, the failed composter, who this time around planned to set up her bin under the kitchen sink of her father’s three-bedroom apartment in Chelsea, where she lives part of the time. Her father, she said, was resisting.

“He thinks it’s going to be a lot of work for him,” said Ms. Franz, who studied environmental science and is currently looking for work.

Part 2 to follow:

City and Memory on Film

Some of us might have read the recent letter in the ST Forum - titled 'Where did you go, my Singapore of old?' by Mr Vincent Paul Carthigasu, and kindly highlighted on Alvin's Blog.

One beautiful example of capturing a 'lost' city will be shown this weekend at the National Museum during a retrospective of noted director - Terence Davies, from the UK.

In particular, Davies’s most recent film, Of Time and The City (2008) is both a love song and a eulogy to Liverpool which revisits the territory of his earlier narrative films. It is also a response to memory, reflection and the experience of losing a sense of place as the skyline changes and time takes it toll. Davies believes passionately that British stories like Of Time and The City must be told by British film makers. There can only be truth in a story which is truly specific to a time and place. And it is in that truth that universal appeal will be found.

Do try to catch this, and his other films, this weekend. It is rare for his films to travel to Singapore. And some films just don't look good on the small screen.

Perhaps one day, we will have a film about Singapore, just like this. But I also hope that we will not have lost all of our treasured spots... in the meantime, here is one view of Singapore in 1938, caught on film, from an outsider,s eyes...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Round Windows - in 2000

Here is an archival picture of one of the post-war blocks in 2000s with the round windows, then intact. It was not so long ago that the 'cutting' off at the bottom, happened.

The reason then for doing so was that at the last round of redecoration, the bottom of the round frames had by then, after 50 years of service, become corroded. (after half a century! imagine! most new things do not last that long). However, there was not enough budget then to fix/replace the corroded frames. Thus, cementing up the bottom part to stop the corrosion was the only reasonable option.

I recall hearing many different 'consipiracy' theories as to why they had their bottom curve 'cut off'... Did you hear of some?

This time round, sufficient budget was found by the Town Council, so, that's why we are getting our signature round windows back! Hooray to the Town Council, hooray for all of us!

Neighbourhood Notice 001 - Missing Cat - FOUND!

Dear neighbours and friends,

This blog is also a noticeboard for announcements and requests for help if needed.

Cat has since been found - thanks to all for looking out!

Here I am making an announcement for your kind attention to help one of our neighbours at Block 56 Eng Hoon Street to look for their missing cat - Moochi, who has been missing since Monday evening. It is suspected that Moochi escaped via the balcony and may now be wandering around the area.

She is very very timid, but may well be approachable when hungry and thirsty.

Moochi has a collar with a phone number attached. If you do see her, please do give her owners a call.

A photograph is attached for easy recognition.

Do send in any other (non-commercial) requests that you think may be useful for this blog to help publicise.

The round windows are being reinstated!

At last, as promised by the Tanjong Pagar Town Council, the round windows in the Post-War stairwells are being reinstated.... it does make a world of difference in how they look! Glad that the original design is being restored...Notice the repainting is also going on as planned. All fresh and bright!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Why Green Glass?

Over the past 5 years, I have seen many green glass windows and steel being replaced by new aluminum windows with clear glass.

I suppose that many residents feel that the old windows are too old for their own good and surely, new aluminum windows are better right?

Actually, if you think about it, the old windows have survived for 70 years or more, and while some parts are rusty, all they actually needed was a burning off of the many layers of over painting, to be repainted, and then re-oiled.

Have you also noticed how the old windows have window handles that let you not close them completely so that you can still have ventilation - in a secure manner - in the house even when you are not in and want to shut the windows?

That is something that is a design skill by the UK makers - Crittal Windows - which the new windows cannot provide - and honestly, aluminum being a softer metal, it is unlikely that they will last for as long as the steel originals!

Onto the topic of green glass.

Have you noticed that the green glass is used for the outside facing - i.e. East and West facing windows and clear white /frosted glass is used for the airwell windows?

This too is a design consideration.

For the outside windows that face the morning and afternoon sun, before there was air/con, it was important to cut out heat and glare. Thus the green was used as an early example of 'tinted glass' that would achieve the same effect against our harsh tropical sun. If you have been inside an original room with the green glass on a sunny day, you will notice this physical and psychological effect. It is still bright enough if you don't paint your internal walls a dark colour.

For the airwell, as it gets no direct sunlight, frosted white glass is used instead. This provides sufficient privacy for the residents, while reducing the need to turn on lights indoors during the day time as sufficient sun-light gets to enter the flat without adding to the heat. Which is both sensible, ecological and cost-effective.

Overall, these are design considerations that are more present in well designed old buildings than the new shiny ones we have today.

So, if you are thinking of ripping out your old windows, do re-think about it. Do you really want to throw away something that has stood the test of time and is suited to our climate, for a new and untested material/design?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Bird Corner in Art - Part 1

Our Bird Corner has been captured in many ways... here is one of my favourite images of it, by veteran painter CHUA Mia Tee , you can see it in the Singapore Art Museum - the Former St Joseph's Institution at Bras Basah Road.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

World Heritage Sites in Singapore - Tiong Bahru?

Another discussion article has appeared in the Sunday Times on 15th Feb.
What do you think?

Sunday Times, 15th Feb 2009
World Heritage Site in Singapore?
One Singaporean Thinks so and His campaign has triggered a lively debate

By Tan Dawn Wei

Malaysia has three, Thailand has five and Indonesia has seven.
Between the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, there are 21.
When it comes to Unesco World Heritage sites, South-east Asia certainly has not fallen off the world map.

But for all of Singapore's World No. 1 recognition - whether for its airport, business-friendly economy or nation branding - this city-state is
conspicuously missing from the Unesco list.

It is not the only country in South-east Asia that does not have an
internationally recognised heritage site: Brunei, Myanmar and Timor Leste have also not made nominations to the world body for this prestigious title.

But does Singapore have what it takes? Is the Raffles Hotel worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as India's Taj Mahal or China's Great Wall?

One Singaporean thinks so. Having been to more than 200 Unesco World Heritage sites, university lecturer Tan Wee Cheng is convinced that this island has something to offer.

A month ago, he started a group on social networking website Facebook to campaign for Singapore to get itself on the coveted list. It has since
attracted 200 members and a lively online discussion.

'It occurred to me during my years of travelling that this status is like an
ISO for historical monuments. For a long time, people have said Singapore is a cultural desert. I want to tell people out there this is not true,' said the 39-year-old former investment banker. He is an adjunct associate professor at the National University of Singapore, teaching accounting.

Most of the 878 cultural and natural heritage sites on the list are nowhere
as famous or impressive as the Taj, Great Wall or Petra in Jordan; in fact, many are little-known sites, said Mr Tan. If they can be on the list, surely Singapore has a shot, he argued.

His picks: the Botanic Gardens, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the civic district.

'Increasingly, those listed in the last five to 10 years are groups of sites
within a country or a city. Penang's George Town and Malacca are listed as a single entry. In Singapore's case, the civic district and ethnic quarters can be grouped as a historical centre. Another could be one that incorporates the Botanic Gardens and Sungei Buloh,' suggested the heritage buff.

To get on the list, a site - whether a complex, city or forest - needs to be
deemed as having outstanding cultural or natural importance to humanity.

Since 1972, when the programme was launched with the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, properties in 145 countries have been inscribed. Italy leads the pack with 43 sites listed.

There is no reason why Singapore cannot be on the list, said Dr Kevin Tan, president of the Singapore Heritage Society.

He cites Tiong Bahru as a candidate for being 'one of the very few remaining Art Deco-style public housing schemes that still exist'.

The precinct had sprung up because of the mass housing movement in Europe. While it had its roots there, it was adapted to Singapore's tropical climate, which distinguished it from other Art Deco buildings. Five-foot ways are one such unique feature, explained Dr Tan, an adjunct professor of law.

Architecture restoration specialist Ho Weng Hin also believes the old estate has a shot at Unesco stardom.

'Taken as a whole, the estate is like an open-air museum of how architects and planners thought about how the urban man could live,' said Mr Ho, who does consultancy work on conservation projects.

Another crucial factor that makes Tiong Bahru a viable candidate is that it is still very much a living community - although the buildings were designed in the 1930s, the place is still relevant today and features a good mix of communal amenities, he argued.

'The unique thing about Singapore is how its public housing programme is the only successful example compared to where it originated. In the United States and Britain, they have degenerated into slums,' said Mr Ho.

Another front runner mooted by heritage experts is the Botanic Gardens, home to important botanical studies - not least of all, rubber.

Founded in 1859 by the Agri-Horticultural Society on the current site, the
Gardens embarked on botanical research after the colonial government took over its administration and launched a scientific journal.

Last year, the Gardens was awarded a Michelin three-star rating, putting it in the ranks of Paris' Eiffel Tower and New York's Empire State Building.

It was also named by Time magazine as Asia's Best Urban Jungle, with a
collection of more than 10,000 types of plants, including the region's most significant living collection of documented palms, orchids, cycads and gingers.

Associate Professor Johannes Widodo, a jury member of the Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation, thinks the Gardens is Singapore's only hope given that most of the country's built heritage has been lost to urbanisation and development.

'World Heritage sites must have a universal value. Buildings such as those in the civic district - Raffles Hotel, City Hall, St Andrew's Cathedral - are probably valuable for Singapore, but not so much meaningful beyond this particular context,' said the lecturer at the National University of Singapore's Department of Architecture.

'Sites like Botanic Gardens have strong connections with the history of the colonial economy in the past, and ecological value in the present - which has become our global concern.'

Since rejoining the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organisation in 2007, Singapore has been familiarising itself with the
various conventions under the world organisation, according to the
secretariat for Singapore's Sub-Commission on Culture and Information for Unesco.

The sub-commission, led by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, advises the Singapore National Commission on Unesco on issues related to culture and communication.

In a statement to The Sunday Times, it said it is working with relevant
government agencies to study the feasibility of nominating 'various cultural landmarks and districts of historical significance for a World Heritage site

As part of the study, it will look into Unesco's assessment criteria, the
benefits and costs of a listing.

A cost benefits analysis that Britain's Department for Culture, Media and
Sport commissioned in 2007 showed that a World Heritage site listing has
benefited tourism and attracted additional funding, education and civic
pride, among other things.

The value of a World Heritage status also means stronger protection of a
particular site, since it is subjected to international preservation
standards, said Prof Widodo.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Our Old Bird Corner

A short clip of when the bird corner was active.

Any ideas on how to really really revive it?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Beginning

Lets start from the very beginning - a map of the Pre- and Post War Singapore Improvement Trust Estate at Tiong Bahru.

You can see the difference between the two different planning philosophies from the two different eras.

But both are of course, relevant and charming in their own ways!

The Pre-War Estate was planned to create the semblance of a traditional street-scape, with a strong urban edge and feature corners. This is not unlike the old city of Singapore.

For the Post-War Estate, the planning was focused on ensuring that the flats were oriented East-West, to minimize heat gain from the sun, entering the flats. Green spaces were introduced between blocks to allow for breezes and sunlight to pass through - believed to be beneficial to human health.

Along Tiong Bahru and Lim Liak Streets, the buildings were lined up, with staggered blocks, to create a visually interesting street.

Most of us would agree that visually, and environmentally, it is quite a success.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Why am I learning how to blog?

Why am I learning how to blog?

Honestly, it is many thanks to PA for sponsoring a course like this to teach the technophobe in me, to learn how to harness the various tools on the internet, to enable better community outreach and collaboration.

This is really one of the most meaningful examples of community capacity building that I have come across in Singapore!

Anyway, we shall see how to introduce this blog to you folks, and also, how to link up the existing wonderful blogs by others relating to Tiong Bahru, to this blog as well.

I shall also be exploring how to work out a framework for collating and arranging information of various types - housekeeping to heritage to latest happenings, on this blog for all to participate in...

All suggestions welcome....

The new blog is up!


This is the first attempt to have a blog for the residents and friends of the heritage and culture of Tiong Bahru. How will it go? I am learning as I type this - on how everything works!