Walking with Older Adults

  • Belinda YuenEmail author
  • Penny Kong


As part of the methodology to better understand the lived experiences of older adults as they move through outdoor urban environments, an Urban Audit was developed comprising three tools—onsite observation, walking survey and photograph interview. This Chapter explicates one of these tools—the walking survey where older respondents were invited to walk along and share their experiences and feelings about their everyday neighbourhood spaces. The findings showed that social and recreational activities were strong pull factors attracting older people to public spaces.


Public spacesPublic Space surveySurvey Void Deck LRT Station exerciseExercise 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

5.1 Introduction

There is a growing body of literature on the importance of the neighbourhood environment to older people’s quality of life, including support for physical activity, leisure and social needs (Brownson et al. 2009; Everson et al. 2009; Arango et al. 2013; Poortinga et al. 2017). Yet, as Hofland et al. (2017) observed, resident participation in neighbourhood auditing remains largely limited. In the present study, an Urban Audit Toolbox was developed to assess neighbourhood environments to better understand the salient features and qualities that are important to the older person. A secondary goal is to identify potential weaknesses and key strengths in the design of outdoor urban environments for ageing. The toolbox comprises 3 components: onsite observation, walking survey and photograph interview.

The walking survey will be presented in this Chapter while the other two tools will be reported in subsequent chapters.

The walking survey or ‘Walk and Talk’ is a survey where older respondents are invited to share their experiences and feelings about their neighbourhood spaces, both positive and negative traits/design of space and the obstacles that hinder their enjoyment and use of that space. It aims to assess the existing conditions and opportunities for improving outdoor recreation spaces through the eyes of the older person as they move through these spaces on their daily routine.

Four public spaces with different characteristics were surveyed:
  1. A.

    A successful (well-used) senior activity centre site: a precinct square;

  2. B.

    An unsuccessful (not well-used) senior activity centre/senior care centre: a senior residents’ corner in a void deck1

  3. C.

    A site which presently does not have any elderly service facility: a void deck; and

  4. D.

    A neighbourhood park, which is the site for community design workshops (another research instrument, see Chap.  10).


5.2 Methodology

The Walk and Talk Survey was conducted as a mobile interview—a walk with small groups of two to three older participants (aged 55 and above) through the selected public space. During the walk, participants were invited by the facilitator-researcher to talk about the space using a uniform discussion guide. The facilitator-researcher was supported by a note-taker who took notes of the discussion and observations made during the walk such as what the site looked like, its facilities, atmosphere, strengths and problems. The aim was for the participants to give a guided tour of how they used and perceived the space. Unlike offsite sedentary interviews (e.g. asking people to sit in a room and answer questions about the space), Walk and Talk respondents could set the route of the walk and have their memories provoked by what they see or sense on site.

Photographs of the site (not of the participants) were taken to complement the notes. At the end of the walk, the researcher worked with the participants to mark on a map of the study space the areas which they liked or disliked and where they wanted to see changes and improvements. Conducted largely in English, each Walk and Talk session took between 40–60 min to complete. The sessions were conducted between June and October 2015.

Even though the Walk and Talk sessions are useful for collecting qualitative data relating to people’s use and understanding of place, they can be unpredictable. As with sedentary interviews, some Walk and Talk sessions will be rewarding, providing rich and more-than-anticipated information while some might be brief and uninformative. For the analysis, responses are ascribed to groups of respondents rather than individuals due to the nature of the data collection.

The sites of the Walk and Talk survey were all located in Bukit Panjang Town.
  1. A.
    256 Bangkit Road (Fig. 5.1)—site with successful senior activity centre. This precinct square is situated within a cluster of public housing blocks and a busy local retail development. The Bukit Panjang neighbourhood centre is less than 5 min’ walk away. The site features a children’s playground in the centre of the space, an elderly fitness corner on its northern edge and seating along the edges. The site is surrounded by amenities such as coffee shops, grocery stores, shops and banks. Barrier-free ramps connect the site to its surroundings.
    Fig. 5.1

    Site A: 256 Bangkit Road

  1. B.
    434 Fajar Road (Fig. 5.2)—site with unsuccessful senior activity centre/senior care centre. This site comprises a senior residents’ corner within a void deck and an outdoor exercise area at an adjoining hard court. Facilities provided in the residents’ corner included stone seating and tables, a toilet, vending machine, wash area and related furniture (some cupboards in the wash area have missing/broken doors, TV console is permanently locked). This site is part of a much larger void deck space, bookended by a community centre office and a bird singing corner, which functions only on weekends. The Fajar Light Rail Transit (LRT) station is located across the road. It is understood that the site has been earmarked for renewal.
    Fig. 5.2

    Site B: 434 Fajar Road

  1. C.
    415 Fajar Road (Fig. 5.3)—site, which presently does not have any elderly service facilities. This site is a common void deck space with no specific provision other than some seating. There are two sets of permanent seating—one a cast iron bench and another comprising two sets of stone table and seats, one located to the far end of the void deck near the cast iron bench and another set of stone table and seats closer to the lift lobby. The cast iron bench appears to have been a later addition. Aside from these seating, residents have contributed their own chairs—chairs with cushion, armrest and backrest around the cluster of seating in the far end of the void deck. The northern side of this site faces Fajar Road (main access road) and its eastern side opens onto a surface car park. Adjoining uses include a Chinese temple on one side and public housing blocks on the other.
    Fig. 5.3

    Site C: 415 Fajar Road

  2. D.
    201 Petir Road, Bukit Panjang N2 Park (Fig. 5.4)—site for community design workshops. This neighbourhood park was used as a reference site for the project’s community design workshops.2 Of undulating terrain located atop a hillock, the site features two community gardens, a hard court, a portable toilet and such recreational facilities as individual physical proficiency test (IPPT)3 and elderly exercise equipment at the top of the park, nestled among meandering park trails and greenery. Public housing blocks and new condominium development surround and overlook the park.
    Fig. 5.4

    Site D: 201 Petir Road, Bukit Panjang N2 Park

A total of 57 participants (20 groups) took part in the Walk and Talk survey. Where possible, on-site recruitment of subjects adhered to the demographics of current Singaporean society. The overall participant ratios of 47% male and 53% female reflected gender proportions in the demographic group aged 55 and older (Department of Statistics 2015). The ‘Others’ ethnic group was, however, not represented. This was due to disinterest in participating (e.g. people declined to participate when approached) or not finding the particular ethnic group during the time of the Walk and Talk survey.

About 80% of the respondents were in the young old age group of 55–70 years while the remaining 10 respondents (17.5%) were in the older old group, above 70 years old. There were fewer older old respondents because many more young old people were found at the spaces. The older old person may lack mobility or good health to occupy these public spaces, have no interest or be unable to participate in English (Mandarin/Chinese dialects were used in some cases to facilitate participation). Sites A and C had more older old participants (25–30% of respondents) while Site B had no respondents in the older old age group. This is a study limitation as the age-70 + individuals may offer different responses from the 55+.

5.3 Findings

5.3.1 Respondent Usage of Space

Reasons for Visiting the Sites Participants were asked to share the reasons why they visit the site and what activities they do while there. They were not limited to singular answer. Common pull factors included: meeting friends, visiting nearby coffee shops for meals, buying groceries at the market and participating in recreational activities. Some respondents would pass through the site on their way to public transportation (bus stop, LRT station) or amenities like the bank automated teller machines (ATM). One respondent would visit the area whenever there were religious events at the Chinese temple adjoining the site (Site C).

The activities named were grouped into four main categories:
  1. 1.

    Social, e.g. meeting friends to chat;

  2. 2.

    Recreational, e.g. exercise, tai chi, qigong; gardening; bird singing;

  3. 3.

    Relaxation, e.g. sitting; bringing grandchildren to play, watching other people;

  4. 4.

    Errands, e.g. accessing the letterboxes or ATM; going to the bank, shops, temple or LRT/bus stop; buying groceries; visiting the coffee shop for meals.

The first three categories contain activities that are conducted at the site while the last category embraces activities that provide a reason for passing through the site but are not necessarily conducted there (transition zone).

The most common activities across all sites were social and recreational in nature, with about half of all respondent groups mentioning either of these activity types. Running errands was a common reason for passing through all sites, except Site D (understandably because Site D is on the top of a hillock and can only be accessed through a long flight of stairs or barrier-free ramps). Site A, possibly due to the surrounding coffee shops, grocery stores and neighbourhood centre on its immediate fringe, had half of its participants going through the site for meals or grocery shopping. None of the Site A respondents mentioned recreational activities despite the presence of a senior fitness corner (perhaps because those who stopped to participate in this survey were there for a different purpose) though a few talked about relaxing in the space.

The void deck sites of B and C showed similar distribution of activities among their respondents: a majority mentioned meeting friends though activities in the other three categories were also mentioned a few times. The senior residents corner in Site B seemed to attract residents for recreational activities such as bird singing and tai chi. Aside from meeting to socialise in the void deck space, Site C participants visited the site to check the mailbox (located at the void deck lift lobby area) and as a shortcut to the nearby LRT station. The unanimous mentions of recreational activities from Site D respondents correspond with its park setting.

With regard to the aggregated participation in activities among age groups, the older old group tended to display a strong preference for social activities—respondents mentioned meeting friends as a primary reason for visiting. This seems to suggest the importance of social activities to older people. Activities performed by the older old group that fall under Errands relate largely to food: buying meals from coffee shops or grocery shopping. The young old groups had many more different errands, e.g. checking the mailbox, using automated teller machines (ATM), besides buying food and groceries.

The young old respondents appeared to have a wider range of activities than their older counterparts. They tended to participate in a variety of recreational activities, displaying an enthusiasm for staying active through physical exercise and traditional Chinese breathing exercise (e.g. tai chi, qigong) and participating in hobby-related leisure activities like gardening and bird singing. A few groups (from Sites A, B and C) also mentioned the passive activities of sitting and relaxing in the spaces surveyed though their reasons and activities for going to the sites were wide-ranging. One would pass through the site en-route to buy meals. Another was drawn to the site to chat with friends while a third would sit and rest at the site. The Site B respondents who talked about bringing grandchildren to play in the space shared that prior to this—taking care of grandchildren—they had no reason to visit the site. As Singaporeans delay marriage and parenthood, the age range of grandparents who engage in this activity may gradually shift towards the upper end of the age spectrum.

Frequency and Duration of Visits Most respondents visited their respective sites almost daily. Among Site A respondents who visited the site daily, the common activity was meeting friends. Frequent visitors at Site B either met friends or brought their grandchildren to the playground. The respondent groups who visited on a weekly basis mentioned bird singing as a reason for visiting the site. The most frequent visitors to Site C did so for social activities while the respondent group who visited on weekly or monthly frequencies went there for religious or brisk-walking events. Site D respondents all reported visiting the site up to 7 times a week for recreational activities like exercising and gardening.

Both age groups—young old and older old—visited the sites frequently. Half of the young old frequent visitors went to meet friends and at least three groups mentioned recreational activities like exercise and gardening. The young old respondents who visited weekly did so for recreational activities such as bird singing, gardening and physical exercise. The older old respondents tended to visit more frequently, perhaps because they were past retirement age and had more time for leisure compared to the young old group. A common motivation to visit the sites was to meet friends.

Site A respondents tended to spend more time at the site than respondents in other sites—perhaps there was more to do and see at this site. At Sites A, B and C, respondents who stayed between one and three hours mentioned meeting friends there. Site C respondents also mentioned participation in gardening and brisk-walking or temple events, while Site B respondents talked about engagement in recreational activities like bird singing or tai chi. Site A groups also spoke about buying groceries or meals and relaxing at the site. Site B respondents who spent the least amount of time there went to the site when bringing their grandchildren to the playground. Site D respondents who visited up to two hours went there to do gardening or exercise.

The overall trend for all respondents indicated that older adults tended to spend less than half a day at public spaces and while there, they mainly engaged in social and recreational activities. Across all sites, respondents had expressed dissatisfaction about outdoor heat and shared that the sites tended to be more vibrant during mornings and evenings (when it is cooler). This suggests that people would avoid public spaces when the weather is too hot and uncomfortable. Some respondents requested for the provision of water coolers, vending machines or public toilets in the sites studied, perhaps indicating a lack of these facilities in public spaces to accommodate their physiological needs.

Respondents from the older old group generally spent about one to three hours in the public space. This indicates an interest to spend time at public spaces. The duration of no more than three hours could be due to a number of factors such as weaker health, less mobility, disinterest in activities available or personal need to use facilities such as toilets. As healthcare and mobility aids for older people advance, future generations of seniors may become more mobile and spend more time outside the home, especially when there are appropriate on-site interests and provisions. Almost three in four groups of young old respondents spend less than two hours at the sites. The six groups who mentioned staying more than two hours generally participated in social, relaxation and recreational activities.

We turn next to look at each study site in detail through the eyes of the respondents.

5.3.2 Site A: 256 Bangkit Road

Five Words Describing the Site. Respondents from diverse demographics described this site as being in a convenient location, sitting at the foot of several HDB4 blocks and featuring a variety of amenities (Table 5.1). They appreciated the range of shops and goods available in the nearby market and neighbourhood centre where they can purchase affordable fresh vegetables and food. Respondents felt that it was a convenient location to meet friends and socialise. As one young old male respondent shared, they would meet their friends at the site to chat instead of at each other’s homes; this was to avoid inconveniencing their families.
Table 5.1

Respondents’ description of Site A



1. Convenient

2. Market and shops

3. A place to meet friends

4. Bustling, brimming with life, lively

5. Easy access, especially to the market

6. No falls

7. Friendly (for both young and old)

8. Familiar; sense of belonging

1. Hot during lunchtime

2. Overcrowded

3. Dirty and poor management

4. Incomplete facilities

5. Insufficient coffee shops/car parks

An older old group of respondents noted the easy access to amenities, especially to the market. They felt that it was a friendly place for both the young and old; the site gave them a familiar feeling and sense of belonging. One elderly couple stated “no falls”, possibly referring to the site’s universal design features that aid mobility, such as non-slip tiles and handrails along the barrier-free access ramp. Three young old groups of male respondents (seven men) described the site as bustling, brimming with life and lively.

One negative aspect shared by an older old couple was that the site could get too hot during midday. A young old couple reported that the site was poorly managed—it could get overcrowded and dirty.

Spatial Quality and Infrastructure. Several aspects are examined:

Lighting. The space was sufficiently lit both in the day and at night; activities could continue to take place through the night.

Wayfinding. There was a general agreement that wayfinding in the area is easy though some respondents said that signposts in Mandarin would help the older residents navigate and locate banks and clinics more easily. Multi-lingual signage could expand beyond English to cover the three main local languages (Mandarin, Malay, Tamil) or use pictorial representation in places frequented by older people.

Accessibility. Respondents felt that getting to the site was very convenient and older adults could easily access it. This is probably because this public space is located at the foot of residential blocks. An older old couple liked the public transport options afforded by the nearby light rail transit and bus services. One young old pair of respondents noted that outside the boundaries of the survey site (on the main road), there is a steep slope near the light rail transit station, which is the scene of frequent accidents.

Maintenance. The site lacked cleanliness, perhaps due to the space being overcrowded and sited next to grocery and food stores (goods often spill over onto the surrounding areas). A group of young old male respondents felt that the coffee shop toilets lacked proper hygiene.

Design. Respondents reported that the estate was a little old and due for an upgrade. Although the trees provided some shade, some respondents suggested installing shelter to provide more shade and protection from rain. Providing a separate smoking area and improving ventilation were other issues raised.

Urban Furniture. Respondents felt the site was a good place for the older residents to rest before heading home after shopping for food and groceries, though a young old male respondent said that there was insufficient seating due to the crowds. Two respondents from the older old group felt that the exercise facilities were not age-friendly to those above 80 years old (Fig. 5.5).
Fig. 5.5

Site A layout annotated with respondent comments

Programme and Social Activity. The main pull factor to the site, for all respondents surveyed, was its convenient access to amenities such as the grocery stores and coffee shops. Photographs of the site in the morning at 11 am compared to 2 pm showed the stark contrast between a large crowd and a virtually empty square. This could be because of people’s lifestyles (e.g. going to the shops and markets to purchase groceries in the morning or to lunch) and hot weather (lack of shade, better to stay indoors). Most respondents would visit the site several times a week or daily.

The site was most vibrant in the mornings as people went to the grocery stores, shops and food stalls in the area. The evenings also saw a crowd when older people would sit around the place to relax (when not so hot) or bring their grandchildren to the playground at the site. Respondents shared that they liked to sit at the coffee shops or in the shade and seldom stood or walked around when at the site, emphasising the importance of providing adequate seating. For example, one pair of respondents had a favourite spot to sit daily (Fig. 5.5).

The data suggest the importance of fringe activities as additional pull factors to the site. Opportunities for casual social interaction occur while people are going about daily errands like grocery shopping. Respondents attest to the conduciveness of the site for forming and maintaining human connections through their comments,

Friendly meeting/chatting place, not only for elderly but also for young generation… This place is very convenient for elderly to meet friends. (Older old Chinese couple)

Usually listen to stories by the elderly around the neighbourhood. (Young old Chinese couple)

I always see my friends here. It is a good place to contact with them. (Male, young old Chinese respondent)

Many people in the neighbourhood moved here from kampongs, so the human connection is definitely there. (Male, young old Chinese respondent)

Facilities such as playgrounds and exercise equipment have important draw power. Playgrounds would generally be used by children outside school-going hours, making them relevant in the late afternoons or evenings. The provision of different programmes in and around Site A like shops, food stalls, playground and an exercise area forms a node where people of all ages can converge, creating a vibrant people space with plenty of goings-on for older people to watch and enjoy. Respondents also enjoyed the presence of children in the area as they enlivened and energised the space with their play, chatter and laughter.

Some respondents shared that public spaces near their residential blocks give them a space close to home where they could meet friends without inconveniencing their families, suggesting a need for “third places”, social spaces outside the workplace and home where people are free to gather casually (Oldenburg and Brissett 1982). A pair of young old male respondents recommended putting a reading corner complete with newspapers and books in the residential block void deck because most current programmes like tuition centres, childcare centre were largely targeted at children. A near-home older people-centric facility would be more accessible to older people as they are unable to walk long distances.

The presence of a 24-hour supermarket, a temple and kidney dialysis centre nearby were positive, people-attractor features. As the population ages, health facilities near residential neighbourhoods will become increasingly necessary. Indian respondents at this site appreciated shops selling Indian goods and food, eliminating the need to travel to Tekka Market5 in downtown Singapore. It is important to extend cultural diversity to commercial provisions in the neighbourhood.

5.3.3 Site B: 434 Fajar Road

Five Words Describing the Site. All respondents from this site were from the young old group. They found the site convenient and accessible (Table 5.2).
Table 5.2

Respondents’ description of Site B



1. Convenient and accessible

2. Friendly

3. Nice/good place to meet friends and spend time

4. Reminisce about kampong life

5. Great amenities

6. Relaxing/peaceful

7. Cooling

8. Helpful

9. Good air quality

1. Crowded

2. Dirty

3. Noisy

4. Dark

5. More space/seating needed

Spatial Quality and Infrastructure. Several aspects are examined:

Lighting. The space suffered from poor lighting at night due to damaged lights that had not been repaired.

Wayfinding. Signage could be bigger; small block signage might pose a difficulty for older people to find their way as blocks were not always numbered in order.

Accessibility. Sheltered walkways provided good connectivity within the estate. Transportation options—both feeder routes and buses to the town/city centre—were appreciated.

Maintenance. The site suffered from poor cleanliness and damaged lights. One group of respondents felt that the previously employed cleaners did a better job than those now servicing the blocks.

Design. Respondents liked the air quality and ventilation in the space though some felt that more fans could be installed.

Urban Furniture. Respondents opined that there was insufficient seating and tables and pointed out the areas where they deemed this lacking (Fig. 5.6). The bird singing hangers could be improved with higher placement as the cages currently hang too low.
Fig. 5.6

Site B layout annotated with respondent comments

Programme and Social Activity. Unlike Site A, the void deck in Site B featured no other proximate amenity other than the bird singing corner. Its proximity to the light rail transit station and shops saw many passers-by but the space itself was underutilised due to a lack of programming. The provision of seating though important will not by itself encourage people to use it as a social space. Frequency and duration of visits were largely spread and random, reflecting a lack of strong spatial identity, which would pull people to the site.

The bird singing corner could become a potential source of conflict for residents who may find it unhygienic and noisy. A pair of enthusiasts suggested relocating the bird singing area away from the residential blocks. Regardless of preference, all respondents felt that the weekend bird singing events add to the vibrancy of the space.

Another common issue raised was about the demand and supply of facilities such as seating. The provision of more seating, spread across the space, may mitigate this problem. Some talked about insufficient space in the community gardens (located at the next block) to accommodate everyone who was interested; residents had to make an application and join a waiting list—queue to do gardening.

5.3.4 Site C: 415 Fajar Road

Five Words Describing the Site. Respondents across the demographics opined that the space was bright and cooling, desirable qualities making for a good outdoor environment (Table 5.3).
Table 5.3

Respondents’ description of Site C



1. Good environment, bright, cooling

2. Good, friendly for elderly

3. Quiet

4. Easy to access

5. Safe

6. Peaceful

7. Good transport connection

8. Pathway to LRT

9. “Home’s void deck”

10. Place for elderly to talk

11. Convenient to reach coffee shop

12. Friendly

1. Inadequate facilities

2. A bit hot during lunchtime

3. No one uses the space

A young old couple stated that the site was on their way to the light rail transit station and referred to the site as their “home’s void deck”, perhaps suggesting good accessibility. They also had the impression that it was a place for older people to chat. A male young old group of Chinese respondents opined that it was a convenient space on their way to other destinations like the coffee shop. The same group thought that there were inadequate facilities at the site. A young old couple felt that it could get a bit hot during midday and noted that no one used the space then.

Spatial Quality and Infrastructure. Several aspects are examined:

Lighting. The space was well lit by daylight and electric lights at night. Not all respondents know who to contact when the lights malfunction.

Wayfinding. The space was easy to locate and navigate with the adjoining Chinese temple and light rail transit station nearby acting as landmarks.

Accessibility. A pair of older old male respondents pointed out a “nice path” for the older adults to walk (see Fig. 5.7) though they did not elaborate why. The convenience of a nearby traffic crossing was appreciated. But, one group of respondents had suggested improving its traffic light timings. Two respondents suggested installing a roof over the taxi stand for shelter when it rained. They felt that there were no taxi stands in good (easy to access) locations for the older person.
Fig. 5.7

Site C layout annotated with respondent comments

Maintenance. One pair of respondents mentioned the presence of rats and cockroaches in the area, though another group had said they liked the site’s cleanliness. The lights in the space sometimes malfunctioned and would take a while to be repaired (Fig. 5.7).

Design. There was a general positivity about the space. Respondents liked the coolness in the shade provided by the trees (near the block) and the space being located on the ground floor of their apartment block. However, it could get a little too warm around midday and the installation of fans would improve ventilation. The site’s proximity to the main road and traffic crossing was mentioned by three respondents, indicating its convenience as a throughway. The separation of the recreational and corridor space is an important consideration as there are many passers-by moving through. Two Malay respondents felt that there were occasional problems such as flying ashes generated from open burning of incense offerings during the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival6 and noise from Malay weddings in the void deck.

Urban Furniture. All respondents, including those who felt that there was already sufficient seating, requested more seating and tables. Some respondents pointed out the odd placement of a stone table and stools (Fig. 5.7), noting that no one uses them because they were in the way of pedestrian flows.

Programme and Social Activity. Respondents who used the space frequently met their friends in the void deck space for a few hours at a time. They suggested that the space was suitable for older residents to relax and socialise, as it was conveniently located directly under the residential block. In both age groups, except for two participants from the young-old group, respondents cited socialising as a pull factor to the site. The older old group also enjoyed recreational activities in the space. However, a number of respondents reported that there was insufficient space for more active recreational activities.

The space saw more footfalls when people moved towards Zheng Hua Community Centre in the early morning for brisk-walking and in the evenings for enrichment classes or interest group activities. However, these were passers-by who did not actively use the space. Also, the proximity of the community centre to the residential block may negate the need for recreational space in the void deck itself. For example, two respondents mentioned that older people could go to the public swimming pools at Senja-Cashew Community Club though they did not state if they used the pools or club facilities themselves. The questions raised then are whether the community centre is sufficiently accessible to older residents and how to ensure a smooth, seamless journey from their flat and block to the community/activity centre.

5.3.5 Site D: 201 Petir Road, Bukit Panjang N2 Park

Five Words Describing the Site. Respondents described the site as a beautiful, natural environment (Table 5.4). Groups with both male and female respondents shared some negative points such as unkemptness of the park. One group with mixed genders felt it could become too dark at night.
Table 5.4

Respondents’ description of Site D



1. Peaceful

2. Beautiful

3. Scenic

4. Quiet

5. Natural environment

6. Spacious

7. Good, clean, fresh air

8. Rubber and coffee trees left behind from the kampong

9. Variety of colours, sights and sounds

10. Near home

1. Falling branches [from trees]

2. Dull

3. Dark at night

4. Untidy

5. More attractions needed

Spatial Quality and Infrastructure. Several aspects are examined:

Lighting. Some felt that there was insufficient electric lighting and even during the day, there were some dark spots within the park (Fig. 5.8). Poor lighting coupled with the tall grass (reducing visibility and providing hiding places) led to many respondents feeling unsafe. Only the community garden was well lit at night.
Fig. 5.8

Site D layout annotated with respondent comments

Wayfinding. While the park could be conveniently accessed by people living nearby (they know how to get to the park), visitors from elsewhere may not know of its existence or be able to find it. Respondents felt that there could be a signboard with the park’s name at its entrance; presently this was not obvious. Having the signboard as a place-marker could strengthen place identity.

Accessibility. Most respondents noted that older adults would have problems moving around the site. The natural topography of the park was appreciated, but some slopes were considered too steep to climb for wheelchair-bound patrons (sometimes difficult for helpers to push them up the slope) or the weaker older individual. Instead, they tended to gather at the flatter paths or foothill of the park and would not venture too far out/up the park grounds, preferring to remain close to the residential blocks. Wheelchair-bound residents were generally unable to access the community garden. One respondent group felt that motorised wheelchairs could make it easier for older people to move around the park.

The slopes could become slippery at times (when moss grew on them) and people had fallen while walking there. Stairs provided in the area were also quite slippery in places, rendering them difficult to access for seniors, especially those with mobility difficulty. Such accessibility difficulties might explain why there were few respondents from the older old age group during the survey period. Respondents suggested that more handrails could be provided as walking aids.

Maintenance. Poor maintenance was a severe problem at this site (Fig. 5.8). Major gripes included the tall, uncut grass (leading to poor visibility of what lies beyond the tall grass), piling up of weeds and dry leaves on the ground (leaves collected were not cleared away) and fallen trees and branches (these, like the leaves, were not cleared away). Rubbish was sometimes left in the central forested area of the park where there was a lot of overgrown vegetation (out of common sight). A group of female respondents liked walking on the path leading to Dairy Farm Park as it was wider and did not have long wild grass. Another respondent pointed out that in contrast, Fajar Park always had trimmed, tidy grassy areas and looked beautiful; it also had a good running track and was near the swimming pool.

Design. Some respondents said that the park was large enough but could use better space planning. They insisted that there should not be too much vegetation planted, as it was not a vegetable garden, but a park (should be green yet open). Respondents enjoyed the fresh air and nature. But, some opined that the landscaping could be improved with a greater variety of plants and flowers (more colour). Some lamented the cutting down of existing fruit trees (some planted from long ago before the park development) to make way for the new condominium development in the park’s southern region (Fig. 5.8). They felt that the development removed direct pedestrian access to Bukit Timah Nature Park7.

Some respondents requested for a children’s playground to attract more children to the park. Many felt that the current play area (at the foothill of the park) was located too far away from the exercise corner (at the top of the park), making it difficult for older adult caregivers to keep an eye on the children while engaging in exercise. A group of female respondents observed that the area around the community garden had a nice atmosphere as the park landscape design could appear chaotic at times (especially around the forested area) and it could be too quiet, giving a “scary ambience”. They noted that the shady areas provided a nice respite from the hot sun but the park atmosphere had changed somewhat since a murder incident occurred in the area a few years ago (felt unsafe).

Urban Furniture. The pavilions were sometimes used for small group functions and parties but they lacked washing areas so participants could not do much or stay long. Respondents wished to have vending machines or water coolers provided in the park. There was a lack of rubbish bins at the site. Some of the wooden benches along the quieter footpaths had been modified/vandalised by some people—deliberate flattening of the backs of the benches so they could sleep there. This coupled with the general poor maintenance in the area (e.g. fallen tree branches and leaves swept, collected but not removed) radiated a sense of insecurity for residents. This lends evidence to the “broken windows” theory where pervasive physical disorder and disrepair (e.g. vandalism or broken equipment) can lead to fear and a reduction in social control and ultimately, an increase in crime (Wilson and Kelling 1982).

Programme and Social Activity. All respondents visited the site to use the park for recreational activities like exercise, qigong or gardening at the community gardens. Of the three groups who shared their visiting frequency, two visited the park daily for exercise while the third group visited up to five times a week. This site had fewer respondents in the older old age group; two of them were regular exercise goers to the park (they enjoyed walking in the park). Another group of respondents stated that the older person had nothing much to do at the park, especially when they had alternative facilities at the foothill of the park closer to the housing blocks (no need to climb/walk up the park), and that working adults were too busy to bring the older adults to the park. Respondents remarked that there were fewer children playing in the park now, observing a slow but steady change in the area’s demographics (more old people now).

One group of respondents shared that some residents had lived in the area for more than 25 years, even before the boulder landscaping in the park was put in (these boulders provided good alternative seating to the benches). They felt that in old age, going to the park to sit and relax was good for health (close to nature). Respondents enjoyed the variety of wild animals seen in the park such as monitor lizards, chameleons and monkeys.

The park could get crowded during the early morning exercise period and in the evenings, when people used the recreational facilities (e.g. exercise equipment) and hard court (Fig. 5.8). Some respondents shared that exercise would need accompanying music. They noticed that residents would move to the park to exercise—instead of using the void deck—so as to avoid disturbing residents with the noise generated from the music in the early morning. They noted that the park currently attracted some visitors, namely, couples (largely foreigners), domestic helpers or students who would hang out in the park (e.g. at the pavilion, away from common view) and engage in unsavoury activities. They observed that there were people (usually youths) who would sometimes stay overnight in the pavilions, creating too much noise. They were not sure whether those people were residents from the neighbourhood. A majority of the people using the park were residents in the area though they noted that there were some external visitors.

The community garden was a favourite park feature for five respondents who suggested that the nearby unkempt grass area of the park should be cut to make more space for gardening. Respondents shared that they developed friendships through exercise groups or community gardening. Programmes that run on a regular basis could help create opportunities for residents to socialize and bond.

5.4 Conclusion

The Walk and Talk survey revealed that social and recreational activities were strong pull factors attracting people to public spaces across all sites. The young old respondents used the sites as a go-through space when running errands (all with the exception of Site D because of its location) in addition to active engagement such as relaxing, socialising or participating in recreational activities like exercising and gardening (community gardening was only at Site D). The older old respondents mainly participated in social activities; errands performed were usually associated with everyday life activities like the purchase of food or groceries.

Most respondents visited the sites frequently, with many using the public spaces daily. This could be traced to the location of these spaces; they are found at or close to their housing. The proportion of older old respondents visiting frequently and for longer durations was higher than the young old group, perhaps suggesting that the older old had more time for leisure. Overall, the older old respondents would spend less than half a day in public spaces though improvements in mobility, healthcare or public facilities (like toilets) might encourage them to spend more time in public spaces and do not become isolated. A majority of the respondents felt that the sites were most vibrant in the mornings and evenings or when there were events happening.

In general, respondents had more positive than negative impressions of their visited public space as evidenced from their five-word descriptions of the spaces. Sites A, B and C were seen as convenient places to meet friends and socialise away from the home due to their location on the ground level of respondents’ flats. Site A demonstrated that vibrancy could be generated by locating seniors facilities (fitness equipment and seating) next to amenities, forming nodes, which attracted various age groups to the site. The variety of on-site programming—playground for children, grocery shops and coffee shops for adults, seating for the older adults to watch the world go by—and easy accessibility (barrier-free ramps) drew crowds to the space.

Site B highlighted the challenges in accommodating different needs and demands in capacity when planning programmes for public use. The lack of seating discouraged some groups from using the space while other deterrents included noise generated from hobbies like bird singing. Some Site B respondents took issue with the location of the bird singing corner, which they felt could be moved away from the residential area to mitigate the noise generated from the weekly sessions. Some suggested that the bird singing hangers should be raised higher. Others suggested that more seating could be provided across the void deck at Site B so different groups could be in the same space. Interestingly, respondents at all sites requested more seating and tables, even if they already thought there were enough. This hints at the importance of seating to older people and perhaps, an unfulfilled need or hidden demand.

Site C provided examples of infrastructural design elements that are necessary in HDB void deck spaces. The high pedestrian traffic through the area generated a need to separate functional space from passageways. There was a lack of recreational space at the site, which may be circumvented by the nearby community centre. Sheltered sites like Sites B and C received better reviews for comfort in terms of shade, ventilation and air quality than the other open spaces.

Finally, the park at Site D emphasised the importance of universal design and facility maintenance in the provision of public space infrastructure. While the natural topography of the park enhanced its natural aesthetic, the hilly slopes and undulating terrain proved to be a challenge for many senior residents, especially the wheelchair-bound. The park was untidy and unkempt in places at times (e.g. fallen trees and collected fallen leaves were not cleared). This along with the dark spots and pockets of tall grass reduced visibility and respondents’ sense of security. The maintenance of public spaces is an important issue. Respondents took notice when cleanliness and hygiene were lacking or lights did not work at their respective sites.


  1. 1.

    Void decks can be found on the ground floor of apartment blocks in public housing. They have been purposefully left vacant (open space) and are typically used for communal activities.

  2. 2.

    See Chap.  10.

  3. 3.

    This is a standard physical fitness test used by the Singapore Armed Forces, Police Force and Civil Defence Force to test the physical fitness and motor skills of its members, ranging from under 25–49 years old.

  4. 4.

    HDB is the abbreviation for the Housing and Development Board, the public housing agency in Singapore. Thus, public housing is popularly referred to as HDB housing/block/flats.

  5. 5.

    Located in Little India conservation area, Tekka Market is a multi-use complex, comprising a wet market, food centre and shops selling primarily Indian goods.

  6. 6.

    Observed during the 7th month in the lunar calendar every year, Chinese people of Taoist faith would pray to ghosts/spirits of their ancestors with offerings outside their homes. The offerings include the preparation of ritualistic food and burning of incense, joss paper and a plethora of paper mache material items, e.g. clothes, gold and other fine goods. See Fu (2004), Yee and Tan (1999) for more information on this festival.

  7. 7.

    This is a nature reserve and Singapore’s largest surviving primary rainforest.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Singapore University of Technology and DesignSingaporeSingapore

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