The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Singapore Planning Authorities

We know the ground has shifted. We know Singaporeans are more vocal. From the Rail Corridor to Bukit Brown to Dairy Farm Estate to Pasir Ris Greenbelt to Limau Estate Woodlands, Singaporeans are speaking up on the proposed development plans. We have seen petition after petition, and dialogue session after session, one can’t help but wonder whether residents and the people have been consulted before the planning?

Moving forward, it is likely we would see more disagreements and opposition to future urbanisation, housing and road plans for Singapore. Active citizens and NGOs can’t keep on “fighting” one issue after the other, and signing one petition after the other. It is tiring, ineffective and unproductive. It is time for the relevant planning authorities to reflect and change how they do their work.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by the late Stephen R. Covey is a classic book on personal change and leading change. The 7 Habits could be adapted to serve as a useful reminder and tool for the planning authorities to think about if they wish to change how they do things.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Being proactive is more than just taking action, it means taking responsibility and going the extra mile to consult and engage the residents. Understand that the ground has shifted – people are more vocal and there is better appreciation of nature and heritage. Developments that are accepted in the past without any fuss may now face disagreement and opposition from the residents. Some people might feel that their neighbourhood is now part of their home and no longer just the government’s land.

Take the initiative by speaking to residents and understand their concerns, before making your decisions (not after). And don’t assume that just because the development plans are already in the Concept and Master Plans or announced to the public, the public must then accept them and not “make noise” now because they didn’t “make noise” when it was announced earlier.

Habit 2: Begin With The End In Mind

Remember your vision of creating an endearing home for Singapore. Don’t just focus on climbing the ladder, make sure your ladder is up against the right wall before you start climbing. What is Singapore’s optimum population (the right wall)? Focus not on quantity but on quality.

At the end of the day, your job is to build homes, not houses. A home is more than the physical house and infrastructure, a home comprises the surrounding natural and heritage areas and interactions among residents. When you build more houses for our growing population, remember that the saddest result in the future could be that we have sufficient houses to house our people then, but people don’t treat Singapore as home and don’t have a sense of belonging because their natural surroundings and heritage have been erased to make room for houses and roads.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Plan and execute your work based on importance rather than urgency. Evaluate whether your efforts are in line with your mission and vision. The urgent work might be to build more houses and more roads, but the important focus should be on creating better homes and a sustainable transport system, while balancing the needs for nature and recreation and preserving the memories of Singaporeans.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

Always look for a solution that benefits you and the residents, and genuinely strive for mutually beneficial agreements with the residents. Enter a discussion with the belief that Win/Win is possible and necessary to earn respect from the people in the long run.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

Listen carefully and genuinely understand the residents before stating your stand or giving your thoughts. Keep an open mind and understand what people are feeling. Understand and address their concerns first and then explain why you have to implement certain policies. This creates an atmosphere of trust and respect and starts the process of finding the solutions and alternatives.

Habit 6: Synergize

Encourage meaningful contribution from the residents, and provide supportive leadership and processes for cooperation and engagement. Engaging with the residents not only helps to develop better solutions together but also builds relationships and trust.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Take time to assess your organisation’s skills, resources, processes and values, and ensure that they are adequate to address the increasing role of bottom-up activism. When and how do you engage residents? How do you create a Win/Win solution? Is there a need to have more training and resources? Do the existing leadership and management recognize and adapt to the shifting ground?

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