SINGAPORE: The closure of a football court in Bedok North and the cordoning off of a void deck in Woodlands Ring Road have incited passionate responses from the public. In these cases, the complaints by residents resulting in their closure were about noise and potential safety hazards caused by those playing football in community spaces.

These two cases represent a conflict between two different but equally important values. That children and young people should be encouraged to play is an important value. When they play, they naturally get excited, and shouting is an expression of the excitement and joy.

On the other hand, residents have a right to the peaceful enjoyment of their properties. They also need the space to meet and engage with one another in the void deck, for instance. But with children and young people occupying the void deck for football, they are denied that space. It is too noisy and hazardous for them to co-use the space.

So, what is the answer to this problem of competing interest or values that are equally important? Is the town council’s intervention by cordoning off or shutting down the space a good way to solve the problem?


Minister of State for National Development Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim addressed the issue in parliament earlier this month, saying that town councils and relevant agencies may intervene directly in such disputes when left with “no choice”.

HDB estates are home to almost 80 per cent of Singapore’s population. It’s not realistic to expect there to be no disputes. But when there is conflict, compromise is necessary to arrive at a win-win solution for all interested parties.

From time to time, however, certain disputes have no readily available amicable solutions. Assoc Prof Faishal’s “no choice” refers to the need to intervene when there is a deadlock and no compromise in disputes over common spaces.

In the Bedok North case, plans have since been floated to repurpose the football court into a space for seniors to use. At the same time, the former Kampong Chai Chee Community Centre is set to be converted into a youth hub.

In the case of Woodlands, the authorities have reopened the void deck. I can foresee that the noise and hazard problem will reappear in time.


The term “void deck” is uniquely Singaporean. To many Singaporeans, it is a place where residents can gather and meet friends and where children can run around and play. They also serve as a place for sombre gatherings after the passing of a loved one, celebrative Malay weddings, which was a common sight in the 80s and 90s, and provision shops to cater to the needs of the residents for everyday sundry items.

As we navigate this delicate balance between play and community peace, a thoughtful discussion is crucial if we are to succeed in maintaining harmony and inclusivity in our society.

Our starting point is to recognise that the children and young people who enjoy playing football is a good thing. In building a cohesive and inclusive society, community and camaraderie are the bedrock of cohesion. I have personal knowledge of this because I too played football in my teens, where we built inclusive teams and made great friends when we played against each other.

Indeed, the providing of spaces for spontaneous play is a matter of utmost importance. Childhood development thrives on exploring outdoor activities, fostering physical fitness, social skills, and a sense of community. We must find safe spaces for spontaneous and unstructured play.

We must also recognise that seniors need to get out of their homes and interact with others in safety. I am now a senior and I know how important it is for us to be connected and engaged with others in a conducive environment. Psychologists are telling us that the greatest challenge for seniors is loneliness.

We can co-create attractive places for them to congregate. It is increasingly urgent that we do this because Singapore is a rapidly ageing society in which seniors will make up nearly one in four of the population by 2030.

Residents have valid reasons for desiring tranquillity outside their homes. Whether newborns needing uninterrupted naps or employees conducting work-from-home meetings, the demand for peace is legitimate. In a densely populated country like Singapore where living spaces often overlap, the need for balance becomes even more pronounced.


Public spaces are an extension of communities. If designed and managed well, I believe they can offer residents more opportunities to interact with each other and find common ground. People living in socially connected communities are more likely to thrive because they feel safe, welcomed, and trust each other.

Meaningful relationships enhance our mental, physical, and emotional health and well-being. In fact, studies have shown that strong social connections and networks can increase longevity by 50 per cent.

Over time, our void decks will continue to evolve to meet today’s needs. It is important to remember that they have been instrumental in developing a sense of community in our public housing context. It should not be void of people.

The questions we need to ask today are: Is it still suitable for playing football? Is it more suitable for creating an attractive space for seniors and others to gather for social interaction?

As a space that sees constant foot traffic throughout the day, it is my view that void decks are not suitable for any game that involves a ball today. It is hazardous especially to seniors in the vicinity. Can we not intentionally repurpose the void decks for use by seniors for community-building and encouraging them to embrace active ageing?

The next question is where then can the children and youth play? Some schools are already opening their fields for the community to use. If all schools are prepared to do that, there will be enough fields for football or other ball games in the community. Of course, it means that there must be some safeguards and security measures in place. Surely, we are more than capable of drafting some regulations and an enforcement regime to ensure that.

There are fields in SAFRA and other community clubs, open spaces in churches and other religious places. It would be helpful if these places could open their spaces to be used once a week by the community. It will be an opportunity for these organisations to engage the neighbourhood and contribute to their well-being.


Building a cohesive society is a collective community responsibility. No matter where we play and gather, it is vital to be mindful of the needs of others.

We should also be aware that some noise is unavoidable when living in a community. When we know our neighbours, and should conflict arise, we can resolve the conflict without first going to the authorities.

The bottom line is how best can we build a cohesive inclusive society? We cannot build it if we allow situations like playing football in the wrong places to divide us. We cannot build it without providing alternative play spaces when we repurpose void decks for more genteel activities.

We can build a cohesive and inclusive society when we strike a balance by nurturing play spaces while respecting community peace.

Dr William Wan is Chairperson of the Community Advisory Panel on Neighbourhood Noise and a senior consultant with the Singapore Kindness Movement.

This article was first published on CNA
Cover Image: The void deck at Block 638 Woodlands Ring Road was partially barricaded in this photo taken on Nov 30, 2023. (Photo: TODAY/Ooi Boon Keong)