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Discover how hawker centres impact community wellbeing in Singapore

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Wed, 8 Mar 2023
Discover how hawker centres impact community wellbeing in Singapore

Research examines how the use of social spaces, namely hawker centres, has contributed to community wellbeing in Singapore during the COVID‐19 pandemic.

As social creatures, interpersonal contact and connecting with one another is crucial for humans to fulfil emotional and psychological needs. In turn, shared public spaces help to serve this need by promoting community-building and interaction with other people.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to find and preserve wellbeing is immense, yet access to these shared social spaces was dwindling or restricted. Given their impact on mental health and welfare, Professor Abhishek Bhati — Campus Dean and Head of Learning, Teaching and Student Engagement at James Cook University in Singapore — alongside graduate student Valeriya Radomskaya sought to examine how social spaces, particularly hawker centres in Singapore, contribute to community wellbeing.

Hawker centres may be described as Singapore’s “community dining rooms,” offering an array of stalls under a single communal space that often sees high human traffic. According to UNESCO, “hawker centres play a crucial role in enhancing community interactions and strengthening the social fabric.”

Underscoring the research was a new framework for urban social space characterisation, comprising of three dimensions, also known as “the three Cs” — coaction, copresence, and colocation.

Coaction refers to how the performance of activities and community practices may increase due to the presence of other people. Coupled with the anxiety of being judged by others, this feeling can actually help people gain awareness of what constitutes socially acceptable or unacceptable behaviour. As a result, this can lead to increased levels of effort and performance among a group of people, compared to their effort and performance levels when they are alone.

Meanwhile, copresence can be defined as a sociological concept that describes the conditions in which human individuals interact with one another. This considers the social and physical conditions that structure human interactions, and the experience gained through human interaction. As such, copresence promotes closeness and familiarity, as well as reciprocity, accessibility, and availability to each other, contributing to a sense of connectedness among people.

Finally, colocation conveys the idea of being located together, or “working together in one space”. This signifies a physical location that can enable rich communication, taking into account smart use of spatial design factors for influencing movement and social interactions.

In simpler terms, these factors combined help to define a space that truly belongs to society — a social space that can facilitate coping and provide support during trying times. Furthermore, it offers insights to how our spaces shape and are shaped by people’s lives. In future research, the “three Cs” framework has the potential to establish performance metrics for social spaces and serve as criteria for social space design.

Ultimately, hawker centres play a crucial role in social bonding and nation building in Singapore. The findings of the research revealed that, in the midst of the pandemic, a strong undercurrent of support emerged, with calls to frequent hawker stalls, participate in community projects, and volunteer. It was also observed that during the first year of the pandemic in Singapore, many social interactions tended to happen in hawker centres, including going to pick up food and “people watching”. Accordingly, hawker centres acted as a spatial catalyst for proactive and productive behaviours.


Radomskaya, V., & Bhati, A. (2022). Hawker Centres: A Social Space Approach to Promoting Community Wellbeing. Urban Planning, 7(4), 167-178. doi:

Check out Professor Abhishek Bhati’s staff and research profiles.

Discover further information on areas of research and research strength at James Cook University in Singapore.


Professor Abhishek Bhati [email protected]
Media: Mr Edwin Teo [email protected]