A Fond Farewell to Dakota Estate?
It seems that almost every week we are reading about a part of Singapore’s history that is soon to be gone forever, with iconic landmarks and institutions such as the Rocher Centre, the Thieves Market and Funan DigitalLife Mall all bidding adieu. Another one that can certainly be added to that list is Dakota Crescent Estate in Mountbatten.
One of the island’s oldest public housing estates, Dakota Crescent is actually older than Singapore’s independence. Built in 1958 by the forerunner of the HDB, the Singapore Improvement Trust, its 17 low rise blocks have become a familiar and much loved sight for locals for their entire lives. Generations of families have grown up in and around its iconic dove shaped playground, but unless there is a dramatic – and frankly an unlikely turnaround – the estate will be consigned to memories, photo albums and history books by the end of the year.
The estate contains 648 two and three-room flats, with recent figures putting the current occupancy rate at 60 per cent. Most of those are elderly residents or low income families, and though first time buyers may be entitled to receive S$15,000 in relocation grants, as well as the Special CPF Housing Grant and Additional CPF Housing Grant with which to buy their own flat, it is feared that many will not have the funds to do that.
The estate also houses some of the oldest shops in Singapore, though several of these have succumbed to competition in recent years from newer malls springing up in the area.
The estate is not going without a fight however. There have been numerous calls for all or parts of it to be preserved and saved from the bulldozer. A group, backed by local MP Mr Lim Biow Chuan, and led by architect Jonathan Poh has been set up. They hope to retain 12 blocks, which will then be turned into a mixed use complex, which would be used as rental flats for couples on the BTO waiting list as well as various community groups, arts groups and social enterprises. Several events have been held to raise awareness of the estates plight, as well as documentaries on its own history and its role in the history of Singapore.
Mr Lim spoke at a motion in parliament about the efforts Mr Poh’s group have made, urging the government to consider the plans. “Many of these suggestions warrant serious consideration by the town planners. I hope that by speaking at this motion, I can persuade the Government to rethink its redevelopment plans for Dakota Crescent.” He was backed up by fellow MP Kok Heng Leun, who called the plans “a ground-up initiative with bold vision” that had taken an extraordinary effort and one that should be taken seriously.
Time is running out, but Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, Mr Desmond Lee, appeared to leave the door open slightly in his response to the motion. He stated that his department was “open to looking at the different ways in which the area can be redeveloped and rejuvenated, while retaining its distinctive identity and character”, and went on to list several National Heritage Board initiatives in the estate.
Time will tell, but it will be sad to see another of the building blocks of this nation being dismantled in the name of progress.
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