Holding onto my hat

Holding onto my hat

Friday, July 10, 2015

Keep Dakota Crescent – a vital link to our past

Situated in Mountbatten SMC lies a cluster of unassuming old buildings known as Dakota Crescent. 

Named after the Douglas CD-3 Dakota aeroplanes that used to land at Kallang Airport, Singapore's first civilian airport, Dakota Crescent was built in 1959 by the Singapore Improvement Trust, the predecessor of HDB.  

For more than 50 years, Dakota Crescent has been providing homes to many pioneer generation Singaporeans.

Local residents and commentators have noted the estate’s highlights – ranging from its unique architecture, the iconic Dove Playground to its ties to Singapore’s aviation history.

Today, Dakota Crescent is slated for redevelopment.  The fate of the buildings which comprise the estate is uncertain. 

Certainly, Dakota Crescent must be conserved as a heritage for our future generation. We should not let it be demolished. 

Dakota Crescent is a key rung in the ladder of Singapore’s evolving social housing and community-building efforts. It was an experiment in public housing by the Lim Yew Hock Government (in office from 1956 to 1959) to address a housing crisis.  The estate is a physical reminder of a past struggle by the government to elevate its citizens from slums and squatter settlements into affordable public housing. 

Knowing our past challenges and how we overcame them are keys to build nationhood, enrich our identity as Singaporeans and inspire our way ahead.

It is important to make the effort to conserve Dakota Crescent because of its place in Singapore’s history of public housing and community building efforts.

Conserve Dakota Crescent for the Community

Singapore’s conservation efforts have often been found wanting – the Bukit Brown controversy is testament to that.  

Even when buildings are conserved, public icons have ended up becoming closed to the communities they once served. One prominent example is the Fullerton Building, which used to house the General Post Office from 1928 to 1996. The landmark building was the main communications hub in those days.  Businessmen and ordinary folk frequented its massive hall to mail out and pick up their letters.  However, after being gazetted as a conservation building in 1997, the Fullerton Building turned into 5-star luxury hotel.  Its purpose had turned from community to commercial.

Redevelopment is often necessary in Singapore but it would be a shame if after conservation, Dakota Crescent is reorganised into an up-market commercial purpose or private space that excludes ordinary Singaporeans.  Especially since Dakota Crescent was originally built to serve the community.

The redeveloped estate must allow the public access to walk around the estate and not be confined to view it from the outside. 

Future use of Dakota Crescent

The possibilities for redevelopment are many and they include arts/educational centres, and other social spaces for community use.

Dakota Crescent is situated around an MRT station, sports, recreational facilities, market and hawker centre, which makes it a natural centre for community to congregate. The locality has an established community of residents and amenity-suppliers who have been in the area for five decades.  A vibrant community of retirees, working adults and children offers opportunities to create symbiotic multi-functional facilities like childcare, elder care with retirees looking out for the young ones.

A hybrid development plan could be explored, allowing the developer the freedom to commercialise a certain portion of the area, while binding the developer to ensure that a certain portion of the area be allocated for community use. There could therefore be a win-win compromise between commercial and community purposes. 

Alternatively, an open competition to encourage ideas for the redevelopment of the estate could be a creative way to engage local voices and opinions. Singaporean architects, urban planners and other bright minds could enter the competition to discover creative ways to ensure that redevelopment does not compromise the preservation of history and heritage.

The Old National Theatre, Van Cleef Aquarium, Old National Library Building - they are gone.  Let’s ensure that Dakota Crescent remains, and not meet the same fate as those icons.   

If the estate is to be redeveloped, then let it be in a way that honours Dakota Crescent’s historical narrative of building the community.

Jeannette Chong- Aruldoss

Dakota Crescent resident, Mdm Kang. Aged 86, she has 10 children, 16 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.