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Partial conservation of Dakota Crescent gives heritage enthusiasts hope

SINGAPORE — Heritage groups and property analysts have welcomed the Government’s decision to retain a cluster of flats in Dakota Crescent, hoping the unprecedented move signals a shift in the authorities’ approach to redeveloping old housing estates.

Partial conservation of Dakota Crescent gives heritage enthusiasts hope

The “iconic” Dove Playground – a centerpiece of the Dakota Crescent neighbourhood – will be preserved and repurposed for civic and community uses when the estate undergoes major redevelopment. Photo: Minister Lawrence Wong/Facebook

SINGAPORE — Heritage groups and property analysts have welcomed the Government’s decision to retain a cluster of flats in Dakota Crescent, hoping the unprecedented move signals a shift in the authorities’ approach to redeveloping old housing estates.

Among other things, they suggested a formal mechanism for the community to provide feedback and suggestions before buildings in an area face the wrecking ball.

On Monday (Dec 11), National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in a Facebook post that the 59-year-old Dakota Crescent estate will be redeveloped into a mixed-use area with new public housing.

The central cluster of six blocks, along with the iconic Dove Playground, will be retained, Mr Wong said.

Observers said the latest announcement was a “good starting point”, but noted Dakota Crescent may be different in some respects from other places with heritage value.

“It is fortunate that there (was) no immediate urgency to redevelop the land and it does help that the land belongs to the state and not to private (developers),” said Dr Yeo Kang Shua, an assistant professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, who welcomed the Government’s move to retain some of the blocks.

This “allows the Government to evaluate in greater detail … the estate’s heritage”, he said.

Mechanisms could be put in place to allow members of the community to identify buildings with conservation potential, said heritage enthusiasts.

Mr Kwek Li Yong, the president of heritage group My Community, said current efforts to lobby for conservation usually take place after plans are revealed and suggested a more pre-emptive approach, moving forward.

Founder of the Save Dakota Crescent campaign Jonathan Poh said the move sets a precedent for the “tripartite working relationship” between the grassroots, residents as well as the government.

“This has shown advocacy through collaboration, not rebellion,” the architect added.

The area’s Member of Parliament had also called for the estate to be conserved. In an adjournment motion in Parliament last year, Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) had made an impassioned plea for the authorities to reconsider redevelopment plans.

“The fact that this estate is older than Singapore is a cause for celebration and should be an important consideration for conservation,” Mr Lim had said.

Other Singapore Improvement Trust flats in Tiong Bahru and Kampong Silat, for example, have been gazetted.

Dakota Crescent, built in 1958, consisted of 17 low-rise blocks. The last residents vacated their units at the start of this year.

Mr Kwek said the retained buildings should “imitate (their) original use as far as possible”, along with “historical interpretations of how the place looked like in the past”, to give “future generations a fuller picture of how the estate used to be”.

Mr Ku Swee Yong, co-founder of online property information portal HugProperty, said they could house amenities such as clinics, shops, childcare centres and kindergartens, as well as elderly-friendly facilities.

What is certain is that the area, with its proximity to the city, would be in hot demand among homebuyers and probably command high prices in future.

Mr Ku said second-time homebuyers would likely flock to the estate and noted the oversubscription of Dakota Breeze, a new Housing and Development Board estate nearby.

Some homebuyers could also be drawn to the area due to fond memories of growing up there, added ERA key executive officer Eugene Lim.

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