Commonwealth Drive's One Last Block Party

Commonwealth Drive’s One Last Block Party

Pile drivers, tower cranes, budding skyscrapers and pre-fabricated unit stacked atop each other – construction and urban renewal are everyday scenes of the Singapore cityscape. On the other end of the spectrum is that scene of demolition, which goes down quickly without a whimper, often rendering buildings to mere stone and sand in a few days.

Come November 2015, that iconic image of the row of flats depicted on the one-dollar note of the Orchid Series (Singapore’s first currency series issued in 1967) will be relinquished to nothing more than paper memory. Blocks 74 to 80 Commonwealth Drive were among the first public housing blocks built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). HDB took over the colonial administration’s Singapore Improvement Trust in 1960 and continued with the development of Queenstown, Singapore’s first satellite town.

74 to 80 Commonwealth Drive is the series of flats featured on the back design of the Singapore Orchid Series 1-dollar note.

74 to 80 Commonwealth Drive is the series of public housing blocks featured on the back design of the Singapore Orchid Series 1-dollar note.

These blocks are known colloquially as the Tanglin Halt chup laus (Hokkien for ten-storey flats).

These blocks are known colloquially as the Tanglin Halt chup laus (Hokkien for ten-storey flats).

The estate was announced for the Selective En Block Replacement Scheme in 2008, and residents have since relocated to their replacement flats across the road.

The estate was announced for the Selective En Block Replacement Scheme in 2008, and residents have since moved to replacement flats only across the road.

These Commonwealth Drive chup laus (Hokkien colloquial for ten-storey flats) were built between 1960 and 1967 under HDB’s first Five-Year-Programme. Dr Chia Shi-Lu, Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC (Queenstown Division) said: “Blocks 74 to 80 Commonwealth Drive were the earliest public housing flats constructed by the Housing and Development Board to alleviate overcrowding in Chinatown in the 1960s. These flats play an important role in the country’s national building.”overcrowding in Chinatown in the 1960s. These flats play an important role in the country’s national building.”

Former residents spoke highly of the estate’s kampong spirit and sense of neighbourhoodliness. Tanglin Halt resident, Alice Lee, 67, said: “My neighbours and I used to meet and go to the pasar malam along Tanglin Halt Road on Friday and Saturday nights, bargaining with the hawkers and sampling the street food. Everyone was happy to talk to you, even if you weren’t there to buy but just wanted to look and sample.”

Tanglin Halt residents recount their memories during a Queenstown trail. Alice Lee (right) was happy to share her fond memories of the pasar malam along Tanglin Halt Road.

Tanglin Halt residents recount their memories during a Queenstown trail. Alice Lee (right) was happy to share her fond memories of the pasar malam along Tanglin Halt Road.

The vacant Tanglin Halt estate sees little foot traffic except for passersby who use the estate as a shortcut between Biopolis and Commonwealth MRT Station.

The vacant Tanglin Halt estate sees little foot traffic except for passersby who use the estate as a shortcut between Biopolis and Commonwealth MRT Station.

Akther Hossan,and his colleagues continue to keep the vacant estate clean, while it awaits demolition in November 2015.

Akther Hossan and his colleagues continue to keep the vacant Tanglin Halt estate clean, while it awaits demolition in November 2015.

Tanglin Halt, like other estates of Queenstown, was planned as a self-contained town. Other than amenities like clinics, shops, markets and food centres, it was also close to the Tanglin Halt Industrial Estate. Many residents, in particular working women, worked there, and the proximity and flexibility of shift work allowed them to achieve a work-life balance.

In 2008, these flats were announced for the Selective En Bloc Replacement Scheme. Residents and business occupants began to move out of the estate to replacement flats and/or business units. Among the last to relocate was the iconic Chin Hin Eating House, a coffeeshop institution that had called 75 Commonwealth Drive home for almost 40 years. The coffeeshop rolled down its shutters for the last time on 28 February 2014.

Chin Hin Coffee Shop_3-001

Chin Hin Eating House just before its closure in 2014.

Former residents and friends of Tanglin Halt Estate will gather at the carnival on 3 October 2015 for one last block party.

Former residents and friends of Tanglin Halt Estate will gather at the full-day carnival on 3 October 2015 for one last block party.

My Community and Queenstown Citizens’ Consultative Committee have organised a carnival on 3 October to welcome all ex-residents and friends to gather for the final time. Dr Chia called this carnival a fitting tribute to her (74 to 80 Commonwealth Drive) contribution in the collective memory of Tanglin Halt residents and Singaporeans.

This carnival is a block party of a different kind where ex-residents and friends gather for one last block party. With change being the only constant in Singapore, what goes up, surely must come down.

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