The Waning Crescent of Dakota
The Housing and Development Board (HDB) recently announced that 17 blocks in Dakota Crescent have been earmarked for redevelopment. 400 affected households will have to vacate by the end of 2016.
Like Tiong Bahru, her more famous Singapore Improvement Trust cousin, Dakota Crescent is one of few estates built by HDB’s colonial predecessor to remain. Both estates are relatively low-rise and are located short distances from the city centre but that are where similarities end.
While major gentrification has taken place in Tiong Bahru with her reinvention as a hip residential enclave and café hotspot, Dakota Crescent has remained a quiet backwater – almost entirely untouched after half a century. These blocks at Dakota Crescent have hardly changed since their completion in 1958.
Most of the occupants today are elderly residents who rent the units under HDB’s Public Rental Scheme. Only 60% of the flats are occupied as many elderly residents have moved out to live with their children.
The remaining residents said that this notice to vacate has been a long time coming. They have witnessed rapid changes around their housing estate, with the opening of Dakota and Mountbatten MRT Stations in 2010, Goodman Arts Centre in 2011 across Geylang River, and the swanky new National Stadium most recently in 2014.
The story of Dakota Crescent first began when the Singapore Improvement Trust proposed to develop a community near the former Kallang Airport. The estate is closely associated to Singapore’s aviation history – it is named after the Douglas DC-3 Dakota, a model of plane that landed in Kallang Airport. The road that runs parallel to Dakota Crescent, Old Airport Road, was also the former airport’s boundary.
The old estate may be an oasis of calm but the occasional laughter can be heard from one of the last heritage playgrounds, the Dove. Located at Block 10 Dakota Crescent, the playground periodically attracts the millennial Singaporean keen to reminisce the childhood of the rubber tyre swing and sand pit.
The Dove was designed in 1979 by Khor Ean Ghee, an interior designer at HDB better known for his designs of iconic playgrounds such as the Toa Payoh’s Dragon Playground. In Singapore, sandpits and concrete surfaces have long given way to rubberised mats and plastic structures; and these playgrounds are a thing of the past.
A 54-year-old provision shop at Block 12 Dakota Crescent made news last year when it closed its shutters. The elderly owners of Tian Kee Provision Shop cited increasing competition from modern supermarkets and rising rental costs as factors to their retirement. Less than a year later, a cafeteria opened in its place, retaining the old signboard and look of the former occupant.
A Facebook page (Save Dakota Crescent) has been set up and it is worth noting the calls to conserve the Dakota Crescent estate, or at least part of it. There are many questions to how Dakota Crescent can better fit with our Singapore redevelopment model. Higher-rise blocks can be built in place to serve a rising population with a more effective population density ratio. There are also several prestigious schools in the area, which may interest young families.
Is Dakota Crescent significant and/or iconic enough? Will the conserved sections be a single block subject to adaptive reuse or just be limited to the Dove playground, like in the case of the Toa Payoh’s Dragon? Lastly, will Dakota Crescent wane, or is this the beginning of a new moon?