The Waning Crescent of Dakota

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.

Many changes have occurred in the surroundings of the quiet Dakota Crescent estate. Mountbatten MRT Station (on the right) was opened in 2010 while Goodman Arts Centre (in the background) was established in 2011.

Many changes have occurred in the surroundings of Dakota. Mountbatten MRT Station (on the right) was opened in 2010 while Goodman Arts Centre (in the background) was established in 2011.

Many of the occupants in this estate are elderly residents.

Many of the occupants in this estate are elderly residents.

Mobility is a challenge for these elderly residents, as the lifts do not stop on every storey.

Mobility is a challenge for these elderly residents, as the lifts do not stop on every storey.

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.

Many flats are already vacated as the residents have moved out to live with their children.

Many flats are already vacated as the residents have moved out to live with their children. Some have also passed on.

Some residents have said that the broken or missing window panels are acts of mischief that have occurred in their neighbourhood.

Some residents have said that the broken or missing window panels are acts of mischief that were committed in their neighbourhood.

With an old estate’s sense of tranquility, it is hard to imagine that Dakota Crescent is only ten minutes away from the city.

With an old estate’s sense of tranquility, it is hard to imagine that Dakota Crescent is only ten minutes away from the city.

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.

Plans to develop the Kallang area into Singapore’s equivalent of London’s Hyde Park reported in a The Straits Times article dated 11 March 1955.

Plans to develop the Kallang area into Singapore’s equivalent of London’s Hyde Park reported in a ‘The Straits Times’ article dated 11 March 1955.

A Dakota DC-3 plane of the newly formed Malayan Airways at Kallang Airport, circa 1947.

A Dakota DC-3 plane of the newly formed Malayan Airways at Kallang Airport, circa 1947.

A cat sets its tongue wagging at the Dove, one of our last playgrounds of the past to remain.

Tongues are wagging at the Dove, one of our last playgrounds of the past to remain.

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.

One wonders if this Dove playground will follow the example of Toa Payoh’s Dragon to be conserved amidst the estate’s redevelopment.

Will the Dove playground follow the example of Toa Payoh’s Dragon to be conserved amidst the estate’s redevelopment.

(Top) Tian Kee in 2014: a hip cafeteria. (Bottom) Tian Kee in 2013: a 54-year-old provision shop.

(Top) Tian Kee in 2014: a hip cafeteria. (Bottom) Tian Kee in 2013: a 54-year-old provision shop.

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?

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