Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Keep Calm and Keep Drooling - Tiong Bahru Satay Man

I bumped into our famous satayman at the Redhill market this morning.

Had a quick chat with him to find out how he is doing.

Seems that he will be selling satay from Good Chance Popiah (Jalan Berseh branch) when he is ready.

He seems excited talking about his career upgrade and he just need to pass the food preparation course before he start selling there.

He said the boss of Good Chance Popiah will be putting up newspaper advertisements to inform people about the satay when they are ready. 

When asked why he did not consider Tiong Bahru market, he said the crowd at the market was not good enough according to Good Chance Popiah boss.

(Actually our satay man doesn't need a ready crowd, am sure he is heavy weight enough to pull in the people and revitalize the evening crowd at the market...oh well)

By the way, it won't be sold at the same price as before and they seems to have plans about making it into a chain and perhaps expand overseas as well.  And they will call it the Tiong Bahru Satay or something with the Tiong Bahru label.

Some of you may remember we almost lost our satay man to China a few years back when someone offered him a job there to sell satay. It's the same boss who is giving him the opportunity again.

This is also the boss who came and fetch him to NEA and help him pay the fine.

Mr Satay man also offered some insights into how he was busted 3 times for illegal hawking over a period of 2 weeks.

He claimed that on one occasion, someone set him up by ordering 400 sticks and left after eating just 1 stick. Thereafter 2 NEA enforcement officers and 2 policemen showed up.

He also mentioned a couple who heard about his plight and ordered 50 sticks of satay. And they gave him an Ang Pow to pay off his fine when they collected their satay.

So yes, our satay man is doing fine....just hoping against hope that he will reconsider setting up shop in the estate that he started serving those sinful fatty satay.

Meanwhile, keep calm and keep drooling till he get his certifications.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Business Times : Retail shakeout in Tiong Bahru

The Business Times
By Debbie Yong
14th May 2015

URA cracks down on those that use residential ground floor units for commercial purpose following complaints from the neighbourhood's residents

With rapid gentrification came a voracious demand for commercial space, luring many to lease ground floor residences under home office and showroom licences for use as retail shops. 

THEY came, they injected fresh buzz to a sleepy neighbourhood and now, they're being given the boot.

After years of flying under the radar, several businesses in Tiong Bahru estate have been asked to vacate their premises by the Urban Redevelopment Authority over the last two months, following complaints from the neighbourhood's residents.

The businesses were found to have been using residential ground floor units for commercial purpose, and were given one month to cease doing so or face enforcement action under the Planning Act, according to notices posted outside the units by the URA.

Among the businesses affected by URA's recent actions are a handful of startups and design agencies, homeware shop and studio Bloesem, apparel retailer Nana and Bird, and decade-old nail parlour and spa Hui Aesthetics, which had just spent S$30,000 to spruce up its rented unit last June.

Comprising a network of conserved low-rise housing blocks built in the 1940s and 1950s, Tiong Bahru has been undergoing a renaissance among youths, expatriates and tourists in the last five years. But with rapid gentrification also came a voracious demand for more commercial space, luring many new businesses to lease ground floor residences under home office and showroom licences for use as retail shops.

One business owner, who had to prematurely terminate the leases on two shop units, said that she received a warning letter from the URA a month ago, followed by a site inspection by several police officers last week. She vacated the units the following day.

"It was intimidating. I'm not a criminal - we're just trying to bring beautiful objects to the neighbourhood," she said.

Another affected retailer, who has been featured in several newspaper articles and guidebooks on Singapore since setting up shop in 2011, said that her two appeals to the authorities for an extension of the grace period to the end of her lease in July were both rejected. The sudden news and short notice period is particularly damaging for a small business, she said: "We're in Tiong Bahru because we can't afford to be in a shopping mall, and I'm now scrambling to find a new space, while getting in contractors to reinstate the current unit and negotiating with the landlord on terminating our lease."

When contacted, a URA spokesman said that the matter was brought to their attention by residents, and that the operators of these unauthorised commercial uses did not seek planning approval before starting, rendering them illegal. "As the premises are intended to be used for residential purposes and the uses have created disamenity to the neighbourhood, we have taken enforcement action on them."

But one retailer, who was told by the URA that residents had complained about the consequent increase in vehicular traffic, said that her store draws only 5-8 walk-in customers on weekdays, and up to 20 on weekends - a far cry from the crowds that patronise the area's many licensed eateries. More gravely, some licensed businesses have flouted conservation rules by completely augmenting the facades of the conservation units, while she had retained much of her unit's original form.

This isn't the first time that tensions have arisen between residents and new businesses in Tiong Bahru. Residents have repeatedly complained about the excessive noise, traffic pollution and the displacement of heritage trades by Western-leaning businesses that don't serve the needs of the area's aged inhabitants. The estate was also plagued by a prolonged rat infestation in 2013, which many blamed on the doubling in the number of neighbourhood eateries to about 30 over the last five years.

The URA and Housing Board have since been turning down some new applications to turn shop premises into eateries in recent years.

Tan Chiew Ling, co-owner of Nana and Bird, feels that better change can be enacted through dialogue. "If Singapore wants to champion local businesses and creativity, it cannot be done via a top-down approach and without a platform for discussion. We hope that residents and business owners can be brought together to tackle complaints, find solutions and discuss better ways to happily co-exist."

Chris Hooi, chairman of a residential task force convened in 2013 by the area's Member of Parliament Indranee Rajah, said that while some progress has been made, "it will take a while to facilitate a balance between the two sides". "Tiong Bahru is not a new estate where you can easily plug in new things, like new carparks and large refuse centres."

Pino de Giosa, an antique dealer drawn to Tiong Bahru's distinctly local yet genteel vibe, hoped that the authorities would allow a "limited spectrum" of non-intrusive businesses, such as art galleries and boutique concepts, to operate within residential units, rather than adhere to a blanket rule.

Other business owners, however, hoped for more consistency in the URA's enforcement of its zoning and licensing rules.

According to the URA website, property owners may apply for a change of use for their properties, but approvals will be assessed against the zoning rules in the URA's 2014 Masterplan and should "not cause any inconvenience or disturbance to the community in the area".

Ground floor residential units in Tiong Bahru range from 800 sq ft to 1,400 sq ft and typically command sales prices of S$1.2 million to S$1.8 million or some S$6,000 in monthly rental - a 50 per cent premium over upper floor units. Commercial units, particularly those approved for F&B use, can go for double.

As to whether the exodus of these unlicensed businesses will dent the neighbourhood's appeal, SLP international executive director Nicholas Mak said that it would depend on two factors: the number of shops affected, and the size of their following.

The general increase in rents and sale prices in the area is due to many other factors, such as its popular wet market and food centre and its proximity to the MRT network and the central business district, he said. "In the end, it is the authorised businesses that are really giving the revamped Tiong Bahru its current flavour, not just the unauthorised."

Recalling a similar phenomenon where errant property agents would market industrial units for commercial use some years back, Mr Mak further cautioned potential tenants of commercial units to do their relevant checks with authorities on their appropriate use before signing on a lease. "Tenants should not go in blindly, landlords should be aware and agents should not misrepresent. The three parties need to share some responsibility."

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Straits Times : First heritage survey gives conservation efforts a boost

The Straits Times
By Melody Zaccheus
7th may 2015

Comprehensive study of existing sites will also aid Govt in land planning

The first survey of Singapore's heritage sites and structures will kick off within "the next two months", a move that could help the authorities map out its conservation and preservation efforts. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

THE first survey of Singapore's heritage sites and structures will kick off within "the next two months", a move that could help the authorities map out its conservation and preservation efforts.

The project, which will be a comprehensive study of existing heritage sites, will also aid the Government in its land planning and take about 16 months to complete.

The survey will study places of architectural, historical, cultural, social or educational significance, and include sites or structures completed in or before 1980.

The effort, announced by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong in March, is expected to cost approximately $1 million and will have two components, said the National Heritage Board (NHB).

The first involves "desktop research" that will tap maps, newspaper records, archival material and other publications to consolidate data about a place.

The second involves field work that will document and photograph the geographic coordinates, typology and physical condition of the structure or site.

If information is limited, interviews with the community and other stakeholders will be conducted.

The board will use its findings to work with the Urban Redevelopment Authority at each stage of land planning. This includes the 10-year Concept Plan or the five-year Master Plan. Significant buildings and structures identified through the survey could undergo further research for possible preservation or conservation.

NHB chief executive Rosa Daniel said the exercise is a step forward in enhancing the country's capabilities in research, documentation and commemoration.

"As Singapore's population grows, it is important to ensure that, in tandem with intensified development, there are increased efforts to preserve our heritage," she said.

The NHB said it adapted the heritage survey from similar ones done in other cities. It cited Hong Kong's 1996 survey in which over 8,800 historic buildings built before 1950 were identified. This was followed by in-depth research and assessment to identify buildings of heritage value.

Singapore's version will be guided by members of a newly formed eight-member Heritage Advisory Panel comprising architecture, geography, sociology, anthropology and history experts.

They include Professor Brenda Yeoh, dean of the National University of Singapore's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences; Mr Eric Chin, the director of the National Archives of Singapore; and Mr Zahidi Abdul Rahman, principal architect of Zahidi A.R. Arkitek.

The heritage community welcomed the survey as it represents the first step towards a more long-term strategic plan for heritage issues.

Dr Kevin Tan, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Singapore, said that for the survey to be effective, the criteria for what constitutes a heritage building should be "crafted as widely as possible". For it to be truly comprehensive, he believes surveyors should comb every square metre of the Republic.

Heritage enthusiast and editor Choo Lip Sin believes the survey will help the authorities make more informed decisions. He hopes there will be space for public input to be factored into the exercise, "beyond what the authorities value as heritage".

A separate survey on the country's intangible heritage, spanning cultural activities and traditional trades or businesses, will be launched at the end of the year.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Sunday Times : Home, a quiet SIT flat in a peaceful estate

The Sunday Times
By Rachel Tan
3rd May 2015


Mr Donald Wyatt, 80, outside his home in Tiong Poh Road, where he has lived since 1942. (Left inset) Mr Wyatt, on the right, with his older brotherGeorge at the flat in 1950. (Right inset) Mr Wyatt in the top row, second from left, with his football team - The Barefoot Football Team - in 1948
Mr Donald Wyatt has stayed in the same four-room apartment in Tiong Bahru since he was seven. He is now 80.

Born in colonial Malaya, Mr Wyatt and his family came to Singapore in 1942. 

His mother was a nurse while his father was a teacher.

Two months after arriving in Singapore, they moved into a Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flat along Tiong Poh Road, where he has lived ever since.

"During the Japanese Occupation, life was very quiet in Tiong Bahru," said Mr Wyatt. 

"Many people did not venture out into the streets."

In the 1950s, while Tiong Bahru was properly maintained by the municipality, slums ringed the estate.

"They were terrible," said Mr Wyatt, who worked for the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Association as the manager of its regional secretariat for Asia, before retiring in 1999.

"The slums were the breeding ground for many diseases, including tuberculosis and malaria. They were overcrowded and appalling."

Tiong Bahru was one of the first places where the colonial government built SIT flats in the 1930s. 

At first, the Wyatts rented their flat for $20 a month. 

Mr Wyatt bought it in 1967 for $19,000.

This week in 1965, the authorities were encouraging tenants of the SIT flats to buy them, using easy payment terms.

Mr Wyatt lives there now with his wife and youngest son, 29. He has four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

He recalls visiting the Tiong Bahru Market in the 1940s with his aunt and grandmother, when it was just a crowded collection of makeshift stalls. 

"The food sold there was provided by locals who planted their own vegetables and reared pigs," he said.

Today the SIT flats of Tiong Bahru give the leafy estate its distinct look, the market is an established landmark for local fare, and hipster cafes, restaurants and boutiques have arrived in recent years bringing crowds of visitors.

"I can live with it," said Mr Wyatt, who prefers the new Tiong Bahru to the one of his childhood. 

"It's very peaceful. 

The old Tiong Bahru was more disorganised."

Asked if he has ever thought of moving, he responded with a laugh: "Not really. 

There are too many memories here."


Friday, January 30, 2015

The Straits Times : Do S'pore neighbourhoods risk death by cappuccino?

The Straits Times
By Pow Choon Piew
30th January 2015
Trendy cafes have popped up in older estates, such as Tiong Bahru. Gentrification need not be a zero-sum game that pits "winners" (gentrified newcomers) against "losers" (older residents and business owners). With proactive planning and careful management, inclusive forms of gentrification may be possible. -- ST FILE PHOTO 

BY ALL accounts, gentrification should not exist in Singapore, at least not in the conventional sense of the term, which refers to the displacement of a lower-income population from a neighbourhood by new groups of middle and upper class residents.

With an often-lauded public housing programme that accommodates more than 80 per cent of the population in Singapore, the story of residential displacement and eviction due to the vagaries of gentrification "turf wars" seems remote in the city-state.

It is not surprising, then, that gentrification as a term has seldom been invoked in the context of Singapore, be it in official planning documents or academic literature. State housing provision, it is assumed, has provided an effective buffer that keeps gentrification at bay.

But is this starting to change?

In recent years, gentrification has begun to find its way into public discussions, driven by the buoyant real estate market that has seen property prices in some neighbourhoods rising by leaps and bounds.

Last July, the My Community heritage group organised a public symposium on "Queenstown Dilemma: Gentrification Inevitable?", with the aim of fostering debate on how "to improve the community in a way that does not force people out".

Arguably, whether gentrification is occurring in Singapore depends on how the term is defined. To be sure, the meaning of gentrification itself has evolved over time to reflect changing urban dynamics and different property regimes around the world.

For example, distinctions may be drawn between residential and commercial forms of gentrification, the latter referring to the displacement of "traditional" businesses from an urban area due to rent increases.

More recently, the definition of gentrification has also been extended to include upscale office and residential complexes that are built on formerly vacant land and brownfield sites.

So, does this mean that Singapore is facing gentrification?

Going by the broadened definition of gentrification, urban renewal in Singapore during the 1960s undertaken by state agencies, such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority, can be considered as a form of state-led "new build gentrification" that has entailed the relocation of urban populations away from the inner city to new suburban housing estates.

In a similar vein, the "en bloc fever" in many prime neighbourhoods over the past decade can also be seen as a form of property market-led gentrification.

In recent years, commercial forms of gentrification have also made inroads into suburban areas and the HDB heartland such as Jalan Besar, Tiong Bahru and Kampong Glam, where new cafes offering speciality coffees, upmarket bakeries and "indie" shops have rapidly taken over old business establishments, in the process transforming the social-spatial fabric of these places.

A Knight Frank report on "upscale" gentrified neighbourhoods around the world lists Tiong Bahru as one of the top 10 urban markets to watch this year, alongside places such as London's Victoria Park, Hong Kong's Kowloon West and Williamsburg in New York.

Will Singapore's neighbourhoods suffer "death by cappuccino" as more and more such yuppie establishments take root?

Already, we are seeing signs of gentrification fatigue in some of these neighbourhoods. In Tiong Bahru, for example, a walk around the estate readily reveals trendy cafes and chic eateries offering more or less the same fare popping up at the turn of every corner, making one wonder just how many more of such businesses the neighbourhood needs. Even many of these cafe owners are now complaining of "gentrification" by newcomers.

While it is true some of these establishments have injected new life into ageing estates, and some residents may even welcome such changes as they may lead to appreciation in property values, we need to be cautious that these new developments do not excessively drive up the daily cost of living or alter the local identity and heritage of these neighbourhoods to the point that they yield negative net effects in the long run.

Having said that, gentrification need not be a zero-sum game that pits "winners" (gentrified newcomers) against "losers" (older residents and business owners).

With proactive planning and careful management, inclusive forms of gentrification may be possible.

Research has shown that gentrification does not always lead to dismal outcomes, but may, in some cases, improve the living environment and increase employment opportunities.

In a study on New York City, where gentrification forces have been considered to be especially rife, it was found that poor households residing in gentrifying neighbourhoods, such as Harlem, were actually less likely to move away, and that gentrification per se did not cause displacement any more than other factors that result in "normal" residential turnover; though it has to be qualified that proactive planning interventions such as rent regulation are necessary for this to happen.

As Singapore becomes increasingly globalised and cosmopolitan, with neighbourhoods being rapidly transformed in tandem, debates on gentrification are no longer academic but will, in many ways, reflect the kinds of city and urban environment that we want to live in. It is, perhaps, a timely reminder for planners not to place unbridled faith in relying on market forces to find the "right" social mix by allocating spaces only to the highest bidders.

Planners will need to be more interventionist in creating more inclusive forms of urban development. This can be done only if they take seriously the needs and lifestyle aspirations of diverse groups of residents on the ground and consider the building of vibrant local neighbourhoods and communities at the core of their planning mission.


The writer is an associate professor of geography at the National University of Singapore.

Friday, January 9, 2015

We need a health check for the Estate

Straits Times dated 9th January 2015

This is one of the side effect if short term rentals is allowed.

Unlike gated private condo, Tiong Bahru Estate is rather porous. It would be tough to trace who is residing here.

Given today's volatile security climate, it would make a very ideal hideout.

It is time the land owner, the HDB, exert some authority and start demanding Lessee update them on who their tenants are, just like how they are managing the Post War HDB side.

Even owners of private properties are obligated to update their MCST when they put in new tenants, otherwise the tenants would be denied entry.

At the moment, the Pre-War side is slowly turning into a cowboy estate.

Rogue companies and landlords blatantly run service apartments out from these flats. Some apartments even have 3 additional en-suite toilets in the heavily partitioned apartments. Housekeeping is always done after office hours to avoid detection.

Of late, food retailers are also joining the GREY bandwagon by turning residential properties into retail outlets.

Legally, Hdb doesn't allow units to be converted from residential to commercial space but the mantra seems to be See no Evil, Hear No Evil and Speak no Evil.

As long as the permit doesn't come to their inbox, everything in Tiong Bahru "appear" to be running smoothly and efficiently.

This denial is almost like someone who did the health check ten years ago and still think he is healthy today.

How much rot must the genuine homeowner take before something is done?

It's time someone working in the ivory tower takes a regular stroll around the estate....after office hours included.
Please help us make this a great place to live in.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Straits Times : Life before HDB: What was the Singapore Improvement Trust?

The Straits Times (Web Specials)
By Yeo Sam Jo

24th December 2014

SINGAPORE - Five old housing blocks in Tiong Bahru are being given a new lease of life, even though they were earmarked for demolition almost 20 years ago.

From next year, Blocks 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 on Tiong Bahru Road will be rented to couples waiting for their new flats, under the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme.

These blocks were built by the now-defunct Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT).

They were selected for the Housing Development Board's (HDB) Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme in 1995, but have been spared the wrecking balls, and are currently being retrofitted.

Here are five things to know about the SIT and the flats that it built:

1. The SIT saved the day, back in the day

A street hawker at the Singapore Improvement Trust flats in Tiong Bahru on Sept 12, 1961. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

The SIT was set up in July 1927, under the Singapore Improvement Ordinance, to solve the serious housing shortage then faced by a rapidly growing population.

Many of the 23,000 flats it built were in areas such as Tiong Bahru and Old Airport Road.

The SIT was dissolved in 1959, and its successor, the HDB, took over in February 1960.

2. Flats were designed with the weather in mind

A Singapore Improvement Trust block at Tiong Bahru Road on Dec 18, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SIT architects were conscious of the fact that Singapore was close to the equator, with warm temperatures and high humidity.

Hence, SIT flats were built for tropical living, frequently featuring high ceilings, large windows and open, cantilevered balconies. Each flat had two to six rooms.

Land scarcity was also less of a concern back then, so these walk-up blocks tend to be under 10 storeys high, without any lifts.

3. Block designs borrow from the then-aesthetics du jour

A crowd gathers at a Singapore Improvement Trust flat in Upper Pickering Street in 1956. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Block facades and staircases often bear the distinctive curved forms of the Art Deco movement, which were popular during the 1920s and 1930s.

Some blocks also take on the Modernist tendencies of the Bauhaus era, as well as the International Style of highrise flats in a post-Modern vein.

4. Look lower and you might still spot some SIT blocks

Blocks of Singapore Improvement Trust flats at Kampong Silat, Silat Avenue. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

There are currently 138 SIT blocks left standing in Singapore.

They range from two to seven storeys, and are located in Bukit Merah, Queenstown, Geylang and Kallang Whampoa.

About 35 per cent of them, or 48 blocks, are pending redevelopment. The rest are either being conserved, or there are no plans for them.

5. These blocks are old, but certainly not useless

Singapore Improvement Trust blocks (foreground) at Tiong Bahru Road on Dec 18, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Blocks 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 Tiong Bahru Road are not the only SIT blocks currently put to interim use.

Three of them, Blocks 2, 3 and 7 on Short Street and Prinsep Street, are leased to educational institutions as student hostels.

Source: Straits Times archives, HDB