Friday, April 19, 2013

The Business Times : KepLand's top bid sets new high for housing land

The Business Times
Kalpana Rashiwala
Published April 19, 2013
It bids $1,162.86 psf ppr for 99-year private housing site in Kim Tian Road

[SINGAPORE] A new high has been set for 99-year private housing land offered at a state tender.
The $1,162.86 per square foot per plot ratio (psf ppr) top bid from Keppel Land unit Harvestland Development for a plum site in Kim Tian Road was above expectations.
It also surpassed the previous high of $1,107.80 psf ppr that Far East Organization paid last August for a small plot next to Lutheran Towers along Farrer Road.
KepLand topped yesterday's tender for the plot near Tiong Bahru MRT Station and Tiong Bahru Plaza with a $550.28 million bid. This was 7.2 per cent more than the $513.33 million or $1,084.78 psf ppr from a Far East group-Sekisui partnership. The third highest bid, from a City Developments-led consortium, was $1,016.67 psf ppr. There were 11 bids in all.
Noting that the top three bids were above $1,000 psf ppr, SLP International executive director Nicholas Mak said that "some developers are still very bullish on the middle-high-end residential market segment, especially if there is limited new supply in that location".
KepLand's bid was 3.86 times what MCL Land paid for the previous 99-year private housing site sold by the state in the vicinity a decade ago - in March 2003. MCL paid $301 psf ppr for its site, which it has since developed into the MeraPrime condo. That tender had drawn 12 bids.
For the Kim Tian plot, property consultants had predicted bids of about $850-950 psf ppr when it was launched in late-February by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
CBRE associate director Desmond Sim notes that the site's proximity to the Tiong Bahru MRT station and established amenities outweighed the site's building restrictions.
These include maximum heights of 25, 30 and 40 storeys for different sections of the site and a maximum of 500 homes due to traffic issues in the locality. There is also a requirement for a basement carpark, which is more costly compared with a multi-storey carpark.
Market watchers' estimates of KepLand's breakeven cost range from $1,660 psf to $1,800 psf, with some suggesting that the group could be looking at an average selling price of around $2,000 psf.
They see KepLand taking the cue from Echelon, located near Redhill MRT Station, one stop away. Echelon's developer, City Developments, sold units at median prices of $1,836 psf and $1,832 psf in March and February respectively, according to URA data.
Meanwhile, the 500 homes stipulated for the Kim Tian project implies an average unit size of around 946 sq ft. Assuming a price of $2,000 psf, the average unit in the development would be priced around $1.9 million. This would be on the high side for a condo outside the Core Central Region that is targeted at the HDB upgrader market.
Still, Mr Sim argues that KepLand might be right in being optimistic, given the relatively high prices for HDB resale flats in the vicinity.
According to PropNex Realty CEO Mohamed Ismail, sellers of five-room HDB flats on high floors in the Kim Tian location are asking for well above $900,000. "For executive flats at Queenstown, two MRT stops away, sellers are asking for $1 million," he added.
KepLand president (Singapore) Tan Swee Yiow said: "We are confident that we will see positive demand from homeowners who aspire to own a top quality home in the CBD's fringe. . . Tiong Bahru is an established residential estate which is well-connected by public transportation and well-served by a wide range of facilities and amenities."
The Kim Tian site, in addition to being a stone's throw away from Tiong Bahru MRT Station on the East-West Line, will be 500 metres from the planned Havelock Station on the Thomson Line.
KepLand envisages a project with about 500 homes ranging from 500 sq ft to 1,350 sq ft in one to four-bedroom configurations.
"A wide range of shopping, dining and leisure amenities are a stone's throw away at Tiong Bahru Plaza, Tiong Bahru Food Centre, Tiong Bahru Conservation Area and Great World City," the group said.
Other bidders at yesterday's tender included CapitaLand unit Areca Investment which offered $993.42 psf ppr. Placing an identical bid was a tie-up between UOL Venture Investments and Kheng Leong Co.
Low Keng Huat partnered Sun Venture Homes for a $953.06 psf ppr bid. Wing Tai and Metro teamed up to bid $944.37 psf ppr. Frasers Centrepoint unit FCL Place bid $930 psf ppr.
Placing the lowest bid was Asset Legend, at $608.21 psf ppr.


The Straits Times : Record bid of $550m for plum Tiong Bahru housing site

The Straits Times
By Melissa Tan
19th April 2013

AN ALL-IN bidding battle among 11 developers for a plum plot in Tiong Bahru ended up smashing price records for a residential site.

The land in Kim Tian Road drew a top bid of $550.28 million, or $1,163 per sq ft (psf) per plot ratio (ppr), from Keppel Land's Harvestland Development.

That is the highest price per square foot ever tendered for a purely residential site in the Government Land Sales (GLS) programme. It beat the old record set last August when Far East Organization offered $1,108 psf ppr, or $45.8 million, for a small Farrer Road site.

It also trumped analysts' predictions that the top bid would not exceed $920 psf ppr with no more than 10 bidders in the fray.

At over half a billion dollars, the total amount is also among the largest sums ever bid for a GLS residential site.

The next two bids also went through the roof - a Far East Organization-led consortium offered $1,085 psf ppr, or $513.3 million, while a City Developments-led group put up $1,017 psf ppr, or $481.1 million.

While experts were surprised at the sheer size of the bids, they noted that developers are fighting tooth and nail to get well-located sites near MRT stations and to boost their land banks.

The fact that three of the 11 tenders were above the $1,000 psf ppr mark "indicates that some developers are still very bullish on the middle to high-end residential market segment", said SLP International research head Nicholas Mak.

The bullish top bid for the 99-year leasehold site comes despite government efforts to reduce land prices, including offering more sites for tender and having tenders for multiple sites close on the same day.

The plot is 118,302 sq ft with a maximum gross floor area of 473,214 sq ft. The number of homes is capped at 500, due to traffic considerations.

Analysts noted that Tiong Bahru, a city-fringe heritage estate with art deco-style houses, has been revitalised in recent years by hip eateries and boutique retail outlets. It is also very near Orchard Road and the Central Business District.

DWG senior manager Lee Sze Teck said the developer could tap pent-up demand in Tiong Bahru considering that the last major project launch there was The Regency At Tiong Bahru, a freehold 158-unit condominium, in 2006.

There has also been a limited supply of new residential plots.

CBRE Research associate director Desmond Sim noted that GLS sites in Tiong Bahru have been few and far between.

The most recent one sold in March 2003 and was developed into the Meraprime condo.

Keppel Land said it plans to develop the Kim Tian Road site into about 500 homes, ranging from 500 sq ft to 1,350 sq ft in one- to four-bedroom configurations.

It will be its first project in Tiong Bahru, said Keppel Land's president for Singapore, Mr Tan Swee Yiow, in a statement.

Mr Mak said Keppel Land is expected to incur higher than usual building costs due to site regulations and restrictions. These include varying maximum building heights. Some buildings will be capped at six storeys, some at 25, some at 30 and some at 40.

Mr Mak estimates the break-even cost at $1,740 to $1,800 psf while DWG's Mr Lee puts it at between $1,500 and $1,550 psf with sale prices at $1,800 to $1,850 psf.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Straits Times : An estate steeped in history

The Straits Times
By Melody Zaccheus
15th April 2013

The new Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail has plenty of stories to share

Bird owners with their cages at the Tiong Bahru Bird Singing Competition yesterday near the bird corner, part of the heritage trail. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

THESE days, it is an upmarket enclave where yuppies sip cappuccinos.

Yet Tiong Bahru's past is colourful and chock-full of nostalgia, heritage and history.

Back in the 1950s, the area was referred to as 'the den of beauties'.  Its post-war buildings housed mistresses of wealthy Chinese businessmen and pipa girls - a euphemism for prostitutes.

There were also cabaret dancers who performed at the nearby Great World Amusement Park.

This was just one of the historical nuggets shared yesterday with about 1,000 participants at the launch of the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail. Long-time residents who volunteered to be guides related their experiences at the event, organised by the National Heritage Board.

The Tiong Bahru trail, the 11th to be launched so far, spans 2.5km. It covers 10 stops including the grave of philanthropist Tan Tock Seng, Seng Poh Garden and its Dancing Girl Sculpture and the pre- and post-war architecture of the estate.

Tanjong Pagar MP Indranee Rajah said the trail would give members of the community better understanding and appreciation of the estate's rich heritage.

'Whether you are a resident who has been living in the estate for decades, or someone who has moved in recently, this trail offers a greater insight into the history of Tiong Bahru, charting its milestones through the war and commemorating memorable sites that hold a significant place in the hearts of many.'

Mr Roney Tan - a descendent of philanthropist Tan Tock Seng - said he is glad that his ancestor's grave at Outram Road is part of the trail, and hopes that it signifies better things to come.

The 56-year-old businessman added: 'I hope that the site will be earmarked for preservation. After all, not many graves of our pioneers are left in Singapore. Tan Tock Seng for one, contributed heavily to the Chinese community during his lifetime and he serves as a role model in philanthropy.'

Lawyer Chia Yong Yong, 50, who took part in the heritage trail, said: 'It's amazing that Tiong Bahru has managed to retain its old-world charm even as it has gradually become a modern residential area.'

The trail costs $2 and members of the public can sign up at this website: The proceeds will go to the Tanjong Pagar- Tiong Bahru Community Development Welfare Fund.

The guided tour will take place every first Saturday of the month at 10am and 3pm, starting next month.

Participants can also sign up for a separate tour of an air raid shelter built in 1940 - the only one erected by the Singapore Improvement Trust as part of the design of a public housing building.

Tours begin in June and will take place every two months, on the first Saturday of the month at 12pm and 2pm.

Ms Indranee said the architecture of the neighbourhood is 'evocative of a certain era'.

With news surfacing two weeks ago that Singapore had launched a bid to get the Botanic Gardens listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, heritage buffs have been debating the possibility of nominating Tiong Bahru and the Bukit Brown cemetery for a place on the list.

As it is, the Singapore Improvement Trust Art Deco flats of Tiong Bahru were given conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2003.

Ms Indranee said the criteria to become a Unesco heritage site is quite stringent: 'I don't know at the current time if Tiong Bahru actually meets that criteria and I think further research has to be done.

'If it does meet the criteria, I think it will be a wonderful nomination - because the unique character of the place makes it special not just to the residents here but to all Singaporeans.'

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Sunday Times : In search of Singapore's past

The Sunday Times14th April 2013
By Jennani Durai

Young Singaporeans are responding to the rapid pace of change by documenting lost places and memories

Nostalgia has surged of late in Singapore, if the recent proliferation of heritage projects, stores and eateries harking back to bygone days is anything to go by.

Against a backdrop of the very prominent closure of longstanding landmarks such as the Bukit Brown cemetery and the Tanjong Pagar Railway station, as well as aggressive documentation efforts by the National Heritage Board, a groundswell of nostalgic feelings from Singaporeans has arisen.

Books, films, apps and photo exhibitions documenting the past and chronicling changes in Singapore have flourished. Film-maker Roystan Tan, for example, has released Old Places (2010) and Old Romances (2012), two documentaries recording the sights and recollections of an older time. Heritage blogger Lam Chun See last year compiled several entries from his blog Good Morning Yesterday into a book of the same title.

Meanwhile, stores that evoke the past with their merchandise and decor, such as childhood memorabilia store The Damn Good Shop in Maxwell Road and eatery Old School Delights in Upper Thomson Road, have also popped up and proved popular.

Experts suggest the recent surge in interest may be a reflection of the stage Singapore is in as a society, immediately following a phase of accelerated growth and change.

Mr Alvin Tan, 40, director of the National Heritage Board, says: "Perhaps we have reached a stage of maturity in our national development where we start to feel nostalgic for aspects of our heritage that were eroded or lost during the recent decades."

The recent groundswell of interest in Singapore's heritage could be "attributed to our need for visible and tangible markers, such as landmarks, as well as shared memories and experiences to anchor ourselves in times of change as we attempt to define what makes us Singaporeans", he adds.

Historian Chua Ai Lin agrees, saying that the phenomenon is "a response to the pace of change".

"Much like elderly people who don't want to leave the house anymore because they don't recognise things around them, when things are changing too fast, we want to hang on to a few things we feel comfortable with - and that's what this surge of nostalgia is about," says Dr Chua, who is in her 30s and is vice-president of the Singapore Heritage Society.

Dr Hui Yew-Foong of the Institute of South-east Asian Studies believes that the recent surge in interest in heritage can be largely attributed to two things.

"Demographically, a generation of Singaporeans who have grown up with Singapore have reached an age where they are more likely to reminisce about the past and feel more keenly the changes that Singapore has undergone," says the academic, who conducts research on cemeteries and Chinese cultural heritage in Singapore.

He and his team are documenting about 5,000 graves at Bukit Brown Cemetery where a road is slated to cut through.

At the same time, the growth of social media platforms has also allowed a discourse of nostalgia to develop further, he adds.

Dr Chua agrees and adds that the emergence of nostalgia blogs and Facebook groups, and more seniors learning how to share pictures and stories over the Internet, have meant that "people inspire one another to share their memories".

"When people see something they recognise from the past online, they think 'I remember that too!' or 'I have a similar photo!'," she says. "This platform for interaction is very, very important. When people share this publicly, they provide an information resource for everyone who didn't live through it."

The proliferation of heritage projects now may also be fuelled by a sense of regret at not having appreciated things that are no longer around, says naval architect and heritage photographer Jerome Lim, 48.

Mr Lim, who was approached by the National Heritage Board to showcase his photographs of the old Tanjong Pagar Railway Station before it closed, and who recently launched a series of photographs on Singapore's five-foot-ways, says he began documenting old places as he regrets "not having captured all the things that have changed".

"I was struck by a sense that a lot of places in my memories have vanished," he says. "So now, I feel an urgency to capture these remaining places."

Cafe owner Olivia Teo, 39, who opened eatery Old School Delights with her brother three years ago, says she has been stunned by the overwhelming reaction from customers to the "old-school" interior and details in her cafe.

"We certainly didn't expect customers to get so excited about the five stones, erasers and old card games such as Happy Family, Donkey and Old Maid in our toy boxes which we place at every table in our eatery," she says.

Such nostalgic memorabilia triggers a universal reaction in customers, she adds.

"I never fail to be amazed by the responses and comments we get on our Facebook page whenever we post nostalgic pictures, from an old-fashioned Toyota cab to old school toys, to our heritage buildings such as the Van Cleef Aquarium or the National Theatre," she says. "This just shows how much people reminisce about the past and get sentimental about it."

Dr Hui, 40, says the recent surge in nostalgia "bodes well for Singapore", a nation which turns 48 this year.

"As we approach 50 in a couple of years, it is important to ask and know who we are," he says. "This national soul-searching will strengthen us as a people and help us to stand on the global stage not only as an economic entity, but also as a cultural entity."

Do you have memories of old Singapore you wish to share? Write to

Tiong Bahru
Virtual tours of forgotten places
Mr Lester Lai (left), director of Smap Agency, a company which creates Google virtual tours, at the air raid shelter at Block 78 Guan Chuan Street in Tiong Bahru. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Mr Lester Lai first noticed that Tiong Bahru was changing on his regular strolls around his neighbourhood, known for its pre- and post-war conservation flats.

"When I moved in four years ago, there were a lot of old shops," says Mr Lai, 34, chief executive of an agency that creates Google-linked virtual tours for businesses.

"I used to walk around and got to know the shopkeepers. Then it started to become hip and the old shop owners got bought out, and it lost a lot of its charm."

He then started to understand "why so many of us feel like we are losing the feel of 'home'."

With that in mind, when he launched his company Smap Agency this year, which uses Google's Street View technology and high-definition still photographs to create its 360-degree tours, he added a heritage arm to it.

The agency launched a virtual tour of the Army Market in Beach Road. Last month, it started to map the Tiong Bahru air raid shelters and Thieves' Market in Sungei Road for new virtual maps.

Mr Lai says that capturing vanishing places was one of the first things on his mind when he got hold of Google's technology. The National Heritage Board collaborated with his agency to create the heritage virtual tours.

He feels strongly about documenting places like these because of what he saw happen in his own neighbourhood, and the direction he feels the country is heading in.

"The resurgence of nostalgia is because everything is so new, so there's a craving for the old," he says. "When it gets too new, you lose your identity.

People who grew up here lose a lot of their childhood. They can't visit places they used to go to."

The high-definition virtual maps his company creates enable panoramic and interactive tours of locations. Like the Army Market tour, those of heritage sites will be free to view. "We'll soon have them on our website and people can search for them, share them and put them on their Facebook pages," he says.

The former investment banker, who lived in Toronto for 15 years after national service because his family had moved there, says he returned seven years ago because he missed Singapore and felt it was more vibrant.

"I've been lucky here and made a lot of good friends," says Mr Lai, who is married to a Japanese housewife and has two children, a two-year-old son and a nine- month-old daughter.

"That's what will keep me here but the constant change and demolition of places is sad. It's just sad to see things go."
His playgrounds are gone
When writer Justin Zhuang's map of old playgrounds in Singapore became a viral hit three years ago, he was shocked by the positive response.

"I didn't expect it to get so many views," he says. "I think the subject matter resonated with people."

The map of 19 retro playgrounds across the island, posted online in February 2010, has since received nearly 80,000 views.

Last year, Zhuang was commissioned by the National Heritage Board to put together a free e-book, Mosaic Memories, on the history of Singapore's old playgrounds. It is available on the Singapore Memory Project's website.

Now, the 29-year-old has embarked on a new project, similarly related to childhood - an e-book on the history of about 100 school crests in Singapore. It is slated to be published later this year.

Zhuang, who owns writing studio In Plain Words and is one of the editors of visual culture publication The Design Society Journal, says he was able to interview the creators of more than 300 school crests through the Ministry of Education Heritage Centre, which had contacted him after seeing Mosaic Memories.

His interest in school crests was born out of a natural curiosity about the tales behind visuals, he says. "School crests, to me, tell stories by themselves and are often doorways to more stories."

He came up with a classification system for the crests, grouping them into three categories: Colonial Heraldry, Chinese schools and Modern.

Schools that took their crests from historical coats of arms, such as Raffles Institution, fell into the first category, while schools with traditionally Chinese insignia or symbols were grouped into the second.

"All the Chinese school crests feature triangle shapes in some way, for a reason I haven't been able to pin down yet. So it's still a fascinating process of exploration," he says.

Modern school crests, the category all the other schools fall into, typically incorporate the school's initials in some way and include pictures that symbolise progress or the future.

"If you see a globe in a crest, that school started in the 2000s," says Zhuang, who has spent six months researching and writing the book so far.

One school, Evergreen Primary, even has a CD-Rom on its crest, he says with a smile. "But you can't blame them. In the 1990s, when that school started, a CD- Rom must have seemed revolutionary."

He also spoke to art teachers past and present, as they were usually the ones tasked with designing their school's crest, to find out what they represented.
He says his interest in untold stories began in 2008, after returning from a six-month exchange stint in the United States as an undergraduate in communication studies at the Nanyang Technological University.

He says: "In the US, I started feeling very displaced among people who had no idea where I came from. As I struggled to tell people what Singapore is, I realised that maybe I didn't know either."

Upon returning home, he began going on heritage tours organised by various groups, including the Singapore Heritage Society. "I was introduced to social, personal and family histories not taught in school and I realised there were stories there. Searching for underlying histories made Singapore interesting to me," he says.

He agrees that heritage has become a buzzword of sorts of late, with the National Museum and National Heritage Board aggressively launching initiatives to capture the public's interest.

"I think many people my age have a nostalgia for a past we have never lived through, in the 1960s and 1970s," he says. "A lot of it is trendy but it is also because we grew up in a city where things are changing too fast."

He adds: "I'm not that old, but the playgrounds I grew up with don't exist any more."


App for heritage trails
Mr Kwek Li Yong (right), founder of MyCommunity, and Mr Jasper Tan, vice-president of MyCommunity, a group of young people who are developing heritage mobile apps for various housing estates. -- ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
They do not live in the neighbourhood, but a pair of undergraduates have made it their mission to document Queenstown's heritage.

Mr Kwek Li Yong lives in Jurong and Mr Jasper Tan in Sengkang. They spearheaded the creation of the MyQueenstown mobile app.

Launched two months ago, the app guides users along six heritage trails in the estate. It has hundreds of photographs and audio-visual material relating to the memories of the estate's long-time residents.

The duo, both 24, have worked painstakingly to piece together the neighbourhood's history and are putting together a book to commemorate the estate's 60th anniversary this year. It will be published by The Straits Times Press in September.

They also plan to launch similar projects in two other neighbourhoods: Bukit Merah and Tampines.

Six years ago, Mr Kwek visited some elderly folk in Queenstown while doing community service and became intrigued with the area.

"While older people tend to talk about themselves or their families, the people I visited in Queenstown kept talking about their estate and its history," says Mr Kwek, a final year economics student at the National University of Singapore.

"They were clearly very proud of it."

He had met Mr Tan while they were serving their national service, and approached him about working together to collect stories from Queenstown folk to feature on a blog (, which is no longer actively updated.

"At first, it was just fun to hear stories from residents. Then we started to realise that their personal and collective histories were very much linked," says Mr Tan, a final year economics management student at the Singapore Institute of Management. "Many of them tell the same stories."

For example, many of the residents spoke of an old kampung called Bo Beh Kang (literally "no tail river" in Hokkien) which Queenstown grew out of, and where Mei Ling Street is located now, says Mr Tan.

"I managed to find some of the original residents from the kampung and realised they knew one another because their memories were so similar. They hadn't been in contact with one another for decades."

The pair founded MyCommunity, an informal grassroots group which they registered as a society, to begin documenting the history of Queenstown. It now comprises a dozen other heritage buffs.

Mr Kwek recalls the first time they went to a market in the neighbourhood and told an egg-seller about their project.

"She immediately called the whole market to come and help us," says Mr Kwek with a laugh. "It's this kind of community spirit that I don't see elsewhere."

The two bachelors say they are expanding the scope of the project to include more estates as they feel that Singaporeans are slowly forgetting the ways in which their lives have changed.

Bukit Merah will mark a natural transition as it is "an old estate with a similar demographic" to Queenstown, says Mr Kwek.

"There is a large elderly population and many old housing blocks. Many of the residents have lived there for 50 to 60 years."

As for Tampines, the MyCommunity group is still in the preliminary stages of their research into the town's history. "It's a younger estate that has been shifting eastwards but there's still a lot of history there, including old fish farms and quarries most people don't know about," says Mr Kwek.
While the positive feedback they have received from projects has whetted their appetite for more, both of them will not be documenting their own estates any time soon.

Mr Tan thinks his neighbourhood is too new to document. Conversely, Mr Kwek feels recording his, Jurong, will prove too mammoth a task for now.

"I marvel at countries such as China and the United States and how they manage to document their history so well," says Mr Kwek.

"The onus is on Singaporeans, not just those in Queenstown, to capture their own memories."

The Sunday Times : Unesco bid: How about Tiong Bahru, Bukit Brown?

The Sunday Times
By Tan Dawn Wei
14th April 2013

Botanic Gardens bid sparks discussion of possible places that can also be nominated


So when news surfaced two weeks ago that it had quietly launched a bid to get the Singapore Botanic Gardens listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site last December, more than a few people interested in heritage were surprised.

Now some are asking if other sites are worthy of nomination as well, and suggest, among others, Tiong Bahru and the Bukit Brown cemetery.

To gain entry to the Unesco World Heritage Site club, a state party must first submit a tentative list of sites to be researched further for nomination as a World Heritage Site. That is followed up with a nomination dossier including a site management plan, which will be studied by experts, before the World Heritage Committee votes "yes", "no" or "later".

Singapore cleared the first round and got on the tentative list last December.

Now consultant Chris Blandford Associates - who got London's Kew Gardens listed as a World Heritage Site in 2003 - is crafting the dossier, which it hopes to submit by next February.

The whole effort goes back to 2009, when the Singapore Heritage Society first suggested nominating the Botanic Gardens. The following year, the Government roped in foreign consultants to identify Singapore's best shot.

Up for consideration, besides the gardens, were the Civic District, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Haw Par Villa and the former Ford Factory where the British surrendered to the Japanese in 1942.

The National Heritage Board (NHB), the agency driving the Unesco bid, said sites such as the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Ford Factory and Haw Par Villa did not make the cut as "many of the formal criteria for natural or cultural heritage sites were not met".

The list was eventually whittled down to the Botanic Gardens, the Civic District and historic cultural enclaves of Little India, Chinatown and Kampong Glam.

That Malacca and George Town in Penang were already on the Unesco list gave hope that Singapore's historic districts might stand a chance too.

"The problem would be the protection of these sites and possible developments in future," said Dr Chua Ai Lin, a historian and vice-president of the Singapore Heritage Society.

Leading Malaysian conservationist Laurence Loh, who was instrumental in getting George Town listed, felt Singapore's best bet after the gardens was to package the historic cultural districts together.

"But Singapore has demolished so much of its heritage and every one of your cultural site settings has been compromised," said the architect, whose conservation projects like Penang's Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, the Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur and Cheng Hoon Teng Temple in Malacca have won him Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards.

It is a sentiment echoed by heritage conservation expert Johannes Widodo, a jury member of the Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards. He said of Singapore's cultural districts like Chinatown: "What's left is a shell. There is no more soul.

Everything has been commercialised."

Indeed, authenticity counts for a lot. A recent survey on the intangible cultural heritage of George Town found more than 600 traditional trades in operation, some more than 100 years old.

"We may not be as strong as Penang on this front," conceded Dr Chua. "Our historic districts have changed so much."

And since a key criterion for Unesco is protection of land around the site - a buffer zone - the civic and historic cultural districts soon fell out of the reckoning.

"With the demand on Singapore's land and the need to maximise land use, it will be difficult to limit and ensure that the landscape of the civic district and historical cultural enclaves is preserved if successfully inscribed as a World Heritage Site," said the NHB.

In the end, the Botanic Gardens was the clear winner. If it gets Unesco's nod, it will be in the company of China's Great Wall, Jordan's Petra and India's Taj Mahal.

TIONG BAHRU: Caretaker Lim Lian Tong, 73, at the altar of the Monkey God Temple at the junction of Eng Hoon Street and Tiong Poh Road. Pre-war Art Deco flats in Tiong Bahru have been given conservation status by the URA. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

News of the bid has sparked discussion about other possible sites, notably Tiong Bahru and Bukit Brown. Neither was on the government short-list.

The Singapore Improvement Trust pre-war Art Deco flats of leafy Tiong Bahru, a favourite of heritage buffs, were given conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 2003, which means they already enjoy protection. Unesco expects World Heritage Site nominees to be protected by local laws.

Another factor is that it is still a living community and a showcase of how public housing designed in the 1930s remains relevant.

Yet, what might stand in the way of a Unesco bid might well be Tiong Bahru residents themselves.

"My own reservation about the place is that you might not get key stakeholders to agree," said Dr Kevin Tan, former president of the heritage society. "Already many residents are unhappy with people coming in and gawking at them and their homes or simply lining up to buy baguettes and leave," he added, referring to the hip bakeries and cafes that have sprung up.

The Bukit Brown cemetery, which was not on anyone's radar when the 2010 study was done, is now being held up for its rich biodiversity, being a testimony to a cultural tradition, and bearing unique and outstanding artistry on the tombs' architecture. More importantly, it tells the story of Singapore's migrant history, integral to the country's development.

BUKIT BROWN: The grave of former Qing dynasty official Chew Geok Leong, with two statues of Sikh guards accompanied by guard dogs. The old cemetery tells the story of Singapore's migrant history. -- ST FILE PHOTO

An early 1917 cemetery, Skogskyrkogarden in Sweden, is on the Unesco list.
While the Government has said it currently has no plans to submit other sites for tentative Unesco listing, heritage groups hope the first step for the Botanic Gardens will lay the foundation for Singaporeans to discuss what they value and want to protect, and how that squares with the national agenda.

Dr Chua believes the focus should not be on whether each site meets the Unesco criteria of having outstanding universal value.

"It's not a list of checked boxes, but a spark to kick off a conversation about what is meaningful to us," she said.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Straits Times : Community involved in Tiong Bahru heritage trail

The Straits Times
By Melody Zaccheus
Apr 11, 2013
Among the volunteers are (from left) Mr Fred Ong, 29, a junior college teacher; Ms Elyn Wong, 36, fashion designer looking for a flat in the estate, who helped to design a limited-edition tote bag for the launch; Ms Eileen Nai, 25, an administrative executive; Mrs Stephanie Kong, 57, a human resource executive; and Mr Kong Seng Wah, 60, a marketing manager. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
MORE than 50 members of the Tiong Bahru community have stepped forward to help run a monthly guided National Heritage Board trail in their 77-year-old estate.
"There are a lot of stories and memories we want to share with visitors at each stop on the trail which are best told through personal accounts," said long-time resident Stephanie Kong, 57.
She is excited about being one of 28 guides who will walk visitors through the Tiong Bahru Community Centre, where she first met her husband and fellow guide, Mr Kong Seng Wah, 60.
The NHB trail, to be launched this Sunday by MP Indranee Rajah, will span 2.5km and comprise 10 stops. It will feature the pre-war and post-war architecture of public housing projects there, the grave of Singapore pioneer Tan Tock Seng, and other facilities and landmarks in the estate.
NHB has already launched 10 trails over the past 14 years in estates such as Jalan Besar, Ang Mo Kio and Balestier. But they are self-guided tours in which visitors follow a route marked on a brochure.
This time, the community is getting involved. Volunteers helping with this Sunday's launch and the monthly trail include shopkeepers, hawkers and newcomers to the estate.
Around 30 students from Henderson Secondary School will be roped in to help out with the guided tour, which will be conducted on the first Saturday of each month.
Ms Eileen Nai, 25, an administrative executive who has lived in the estate all her life, said the allure of the quaint neighbourhood is undeniable.
"Even in the '90s, the gates and doors of our flats were always open and grandmothers would look for their grandchildren in their neighbours' flats.
That's how close-knit the community is," she said.
Another long-time resident, Mr Fred Ong, a 29-year-old junior college teacher, hopes the trails can inspire Singaporeans to respect their community and pay attention to the heritage around them before redevelopment gets in the way.
NHB's director of Education and Outreach, Ms Thangamma Karthigesu, is glad that members of the community, from different backgrounds, want to help run the show.
"NHB's function is that of an initiator and a catalyst. Ultimately heritage is about the people and must be owned by them."
Secondary four student Germaine Wong, 16, who will help run the trail in Tiong Bahru, believes the stories she learnt about the neighbourhood are heartwarming.
"Many of us don't take the time to learn about our heritage. I'm hoping the trail in Tiong Bahru can trigger a greater interest in the spaces we live in."