SINGAPORE: The Housing and Development Board (HDB) announced on Sunday (Apr 9) that it will upgrade 14 neighbourhood centres (NCs) in Woodlands, Toa Payoh and Pasir Ris as part of its Remaking Our Heartland (ROH) programme, bringing the total number of neighbourhood centres that will be renovated under the scheme to 35.
These three towns are part of the third batch of estates under the ROH programme, aimed at sprucing up public housing estates. Plans to rejuvenate them were first announced in May 2015.
The 14 NCs comprise of around 670 shops and more than half a million residents living in the vicinity.
More details on the rejuvenation plans for these NCs will be displayed at the upcoming ROH exhibitions in the second half of April this year.
According to the HDB, about S$42 million has been set aside for the upgrading of 21 NCs in East Coast, Jurong Lake and Hougang - the second batch of estates under the ROH programme. A total of 1,500 shops are located in these NCs, and they serve a total of more than 800,000 residents.
As of March 2017, 11 of these 21 neighbourhood centres have been given a new lease of life, costing some S$19 million, the HDB said. The remaining 10 are in various stages of upgrading, which will be progressively completed by 2019.
Some of the enhancements to NCs could include the re-flooring of public spaces, landscaping works, as well as the addition of community plazas, playgrounds and shelters. Bicycle parking racks and street furniture will also be built.
The HDB said that upgrading of NCs are a key plan to the ROH programme as these centres serve the daily shopping needs of residences, and are also social hubs where residents gather and connect over activities.
NEW COMMUNAL FACILITIES AT BUKIT BATOK
One of the renewed NCs is the Bukit Batok West Shopping Centre in the Jurong Lake estate. The HDB said that the NC serves the need of about 27,000 residents living in the vicinity.
The NC was developed over 30 years ago in 1985, and was given a makeover for the first time in June 2015, with upgrading works ending in October 2016, the HDB added.
Bukit Batok West Shopping Centre now houses new facilities such as a three-generational playground, where exercise facilities for adults and seniors are available next to a playground for children. Previously, it was an open field with only a fitness corner.
Next to it is a promenade lined with stone benches, providing additional seating for residents. A 150-square-metre community herb garden - the first herb garden in a NC - was also built in response to residents’ feedback for a communal gardening space.
Residents living in the area said that they were satisfied with the latest changes.
Forty-year-old PCB design engineer Mieke Han Soch Wah, a resident of Bukit Batok since 2002, said that her son enjoys visiting the new playground so much that he wants to “come here every day after school”. It also provides him with a place to “sweat it out” and exercise, rather than staying cooped up at home.
As for herself, she likes the stone benches. “We didn't have so many benches here in the past, where we can sit and then rest, and see the children play. But now we have all the benches here … we can easily find a place and chit-chat with other parents,” Ms Han said.
Jenny Loh, a 69-year-old who has lived at Bukit Batok since 1983, said that the herb garden, which she visits during the weekends, is her favourite new feature. "I water the plants when I’m here, and I like how fresh the feeling is when I step into the garden. It’s also a place where I can meet my friends,” she said.
Storeowners at Bukit Batok West Shopping Centre are also doing better, said Thomas Ong, the chairman of the Bukit Batok Merchant’s association, which he said currently has 40 members. Mr. Ong also runs a tailor shop in the area.
"Business has picked up by about 10 per cent among the stores here … more people are coming around,” Mr Ong said, adding that because of the added communal spaces, residents end up spending more time in the area, leading to more frequent visits to the shops there.
BOOST TO QUALITY OF LIFE
Dr Cho Im Sik, an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore’s department of architecture, said that when people use public amenities more often, they will feel a greater sense of attachment and belonging to the space they live in. Residents also end up interacting with their neighbours more frequently in these social nodes as well.
Meeting these social needs end up enhancing their quality of life, she added.
Still, beyond just redeveloping the built environment to serve residents, Dr Cho said that these individuals should also have a say in the kind of facilities they want - a ground-up approach to the way such community spaces are created. This helps build an even stronger affinity to their neighbourhood as they feel that their ideas were reflected in it.
“(Having) more creative, informal ways of engagement, rather than calling the conventional town hall meeting … (will give them) much more sense of ownership in the project, and … this really increases the usage of the spaces. They interact more with their neighbours in those spaces,” Dr Cho said.
The ROH programme, she added, has been a good initiative. Amenities added twenty or thirty years ago, even “with the best intentions of planners” previously, may not work as well in the future. Renewal plans to neighbourhood areas are necessary as the demographics of residents are evolving, and so do peoples’ needs.