Farewell party for Dakota Crescent

On Sunday afternoon, one of Singapore’s oldest public housing estates will morph into party central.

The sleepy neighbourhood of Dakota Crescent will wake up to a block party – a fun-filled farewell for residents in 17 rental blocks who have to vacate their flats by the end of next year. Dakota Crescent is set for redevelopment under Mountbatten’s estate renewal plans.

This is not your run-of-the-mill HDB block party though. All are welcome to attend the free bash.

Singapore music acts, including rapper Shigga Shay, a cappella group MICappella, electronica duo .gif and indie-rock outfit Cashew Chemists will rock during a concert that will take place in an open area between the beige, low-rise blocks.

There will also be an exhibition featuring more than 100 photos of the area. Close to three-quarters of the photos are from residents, while the rest were sourced online or contributed by the public.

Adding to the carnival atmosphere is a mini-flea market where an eclectic mix of items by local artists and labels will be sold, including intricate handmade jewellery, and postcards and stickers with designs inspired by Dakota Crescent.

Visitors can also munch on free candy floss and popcorn. Those keen to get their portraits drawn in a cartoon-like fashion can pay illustrator Ly Yeow to do it. The fee is not confirmed yet.

For those who are above 60 years old or below 12 and need a haircut, the Backalley Barbers from informal community group, Geylang Adventures, will be giving free trims.

The event’s chief organiser is Mr Foo Chee Kow, who is known to many as CK and co-owns cafe Tian Kee & Co at Block 12 with his wife Jessie. The couple, both 38, moved to a place near Dakota Crescent in 2011.

Drawn to the old-school, laidback vibe of the neighbourhood, they set up the cafe in June last year after buying over a 54-year-old provision shop of the same name in 2013, even though they were aware that the estate may be redeveloped.

True enough, the news broke a month after their cafe opened.

Mr Foo got the idea to throw a party during a conversation last year with two customers who used to live in the estate.

“They shared their memories of living here and I thought, why not have a big gathering where everyone can come together,” he says.

“The party is also a chance for those who used to live here to come and meet former neighbours and reminisce the good times spent in the estate.”

He says he has spent about $20,000 of his own money on the event, which includes the set-up and hiring of the artists.

The blocks that are making way for redevelopment were built in 1958 by the Singapore Improvement Trust.

With its green open spaces in between blocks, dingy lifts with no “close” buttons, as well as low-rise blocks with old-school window panels and distinctive architecture, Dakota Crescent offers a glimpse of what neighbourhoods looked like in the 1950s.

Only about 400 of the 648 units are occupied and about two-thirds of the households have at least one member aged 60 and above.

Mr Foo says: “The party is an opportunity for the younger ones to come and learn about this piece of Singapore’s history before the estate is redeveloped. You don’t see flats designed like this anymore.

“We hope this estate will not be entirely torn down. Hopefully, a part of it will be conserved.”

He is still hoping the block where his cafe is located, which is among those set for redevelopment, would be kept intact. If it gets demolished, he intends to look for another location.

Rapper Shigga Shay has a soft spot for Dakota Crescent because he shot the music video for his track, Lion City Kia (2014), at one of the estate’s landmarks – a playground with a blue mosaic-tiled dove design.

“The area represents an early part of Singapore that evokes sentimental memories. The party is a great way to celebrate the estate and attract people to see it before it goes down,” he says.

Mr Roger Neo, the manager at Tung Ling Community Services which runs the elderly activity centre in the estate, helped to organise the party. He says the redevelopment is a blessing in disguise for residents.

He adds: “The elderly struggle to move around and it is very hard for them as the lifts in the blocks do not stop on every floor. With more elderly- friendly facilities expected in the new flats, it will make life easier for them.”

Many long-time residents knew it was a matter of time before their neighbourhood is slated for redevelopment.

Retiree Lim Seow Yin, 57, who has lived there nearly all her life, says with a rueful smile: “We all knew this was going to happen. We are sad, but what can we do?”

She is, however, excited about the party and is among about 20 residents who will be dancing or singing at the concert.

“It’s nice that they are holding this party. At least, we can come together and have a proper farewell,” she says.

The party will be featured in a documentary on Dakota Crescent by local production company Freeflow Productions. An awardee of Discovery Channel’s First Time Filmmakers Project, the documentary, slated to be aired on the channel in August, will shed light on the kampung spirit that is alive in Singapore estates such as Dakota Crescent.

Source: Straits Times

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