From quiet town to bustling cultural district

MAKEOVER #2: PAYA LEBAR

 

From quiet town to bustling cultural district

 

The Paya Lebar area will become one of S’pore’s major commercial hubs under URA’s new plan

 

By Hong Xinyi

 

IT’S been the site of plantations and kampungs, witnessed political intrigue and riots, and remained a distinctive neighbourhood cherished by the local Malay community.

 

Under the latest masterplan announced by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday, Paya Lebar will take on yet another incarnation as one of Singapore’s new commercial hubs.

 

Close to 500,000 sq m of office, retail and hotel space will be added to the area, bolstering the 200,000 sq m already available. ‘Over time, we hope to see Paya Lebar Central attracting small and medium-size enterprises, but we’ll have to see how things develop,’ said URA chief executive Cheong Koon Hean.

 

One of the first major changes to the area will be the new Paya Lebar MRT interchange station, ready by 2010, which will serve the Circle and East-West lines.

 

Land adjacent to both sides of nearby Tanjong Katong Road will be used for new developments that will feature office, retail and hotel space, including an outdoor pedestrian mall in Geylang Road.

 

The Geylang River, which is currently more of a canal, will be reconstructed and become a focal point for waterfront dining and shopping.

 

No date has been announced for the release of these land parcels for development under the Government Land Sale Programme.

 

But already, some of the neighbourhood’ s most iconic institutions are being primed for the big Paya Lebar makeover.

 

The area is no stranger to change. Geylang Serai was first earmarked for the Malay community by the colonial authorities in 1840, and takes its name from the 19th-century lemon grass plantations here (serai being the Malay word for lemon grass).

 

Political parties United Malays National Organisation and Barisan Sosialis were once active in the area, and the 1964 racial riots broke out nearby.

 

In 1965, the flood-prone area’s kampungs began to be replaced with government-built flats. The now-trademark street lighting during Hari Raya was introduced in 1984, and planned developments such as pedestrian malls and arcades were announced by the URA as early as 1994.

 

Joo Chiat Complex, built in 1983, is expected to complete its current upgrading by August this year.

 

The new two-storey Geylang Serai market in Changi Road is expected to be completed next year and, at 9,300 sq m, will be twice as big as its famous predecessor.

 

The original market, which opened in 1964, was known as the Malay Emporium of Singapore and attracted busloads of regional tourists.

 

Ravaged by a fire in 1999, it was torn down in 2006. But the temporary market in Sims Avenue – which retains the tradition of selling only halal food – is still doing robust business.

 

But at least one neighbourhood landmark will not be part of the new Paya Lebar Central.

 

The Malay Village, in Geylang Serai Road, was set up in 1989 to showcase traditional Malay kampung life. Plagued by management changes, the attraction never really took off. But just last month, the current management team announced plans for a $50 million revamp.

 

The URA confirmed that the current site of the Malay Village, whose lease ends in 2011, will eventually be used for a new civic centre.

 

But the authorities maintain that the cultural heritage of the neighbourhood will play a key role in its redevelopment.

 

The proposed civic centre, which may include a library, could also feature a gallery showcasing the area’s history, said the URA. The building’s design may also be inspired by traditional Malay stylistic elements.

 

New plaza spaces near the Paya Lebar MRT station and the Geylang Serai market will provide more space for the area’s annual Hari Raya bazaar, as well as year-round grassroots events and cultural performances.

 

Madam Suriana Sabtu, 31, welcomed the prospect of larger bazaars with stalls concentrated in the two new plazas.

 

Introducing new shopping outlets will add diversity to the retail scene here, she felt. ‘It’s good to attract more people here, not just Malays.’

 

But if this neighbourhood is indeed about to become sleek and bustling, some hope it won’t be at the expense of its longstanding haphazard charms.

 

In its current pre-hub incarnation, old-school provision shops and textile stores still line its quiet streets and run-down shopping centres. Colours pop up in every corner, from festive fabrics in bandung-pink and Kickapoo-chartreuse , to the vials of scent with neon labels proclaiming names like Raja Musk and Amber Mecca.

 

Sipping teh tarik at the temporary Geylang Serai market, which he visits twice a month with his parents, national serviceman Mohd Farhan Abdul Rahman, 22, was candid: The neighbourhood could really use some sprucing up; the Malay Village is ‘too messy’, and he won’t be terribly sad to see it go.

 

But he hopes some things will remain. ‘Making this place a hub is great. But I hope the atmosphere here can still be retained. It’s still a part of my culture.’

 

Source: Straits Times

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