The cafes are always a sign. Call them the "coolness" litmus test of a neighbourhood. Once they start popping up, it is time to pay attention.
In Yishun, the sleepy estate in the north of Singapore, several new cafes have opened in recent months.
Two of these outfits are Holy Cow Creamery, an ice cream parlour in Yishun Street 22, and RoyceMary Cafe, serving coffee and desserts out of a unit in a mixed-use building in Victory 8 in Jalan Legundi.
And then there are the bike shops, with at least four of them along Yishun Avenues 6 and 7 alone, supplying the hipster transportation staple.
Is Yishun becoming the next Tiong Bahru?
But the area, which has more than 250,000 residents, is no lifeless backwater.
In fact, it is mounting a modest renaissance, with new amenities, gleaming healthcare facilities, a mega mall in the works and new flats and properties in the making.
The biggest development is Northpoint City, a commercial and residential development which will be integrated with the existing Northpoint Shopping Centre.
When it opens in 2018, it will be the largest mall in northern Singapore with more than 500 shopping and dining outlets. It will also house the first community club within a mall and an integrated transport hub linking the mall to an air-conditioned bus interchange and Yishun MRT station.
Junction Nine in Yishun Avenue 9, a 99-year leasehold mixed development that has retail units and private homes called Nine Residences, will also open in 2017. The 186-unit residential project will have a mix of one-bedroom to two-storey apartments.
And Yishun estate is still not that expensive.
Property agents say the prices in the area have remained steady and mirror general market trends.
Mr Donald Han, managing director of property consulting group Chestertons, says prices in Yishun were going up from about 2009, but after 2013, they started going down because the introduction of tougher mortgage rules - the total debt servicing ratio - made it harder for people to obtain loans.
But he adds that there has been stronger demand for mixed developments in Yishun, such as the upcoming Nine Residences.
Units there were sold at a median price of $1,196 per square foot (psf) in December, significantly higher than the median prices for other Yishun developments such as Lilydale ($742 psf), The Estuary ($916 psf) and The Canopy ($696 psf).
He attributes the draw of Nine Residences to its location and proximity to transportation options.
Other property experts say the greenery in the area - Yishun Pond, Seletar Reservoir and the Orchid Country Club with its golf courses - are also plus points for buyers.
Indeed, Yishun, like several off-city centre, well- developed suburban neighbourhoods in Singapore, has become a conducive place to call home, especially in terms of recreational options in nature. It has serene green spaces, scenic waterways, enhanced parks, cycling paths and exercise corners.
Named after pineapple and rubber tycoon Lim Nee Soon, whose name is Lin Yishun in Mandarin, the estate was one of the first three towns selected in 2007 under the Housing & Development Board's (HDB) Remaking Our Heartland initiative and still enjoys the fruit of that upgrading exercise.
The Lower Seletar Reservoir along Yishun Avenue 1 was revamped at a cost of $10 million and now features a multi-purpose stage with a water play area, a Rowers' Bay for competitive rowing and a 170m-long jetty-like bridge that extends from the banks of the reservoir across the waters.
In a 2011 makeover, Yishun Pond unveiled floating wetlands, flower trails and a three-storey lookout tower. The waters there teem with orange cichlid fish and tortoises, and wading birds can be seen in the marshlands.
A 15.5km cycling trail is also due for completion this year and will connect major transport nodes, neighbourhood centres and parks.
Since last month, residents have also been enjoying Orto, a new leisure park the size of seven football fields that opened on the site of the former Bottle Tree Park. Visitors can go fishing or prawning round the clock in the park, which also has several eateries.
Ms Yen Sim, senior manager of corporate communications and branding at the China-based Fullshare Leisure Group, which manages the place, says Fullshare decided to bid for the site because there were opportunities for a variety of recreational activities and eateries to be added to the park.
"Furthermore, it has a distinctive kampung feel that retains the old charm of Singapore in the 1960s and 1970s," she says.
By the park's grand opening in June, its activity offerings will include paintball, futsal and trampoline.
"Yishun is no longer a boring or ulu town," says odd-job worker Angela Teo, 49, using the Malay word for "remote". She has lived in the area for more than 20 years.
A variety of properties is also rising to meet the demand. More than 17,000 new residential units - both public and private developments - will be added to Yishun by the next few years.
As of June 2013, the HDB has launched 10 Build-To-Order (BTO) projects and one Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) project, providing a total of 9,500 units. These include Yishun Greenwalk, DBSS Adora Green and Vista Spring.
Seven private housing sites yielding close to 3,300 units were also awarded to private developers for executive condominiums/condominiums and landed housing developments.
Apart from these projects, there is also the 920-unit North Park Residences, a condominium with one- to five-bedroom apartments ranging from 431 sq ft to 1,432 sq ft. It is part of the Northpoint City development.
Mr Mohamed Ismail, chief executive of PropNex Realty, one of the firms selling the North Park Residences, foresees that younger buyers from the ages of 25 will be interested in the Residences, which is located in Yishun Central.
He says: "Younger buyers these days tend to say, 'Give me a lifestyle and I will pay.' They are willing to trade house size for a conveniently located development."
The new residents seem to agree.
Ms Vania Lim, 30, moved into a three-room flat in Adora Green last year with her husband.
She likes the green necklace that surrounds her estate - Yishun Pond is a stone's throw away, which makes for a scenic exercise route, and she also likes it that there are several young couples among her neighbours, whom she can relate to.
"There are also plenty of food options in the neighbourhood and three supermarkets within walking distance," she says.
While some residents interviewed say Yishun's new vibrancy has also resulted in more human traffic, which translates to more crowded bus interchanges, trains and buses, they acknowledge that the precinct has become a more exciting place to live in, with upcoming developments to look forward to.
Long-time Yishun dweller Foo Wang Cheow, 60, remembers a time when Yishun used to be a cluster of kampungs.
In the early days, Mr Lim Nee Soon, who lived from 1879 to 1936, had owned large pineapple and rubber plantations in the area.
Chinese immigrants whom he hired as labourers in his plantations soon settled down in the area and formed villages and kampungs.
Mrs Foo recalls living in one of these kampungs and helping her father sell his homemade cheng tng - the Chinese soup dessert with ingredients such as longans, barley and lotus seeds.
The housewife says: "It was a noisy, bustling and exciting place. People reared pigs and poultry and many also grew vegetables and fruit to sell."
In 1984, when the town started to be developed - it was one of the earliest towns developed by the HDB - the newly married Mrs Foo moved into a four-room flat in Block 750 Yishun Street 72 with her husband.
"There were no buses near our home then, much less a bus interchange. There was also no MRT station yet," she recalls, adding that bus services began many months later and Yishun MRT station commenced in 1988.
Yishun continued its slow transformation until 1992, when two game-changing developments took place.
Frasers Centrepoint opened Northpoint Shopping Centre, Singapore's first heartland mall. That same year, cinema operator Golden Village launched its first cineplex, GV Yishun, with 10 cinema halls and 2,400 seats.
Now, Yishun's rejuvenation is also attracting visitors from other neighbourhoods.
Ms Shirley Marlando, 31, one of the founders of Holy Cow Creamery, says that while her clientele consists of Yishun residents, the shop also sees people from Sembawang, Woodlands and as far as Jurong.
Maybe that is why Mrs Foo has no plans to leave.
She has lived in the same flat for the past 30 years with her husband, now 61, and 33-year-old son. Her married daughter also lives in the estate so as to remain close to her.
"Yishun has really become a convenient place to live in over the years and this will be where I retire," says Mrs Foo.
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