Dakota Crescent lives on... in JB

Former hotel worker N.K. Yap, a resident of Stulang Darat, has set up a small gardening area of her own behind the estate. Children in the estate waiting for the bread van. When people hear the horn, those living on the higher floors lower baskets to
Like its Singapore twin, the playground in Stulang Darat features a concrete dove and a bridge connecting it to a pyramid. There are also rubber tyre swings at the pyramid's base, just like the ones in Dakota Crescent, near Mountbatten.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Former hotel worker N.K. Yap, a resident of Stulang Darat, has set up a small gardening area of her own behind the estate. Children in the estate waiting for the bread van. When people hear the horn, those living on the higher floors lower baskets to
Former hotel worker N.K. Yap, a resident of Stulang Darat, has set up a small gardening area of her own behind the estate.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Former hotel worker N.K. Yap, a resident of Stulang Darat, has set up a small gardening area of her own behind the estate. Children in the estate waiting for the bread van. When people hear the horn, those living on the higher floors lower baskets to
Children in the estate waiting for the bread van. When people hear the horn, those living on the higher floors lower baskets to get their loaves.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Former hotel worker N.K. Yap, a resident of Stulang Darat, has set up a small gardening area of her own behind the estate. Children in the estate waiting for the bread van. When people hear the horn, those living on the higher floors lower baskets to
Retired factory worker Amy Chik says people started moving into the estate in 1969, after they were asked to vacate a fishing village in Stulang Laut.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Former hotel worker N.K. Yap, a resident of Stulang Darat, has set up a small gardening area of her own behind the estate. Children in the estate waiting for the bread van. When people hear the horn, those living on the higher floors lower baskets to
Mailboxes are hung on the staircase walls at the estate.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Former hotel worker N.K. Yap, a resident of Stulang Darat, has set up a small gardening area of her own behind the estate. Children in the estate waiting for the bread van. When people hear the horn, those living on the higher floors lower baskets to
The estate in Johor Baru harks back to a Singapore long gone.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Estate in Malaysia has playground with same key features as landmark in Dakota

Dakota Crescent is now a ghost town, after it was vacated this year as part of redevelopment plans for the estate. But across the border in Johor Baru, a parallel universe exists.

Just 10 minutes from the Causeway, in Stulang Darat, elderly residents chit-chat near a playground that boasts the same key design elements as the landmark dove playground in Dakota Crescent.

Just like its Singapore twin, it features a concrete dove and a bridge connecting it to a pyramid. There are also rubber tyre swings at the pyramid's base, just like the ones in Dakota Crescent, near Mountbatten.

Photos of the Stulang Darat estate, taken by photographer Lim Weixiang last week, are making their rounds online and in heritage circles.

Mr Lim, 35, said: "It's a very strange feeling because there has always been this tension in Singapore to save this and that, and then you find the dove playground - which is at risk of disappearing - in JB."

How the two estates ended up with playgrounds with the same design is unclear, but they both date back to the same era. Dakota Crescent is thought to have been designed first, in 1979. The Stulang Darat playground is maintained by the Johor Baru city council, which is likely to have built it.

The council's landscape architect Mustika Ally Zulkifli, speaking to The Straits Times, said she was unable to obtain records that show exactly when the Stulang Darat playground was built. But she said it was likely built in the 1980s - together with another similar Dove playground 10 minutes away in Taman Nong Chik.

There were a few more dove playgrounds in JB but most of them have been demolished, she added.

When Stulang Darat residents were shown photos of Dakota Crescent, many were surprised that their estate had a twin.

Retired factory worker Amy Chik, 71, said: "This one is Singapore's playground? Same one? How come?"

Only two out of 10 residents The Straits Times spoke to said they knew about the Singapore playground. Housewife Tong Joo Tiang, 54, said she saw it last year in a Singapore drama that was filmed in Dakota Crescent.

Ms Mustika said she could understand why the design might have been duplicated.

Apart from its "classic and timeless" appearance, she said such structures are easier to maintain because they are made out of concrete, terrazzo and mosaic tiles.

In contrast, she said modern playgrounds made of plastic are more susceptible to vandals and thieves, who can unscrew components and make off with them.

She said: "If the dove playground gets vandalised or sprayed with graffiti, we can just repaint it or use thinner to clean it."

When asked whether she would be offended or flattered if someone had copied her design, she said: "I would feel proud because that way, I am indirectly sharing good things with others. It also means I've become a trendsetter."

Meanwhile, the man behind the Dakota Crescent design is Mr Khor Ean Ghee, 82, who worked for the Housing Board from 1969 to 1984.

He declined to comment on the Stulang Darat playground when contacted, but The Straits Times understands that it was only after seeing Mr Lim's photos that he became aware that a playground similar to the one he designed exists in Malaysia. Two other dove playgrounds were also built in Bukit Batok and Clementi.

Several architects in Singapore said that while imitation is the highest form of flattery, designers usually appreciate being consulted.

The Stulang Darat suburb, too,shares several similar features with Dakota Crescent - before residents moved out of the Singapore Improvement Trust estate earlier this year.

Like in Dakota, doors are largely left unlocked in Stulang Darat. Neighbours walk freely into one another's homes, and the estate has its fair share of colourful residents.

Take former hotel worker N.K. Yap, 60, who was dancing to Chinese New Year tunes in her flat, before taking a ride on the playground swing moments later.

The estate, on an overcast Thursday morning, harked back to a Singapore long gone.

A resident in a ground floor unit was hawking bowls of steaming hot yong tau foo to residents. On some evenings, a man selling bread visits the neighbourhood in a van. Those who hear his horn lower a basket from their units, and the bread seller hands them a loaf.

Ms Yap, who has set up a small gardening area of her own behind the estate, said she is aware of how Singapore has changed. She said: "My son asked me to move to Singapore but I won't be able to create my own space like this over there, right?"

Ms Chik, who has lived in the estate for more than 40 years, said they can relate to how Dakota Crescent's residents felt when they were asked to move out. According to her, they were asked to vacate an old fishing village in Stulang Laut in the 1960s, so a glass factory could be built in its place. In turn, the authorities erected three-storey walk-up blocks for them, and in 1969, people starting moving in.

Former Dakota Crescent resident Low Shuilin, 27, a childcare teacher, said she felt a shade of envy thinking of the residents of Stulang Darat. "The neighbourhood is much more alive as people still stay there. Maybe I will visit one day. It will be cool to see my playground there."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2017, with the headline 'Dakota Crescent lives on... in JB'. Print Edition | Subscribe