Group breathing new life into historic area

Dr Richard Helfer, vice-president of the Emerald Hill Conservation Association, with retired engineer June Chia, 62, who lives in the neighbourhood. The association counts among its accomplishments the elimination of a stretch of 400 "unsightly bins"
Dr Richard Helfer, vice-president of the Emerald Hill Conservation Association, with retired engineer June Chia, 62, who lives in the neighbourhood. The association counts among its accomplishments the elimination of a stretch of 400 "unsightly bins" that used to line the terrace houses' five-foot-ways and streets. It is also improving the estate's back lanes.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Set up in 2007, the Emerald Hill Conservation Association is likely the first conservation group run by home-owners to protect and enhance the liveability of their historic neighbourhood.

Led by its vice-president, hotelier Richard Helfer, it embarked on a multi-year plan to rejuvenate an estate plagued by many issues and suffering from neglect.

The association counts among its accomplishments the elimination of a stretch of 400 "unsightly bins" that used to line the terrace houses' five-foot-ways and streets.

"The area is well-loved and often photographed by tourists and Singaporeans. We wanted to beautify the estate and address the problem of rodents as well," said Dr Helfer. Working with the National Environment Agency, the bins were replaced with four bin centres last August.

The association has reduced the problem of illegal parking and is taking efforts to reduce congestion at the Emerald Hill and Orchard Road intersection, which is home to several bars and businesses. It is also improving the estate's back lanes.

Last year, 20,000 new plants were incorporated into the estate, as part of a three-year-long landscaping effort with the National Parks Board. The redefined landscape includes nutmeg trees - a nod to the history of the area from when it was originally a nutmeg plantation owned by then acting Postmaster-General William Cuppage.

The group is working with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to install plaques and information boards across the estate to highlight the historical figures and prominent Peranakans who used to live in the area.

URA's director of conservation management Kelvin Ang said the authority is "happy to see communities come together to take ownership of its issues and encourage others in historic residential estates to do the same".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2015, with the headline 'Group breathing new life into historic area'. Print Edition | Subscribe