New HDB playgrounds to play up towns' heritage

Children playing at an army-themed playground in Choa Chu Kang.
Children playing at an army-themed playground in Choa Chu Kang.ST PHOTO: ALVIN HO

Built around their history or with a theme, they aim to strengthen identity, forge closer bonds

In a bid to strengthen community ties in estates, the Housing Board is looking to design new playgrounds that pay homage to a neighbourhood's heritage.

It is the next step in playground design, which has evolved from simple swings and slides in the 60s, to more complicated play structures that cater to multiple generations in a family in recent years.

The HDB's latest "thematic playgrounds" are meant to strengthen a town's identity, give children better play experience and encourage closer bonds between families and neighbours.

They are built around a neighbourhood's history - such as the one at Eastbank@Canberra in Sembawang, which features a double-decker ship from which children can "sail" through the seven seas, a reminder of the town's past as a former naval base.

They can also be centred on a theme, like an upcoming Alice In Wonderland-themed playground in Dawson in Queenstown, where children can swing under the Cheshire Cat, slide down a rabbit hole or play hide-and-seek among a maze of cards - all hints of features in the beloved children's classic.

But beyond a theme that encourages exploration and role play, the new generation of playgrounds are designed with equipment to spur a wide array of activities such as climbing, swinging, balancing and jumping - skills to build confidence in children, the HDB said yesterday.

To date, six such playgrounds have been completed - in Choa Chu Kang, Woodlands, Sembawang, Sengkang and Toa Payoh. Another nine will be ready by 2021, with five of them in Dawson, where about 5,000 families will move in by end-2020.

An HDB spokesman said all new estates will get such playgrounds where possible.

HDB's director for landscape and design Brian Low said that such playgrounds help to shape a town's identity, and give families ownership of the place.

Referring to several army-themed playgrounds in Choa Chu Kang, where the former Keat Hong camp used to stand, he said: "Fathers can tell their kids about what they did in the army."

Education officer Ria Hamdan, 29, who moved into her flat in Keat Hong two years ago, praised the effort put in to create such thematic playgrounds.

She said: "Not only does it create a sense of history for our children, but it can also evoke a sense of nostalgia for us, the older generation."

The HDB has, in recent years, made it a priority to improve social interactions in estates and strengthen community ties.

For example, it signed a $6 million project last September with the Singapore University of Technology and Design to use data analytics and behavioural studies to create the "new urban kampung" and improve neighbourly ties.

Newer Build-To-Order estates also feature "community living rooms" instead of traditional void decks, with seating and placement that are meant to spark more conversations between neighbours.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2018, with the headline 'New HDB playgrounds to play up towns' heritage'. Print Edition | Subscribe