The Sunday Times says

Passing on the past to the future

The heritage community, and Singaporeans generally, will welcome news that Dakota Crescent, one of Singapore's oldest public housing estates, will not be razed when new public flats are built there. Instead, the estate's courtyard and dove playground will be retained, along with the six blocks around them. Heritage lovers will be cheered, too, by news that a disused bottling factory, the former National Aerated Water Company, will be conserved partially.

Quite apart from its value as an emblem of Singapore's early housing, Dakota Crescent's name invokes the Douglas DC-3 Dakota, a model of plane that used to land at Kallang Airport. In the case of the factory, it is considered to be one of the last few vestiges of Singapore's industrial past. In their different ways, the two structures embody a formative phase of national history. They are a reminder of a lived past for older Singaporeans. They are a repository of memories that have become more precious precisely because of the rapidity of the physical transformation associated with urbanisation and industrialisation.

Yet, in bringing the structures within the purview of heritage preservation, the purpose is not to retain parts of the past for their own sake. It is to build on them in the present as a gift for the future. A country resembles a conversation across generations. While much of the conversation falls silent with the passage of time, there are idiomatic inflexions that capture the changing values and meanings that people attach to what they find worthwhile. Nature captures a vast range of such shifting yet resilient meanings, but the built environment, too, plays a role in giving voice to how a generation inherits Singapore only to pass it on to the next.

An affluent country has the resources to devote to keeping the national conversation alive. They form an excellent investment in the future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 17, 2017, with the headline 'Passing on the past to the future'. Print Edition | Subscribe