SINGAPORE - Most people think of Chinatown as a place with one foot in the past, but some 60 people gathered over the weekend to bring it forward with the creative use of technology.
The ideas mooted included adding a virtual version of the 87-year-old Majestic Theatre in Eu Tong Sen Street to the mobile version of popular block-building game Minecraft. Another idea was to use interactive billboards that can capture the emotions of tourists and tell the stories of Chinatown's past and present.
The suggestions came from the 60-plus urban planners, developers, students and heritage enthusiasts who took part in a hackathon, or tech-brainstorming event, held by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) from last Friday to Sunday.
Called Chinatown coLAB 2014, it aimed to gather ideas for digital programmes and applications that can enhance visitors' experience and help businesses in Chinatown better understand and use consumer data such as footfall.
It also ties in with the Chinatown Business Association's newly installed Wi-Fi network at Smith Street, Trengganu Street, Pagoda Street, Sago Street and Kreta Ayer Square.
Mr Poh Chi Chuan, STB director of cultural precincts and tourism concept development, said: "Instead of just putting Wi-Fi there, we realised that there's potential to leverage technology... to suit the needs of the increasingly tech-savvy and sophisticated group of visitors whom we now see in Singapore."
Chinatown is Singapore's second-most visited free-access attraction after Orchard Road. About a third of the 14.4 million tourists who came to Singapore in 2012 made visits there.
The three-day event at 237 South Bridge Road included talks on Chinatown's culture and heritage. Armed with knowledge about the precinct, participants formed 16 teams and started putting together apps and programmes to compete for seven prizes. These included cash prizes of $1,500, $1,000 and $500 for placing first, second and third respectively, and categories like best design and best technology.
Mr Lho Chen Yang, 26, founder of an education start-up, and Android developer Cheryl Liew, 24, took home $1,250 in total as winners of the best design for their Minecraft version of the Majestic Theatre. They plan to build more iconic Chinatown landmarks for children to explore on the mobile version of the game.
The idea, said Mr Lho, is to keep children aged six to 12 engaged while their parents explore Chinatown in real life.
Software engineers Su Xiaoyin, 27, and Liew Kian Chin, 34, won first prize for an app filled with interactive features and interesting facts about the Chinatown area.
"Chinatown is a beautiful area and it's not easy to find a place filled with such rich culture, where there's a lot to explore.
"We believe we have designed an app that promotes and reflects its richness well," said Ms Su.
Participants can apply for the STB's Tourism Technology Fund if they wish to develop these ideas, said Mr Poh.
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