An ambitious heritage corridor project in Upper Serangoon Road, estimated to cost $9.5 million, has raised concerns over its hefty price tag.
Conservation experts and activists have questioned the need for the Housing Board to spend so much money to tell the area's history.
Some described it as an "infrastructure upgrade in the name of heritage", which neglects the intangible aspects of the 160-year-old stretch.
"It seems like an awfully large sum to be spent on heritage markers and storyboards in an attempt to recreate what has been lost to redevelopment over the decades," said heritage blogger and naval architect Jerome Lim.
The project was first announced in 2011 as part of the second phase of the billion-dollar Remaking Our Heartland facelift, where three mature estates will be spruced up over five years.
Its cost, however, was listed only recently in expression-of-interest documents dated Oct 27.
The HDB said enhancing the corridor will allow residents and visitors to appreciate the "myriad of townscape" which includes old shophouses and places of worship.
A spokesman for the HDB told The Straits Times that the $9.5 million sum is a "rough project budget".
"The actual project sum will depend on the final detailed proposals," she said.
The plan is to transform Upper Serangoon Road through its "rich history and existing attributes".
For instance, the road will be getting a market square, which could host outdoor movie screenings and other activities to "reintroduce the social memories" of the post-war Simon Road Market which was demolished in 1999.
The heritage corridor will also pay homage to the historical shoreline of the former Kangkar Port, near Buangkok East Drive, through markings on the pavement and storyboards. The port used to be a thriving fishing village up till 1984.
But Mr Lim said it will be difficult to re-create the old-world charm of Kangkar.
And, said architectural and urban historian Lai Chee Kien, putting up commemorative structures such as plaques and sculptures, which are part of the project, are not necessary.
"Information on the rich heritage of the area, such as how Upper Serangoon - the first road leading from the town centre to Singapore's northern outskirts - was named, can be presented in a book or shared in a community museum which brings history alive," he said.
But some experts agree with the HDB that the budget is reasonable, given the infrastructure upgrading.
The upgrading includes improved footpaths, pedestrian bridges and bus stops, said Singapore Heritage Society honorary secretary Yeo Kang Shua.
But the HDB, said Dr Yeo, must "ensure that the spaces dedicated to heritage, such as the Market Square, have good programming so they do not become white elephants". Some residents welcome the project. Mr Loo Wenbin, 24, a student, said he is looking forward to the new corridor.
He said: "It could create more places for families to visit instead of the typical shopping mall destination. A renewal and rejuvenation makes sense, especially to older stretches along Upper Serangoon which are less known and less frequented."
This article was first published on Nov 1, 2014.
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