Pulau Ubin: Rustic or just rusting away?

Pulau Ubin: Rustic or just rusting away?
A photograph of Pulau Ubin's backwaters in 1995.

Life seems to be ebbing away from the island of Pulau Ubin.

Its population has dwindled from 2,000 between the 1950s and early 1970s to just 38 today.


Its once-thriving town centre is a shadow of its former self, with several provision shops and a restaurant closing over the past few years. Several villagers call it a ghost town on weekdays.

'After a while, you see the same person pacing the town centre. It's most likely the same villager you saw in the morning, rather than a fresh face from the mainland,' said Ms Doreen Lim, 52, who has been living on the island for the past 18 years or so.

Ubin's charm has always lain in its quiet rural surroundings with kampung houses and forest paths, reminding Singaporeans of a slower time in years past.

But the plunge in resident numbers has re-ignited a continuing debate - how much should be conserved, and how much developed to breathe new life into Ubin?

The 10.2 sq km island, about the size of Changi Airport, hit the headlines in April when a notice by the Housing Board led islanders to believe that 22 homes would be evicted for the development of an 'adventure park'.

The Government has since clarified that the island is to be kept in a 'rustic state for as long as possible'.

Instead, its latest plan, announced on Wednesday, involves the National Heritage Board possibly publishing an e-book on little- known facts about the island and initiatives such as cooking classes, a documentary on the island's boat operators and virtual tours of the town centre.

Some heritage and environmental groups believe the Government needs to go further in actively conserving the island's cultural heritage and nature, but not go so far as to erode its rural feel.

Life at Pulau Ubin
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