A new buzz runs through Tanjong Rhu

For years, while the Sports Hub was being built, the estate across the Geylang River, with its pitched-roof, cream-coloured waterfront condominiums, had felt like a place in a fairy tale: picturesque but sleepy and faraway.

It even had a lookout tower in the form of Cosy Bay beer garden, but the once bustling restaurant and bar closed in 2008. With the completion of Gardens By the Bay across the water in 2012 and the Sports Hub this June, it is as if Tanjong Rhu has woken from a sleeping spell.

The area has become more accessible, and buzzes with energy as a hangout for families and outdoor enthusiasts.

For sure, expatriate mums having picnics on open grass patches, teens zooming about on their kick scooters, and luxury cars driving in and out of condominiums are still common sights in this largely gated neighbourhood.

What has changed is that on weekday evenings and weekends, the open spaces facing the Sports Hub and Indoor Stadium host picnics and sports activities, including fun runs and marathons.

"The waterfront is much more crowded," said advertising creative Michael Chin, 25, who has lived in the estate his whole life. "You'll find lots of couples, recreational fishermen, joggers and dog walkers, and they seem to enjoy the laid-back and out-of-Singapore atmosphere."

In the past, only SBS bus service 158 - taken by many a Dunman High School student - served the area.

Now, there is SBS bus service 11, and the area is five minutes away from Stadium MRT station on the Circle Line. The estate will also get its own MRT station on the Thomson-East Coast Line by 2023, between Water Place and Tanjong Ria condominiums.

From supermarkets like FairPrice Xtra to eateries such as Poulet and Shokudo at Kallang Wave mall, Tanjong Rhu residents now have more options.

"There are more shops, sports facilities and transport services. It is a huge upgrade from what it used to be," said 42-year-old Chan Wei Hsien, a fund manager who has lived in the estate for more than a year.

The new wave of energy marks yet another chapter in the history of Tanjong Rhu, named after the Casuarina trees that grew along the coast. Many think of it as a high-end residential area but once upon a time, it was a shipyard at Kampong Arang, known for gang activities and charcoal factories.

In the 1990s, it was redeveloped as a private residential enclave, following the reclamation of land along the coast. A bit of the area's past remains in a cluster of 13 blocks of old flats, some built more than four decades ago.

While few condo residents venture there, the public housing

area, with its old-fashioned coffee shops and salons, is popular with couples on engagement photo shoots. It remains largely untouched despite the hubbub around the Sports Hub.

"Most of my customers have been here for a long time," said Madam Lee Guat Keow, a second- generation owner of Hong Seng Hair and Beauty Salon at Kampong Arang.

"Some of the residents still stop by my shop to chat," said the 62-year-old, who has been working and living in the area for more than 40 years. The kampung spirit remains, said Mr Leong Kuo Tong, 71, a second-generation owner of Leong Brothers Departmental Store, which started 49 years ago. "Some former residents still come back to buy stuff," he said.

In the area's condominiums, however, expatriate residents from places such as Australia, India and South Korea come and go. IT manager Roland Chan, 49, said: "Our neighbours next door keep changing every few years."

The latest changes to Tanjong Rhu have brought excitement to some and dismay to others. "Some people are excited about the recent changes, but others prefer the serenity," said 35-year-old Tulika Singh. The Tanjong Rhu resident of two years runs an indoor playground in the area. "I think a bit of balance is good."