Playing with dragons: Singapore's playgrounds of the past

Playing with dragons: Singapore's playgrounds of the past

Remember the days of sand, swings and slides? CNNGo hunts down the last few remaining playgrounds that haven't yet been usurped by plastic imports
Singapore playgrounds
Fancy a bumboat ride? No need to go to the Singapore River, just come by Elias Mall in Pasir Ris. This playground is one of the designs that reflected local themes.

A generation of locally designed playgrounds were demolished after they were deemed unsafe for Singaporean children. Here are the last few still standing.

Playing with a dragon? That’s no childhood fantasy, but what some Singaporean children growing up in the 1980s had as their playground. It was one of the many designed locally by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for Singapore’s public housing estates. The design of these playgrounds was inspired by nursery rhymes and children’s games like "Snakes and Ladders."

Other playgrounds resembled common objects like fruits, fire engines and clocks. As part of nation-building efforts, playgrounds also reflected Singapore culture -- some were shaped as Chinese bumboats, attap houses and trishaws. By the late 1980s, as more public housing estates were built, playgrounds also reflected the history and geography of a location. For instance, those in Pasir Ris, which were built on reclaimed land, took inspiration from the sea. 

However, a decade of local playground design came to an abrupt end in 1993. Just months after the local papers ran an exposé about the public playgrounds' poor state and lack of safety standards, a five-year-old boy's thumb was severed while playing on a faulty slide. The boy regained the full use of this thumb, but that marked the end of the play areas. Foreign safety experts were flown in to inspect our playgrounds, which were subsequently declared unsafe. 

A massive upgrading exercise was carried out. Concrete structures in sandboxes were replaced with plastic modular ones sitting on rubber mats. The HDB also stopped designing playgrounds and bought them from international suppliers instead. Not only did they meet international safety standards, these playgrounds were cheaper to maintain.

Today, Singaporean children play in spaces designed like anywhere else around the world. As for these remaining old playgrounds, they will one day be erased in a city that never ceases to upgrade itself. Visit them before they disappear altogether.

Singapore playgroundsThe dragon design is so iconic of Singapore playgrounds that it was recently included in an issue of local stamps featuring playgrounds. This one is found along Toa Payoh Lorong 6.

Singapore playgroundsThis dove-shaped design debuted together with the dragon playground and this particular one is found in the estate of Dakota Crescent. Together, they marked the beginning of an era of locally designed playgrounds.

Singapore playgroundsA clock-shaped playground design located near Bishan bus terminus. This is one of the many designs inspired by common objects.

Singapore playgroundsPlay amongst a pelican, rabbit and tortoise at this playground in Dover Vista Park.