📷: Punggol seashore in the 1890s (Photo credit: Lim Keng Chye collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)
Punggol’s identity as a waterfront place predates the arrival of Sir Raffles Stamford in 1819 by many centuries. The earliest settlers were Malay fishermen and the name has several explanations, including “hurling sticks at the branches of fruit trees to bring the fruits down to the ground” and “a place where fruits and forest produce are offered for wholesale.”
Drawn to its rustic atmosphere, seafront and attractions, wealthy Europeans such as Irish lawyer Alexander William Cashin, original owner of the Matilda House, chose to build their weekend houses in Punggol. The 120-year-old building (now part of a private condominium estate) is the last remaining historical bungalow in Punggol and one of the oldest houses in Singapore.
The Japanese Occupation all but destroyed Punggol’s tranquility when on 28 February 1942, some 400 Chinese civilians were killed at Punggol Beach during one of the Sook Ching purges. It was not until the 1970s that Punggol regained popularity as seafront dining and water sports drew in crowds once again.
While plans were made as early as 1982 to develop Punggol into a waterfront town of the 21st century, progress was hindered during the 1990s to early 2000s due to the Asian Financial Crisis. In the initial stages, Punggol underwent massive land reclamation, to house industries and housing, and for recreational purposes. Pollutive pig-farming activities were replaced by hydroponic farming, and new amenities such as the Punggol Marina Club and Punggol Settlement were built, giving the town a new lease of life.
Designed as Singapore’s first Eco-Town, smart technologies were test-bedded at later stages at various housing developments in Punggol. These included intelligent parking demand monitoring systems, sensor-equipped lighting in common spaces and smart waste management. Other housing projects paid tribute to Punggol’s heritage as a fishing village through their designs.
The 50-hectare Punggol Digital District will be Singapore’s first tech-enabled and sustainable smart district where academia from the Singapore Institute of Technology, innovators and the business community can collaborate to develop solutions for key growth industries such as cybersecurity and digital technology, in an inclusive, sustainable and green environment. It will feature digital infrastructure and services such as the Open Digital Platform that integrates building management and data collection, a cooling system that aims to reduce carbon footprint, a smart waste collection system and a smart energy grid that allows users to adopt cleaner sources of energy. The PDD is expected to create 28,000 jobs for the digital economy.
Today, one of the prominent landmarks in Punggol is the 4.2km-long Punggol Waterway running through Punggol, which has realised waterfront living for its residents and rejuvenated the town. It is home to five picturesque bridges called the Famous Five – Jewel Bridge, Sunrise Bridge, Kelong Bridge, Adventure Bridge and Wave Bridge. Flanked by HDB blocks, the SAFRA complex, and Waterway Point, the Punggol Waterway Park is easily accessible to residents for a fun-filled day of leisure activities. Other landmarks include the 80-hectare Coney Island – an ecologically sustainable park that is linked by a bridge to the Punggol Waterway Park and houses a wide variety of fauna and flora, some of which are critically endangered, and Punggol Settlement which offers a wide culinary spread reminiscent of the old days of seafront dining at Punggol. Together, these features continue to safeguard Punggol’s identity as a waterfront place, for Singaporeans near and far.
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