By Wilson Yeo, Aaron Lam, Raine Toh, and Nur Hazimah Binte Mohd Rezal
Driving through Rosyth estate, you may catch a glimpse of an ordinary-looking field: an empty plot of land surrounded by buildings formerly known as Parry Primary School.
As the sun sets, the lush green canvas transforms into a football field and informal dog park dubbed “Parry Open Field”, where humans and their canine companions come out to play.
But in the past few months, the hidden gem has been hit hard.
On Sep. 29, 2022, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced plans for a private assisted living development to be built on the site.
And in October 2023, three dogs died after visiting Parry Open Field, leading to allegations that the construction project had left the field contaminated.
Today, a sign near the field reads: “URA Sale Site”. There’s a shadow cast over the rolling green.
Soon, it'll be just another product of redevelopment in land-scarce Singapore.
But it's worth considering what such a loss would mean.
On Jun. 20, 2023, a Business Times report noted that Pre 20, a subsidiary of real estate firm Perennial Holdings, had won the tender for the site.
The Straits Times described the project as such: “200 assisted-living apartments, a 100-bed nursing home, a wellness clubhouse, and a geriatric care centre and a new 1.5ha community park”.
After the redevelopment project was announced, a number of dog owners who frequented the field began a petition to set aside some space within the project for an off-leash dog run.
While the URA masterplan had provided for a neighbourhood park, it wasn't clear what the boundaries would be: like if dogs or activities would be allowed.
Besides, the existing park was already serving the local community, including the local dogs.
As such, the petitioners reasoned a space should be set aside for their continued usage.
“You would not be hard-pressed to find an evening with a group playing soccer in one area of the Park, while the dogs frolic off-leash and perhaps bird trainers engaging another part of the Park,” they wrote.
It was signed by just under 900 people, and four weeks after the petition was posted, then-Aljunied Group Representation Constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera as well as representatives of NParks and URA reached out to the petition organisers.
However, the petition updates abruptly stopped coming.
History of the field
Construction soon began in the vicinity of the field, on the premises of the old school building.
But the field itself continued to be used by residents.
After all, despite being redeveloped to serve the community, Parry Open Field had already been doing that for decades.
The site's known history dates back around six decades to when Parry Open Field was occupied by Parry Avenue Boys’ School, Parry Avenue Girl’s School and the Parry Avenue Government Chinese Middle School.
Back then, the field was used to host large annual sporting events, according to an article by Remember Singapore.
65-year-old Gary Cher, recalled his time as a student of Parry Avenue Boys' School:
“We have been playing here because it's our school, because we stayed nearby all the kampung houses last time. So we all three brothers all stay here to play soccer."
More than half a century on, Cher continues to be a regular at the field, where he still kicks a soccer ball around with his friends.
Asked how he felt about the redevelopment, Cher acknowledged that it was sad. He credited the space and exercise done at the field to helping him stay strong at the age of 65.
“We can spend two hours every day, two-three hours [on the] weekend. Weekend, also we come here and play. We come here and we sweat, this is all priceless.
Then if there is no space, how?”
He added that a big part of why he and his friends use the field for their soccer matches is because it is free, unlike other public fields.
According to the booking rates on the ActiveSG website, booking a public football field can cost as much as $65 for two hours.
“It’s a very sad thing because all the residents here — the children here, the people here — there is no place for them [now],” Cher shared.
Furthermore, the construction project has left a bitter taste in the mouths of residents — already disillusioned with the loss of their beloved park.
In October 2023, three dogs died after visiting Parry Open Field, leading to allegations that the construction project had left the field contaminated.
The field was cordoned off, and a joint statement by the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) and the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said that poisoning was "most likely" the cause of death for two of the three dogs.
However, the space was later reopened after no contamination was found.
It’s hard to strike a balance between preserving the “kampung spirit” of old — and the places where it resides — with the pragmatic needs of the community.
Chin Choon Poon, 68, and Wong Way Sim, 66, agreed, calling the redevelopment “a necessity”.
The elderly couple, who have been walking by the field for over 30 years on their daily strolls and consider themselves nature lovers, said that while they treasure open areas like Parry Open Field, the redevelopment of the field was inevitable.
“Initially we'll probably feel a little upset, you know, a little bit uneasy. But time will heal all wounds. That's my personal experience coming to 70 years old,” said Chin.
Wong added: “I think it is a necessity because Singapore's population is ageing. So you have to take care of the elderly if they need a place to stay.”
But the loss may be greater than just that of a dog field, or a place to play soccer.
Tan Ern Ser, an associate professor from National University of Singapore's (NUS) Department of Sociology said that spaces like Parry Open Field are avenues for people from the neighbourhood to meet, which encourages “social interaction, mixing and integration”.
“They have the potential for forging social ties, say between races, and thereby social cohesion. This reduces social isolation,” Tan said.
He added that “disruptions”, like the field’s removal, could result in loss and alienation.
“The effect may not be long-term though, if the folks affected could reconnect by other means or colonise another space,” he noted.
In land-scarce Singapore, the reality is that sites like Parry Open Field will increasingly become a thing of the past.
But remember the petition?
It hadn't called for the construction project to be scrapped, but simply for a public space to be set aside for the existing activities to continue.
The project hasn't been completed yet, so it's unclear if the petition will end up succeeding. But it did succeed in gaining the attention of the stakeholders who can make a decision on the matter.
Either way, it's true that preserving every place with the least bit of sentimental value is likely an impossibility.
After all, we do need BTOs, senior care centres, and so on.
But it's also worth considering the real value of such shared spaces, and the possibility of compromising for the things that matter.
Even if it's not always the most pragmatic solution.
This article was produced as part of a collaboration between Mothership and Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
Top image from Raine Toh