by Daniel Yap
Matilda Portico, Punggol, Singapore. An ST article threw the spotlight on this and other oddly named neighbourhoods that have raised eyebrows and confused cabbies.
The Housing Development Board (HDB) does the naming (which also involves the architects), and says that “the objective was to create local identities that residents can relate to and foster neighbourliness”.
While that is a noble goal, some have questioned its effectiveness, especially online. Comments left on the article’s online pages describe the names as “arbitrary”, “chim”, “atas” and “fake”. Most thought the HDB was trying too hard to brand its projects, and that made-up names did not add to a sense of community.
While the paper tells of some Punggol Spectra residents forming a community and calling themselves “Spectrans”, it remains to be seen if it was the name that built community or whether it was just a convenient moniker, clobbered into the consciousness by a massive signboard (the photo of which features prominently in the article). ‘Spectra’ are conditions or values that vary over a continuum (whatever that means). Might it be a comment on property prices?
The lack of enthusiasm for HDB’s names is understandable. You see, Singaporeans don’t really have a good track record for naming things. Take, for instance, the time the Budget Terminal was named the ‘Budget Terminal’, or the time $400,000 was paid to Interbrand to rename Marina Bay ‘Marina Bay’. The sting of the massive waste of money and effort still haunts us.
Elsewhere, HDB has named the historical “Chap Lak Lao”, meaning 16 Storey, “Commonwealth Heights”. It seems that “Chap Lao”, meaning 10 Storey, in Tanglin Halt was renamed “Commonwealth 10”, and then only because residents were involved in naming the en bloc redevelopment project and were fond of the reference. These two neighbourhoods earned their nicknames because they were some of the first public housing blocks of that height built in the area back in the 60s and 70s.
But some odd names may indeed preserve a piece of history. For Matilda Portico, its roots may come from the conserved Matilda House (also known as Istana Menanti), several hundred metres away, which did in fact have a portico, as recorded by local history buffs. The historical landmark is slated to be converted into a clubhouse as part of the Punggol Emerald development.