From Royal Estate to BTO: A look back at Bidadari


Tucked between Serangoon and Potong Pasir is Bidadari, a 45-acre plot of land forgotten by many, that is, until redevelopment plans for the area spurred a renewed interest in its heritage.  

Twenty years later, the grand plans for the Bidadari estate have come to pass. Standing tall at the former cemetery are 12 BTO projects, spread across four districts (Alkaff, Bartley Heights, Park Edge and Woodleigh), and ready to be repopulated by the living.  

While much has been said about Bidadari’s future, what do we know about its past?  

Revisiting Bidadari 

Bidadari has always been a dwelling of sorts. Going back to the 19th century, it was a royal estate where Sultan Abu Bakar (aka “Father of Modern Johor”) housed his second consort.  

Subsequently, the municipal commission acquired the estate as a potential site for a new cemetery in 1905. While it might have started with Christians in mind, sections of land were allocated to the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist (Sinhalese) communities, turning Bidadari into our first multi-religious state cemetery.  

For nearly seventy years, Bidadari became the final resting place for over 100,000 souls, including many notable individuals. There were pioneer politicians (Mr Ahmad Ibrahim), social reformers (Dr Lim Boon Keng), renowned architects (R.A.J. Bidwell of Raffles Hotel fame) and even a notorious murderer (Sunny Ang). At a time before diversity became a buzzword, Bidadari was already exemplifying it.  

Bidadari officially retired as an active cemetery in October 1972. On an island awash with cement and human activity, nature reclaimed the area, turning it into a paradise for migratory birds and our equivalent of “The Lost World”. It was not until 1996 when exhumation of the site began. And after much planning to integrate the rich nature and heritage into the planning, housing construction started in 2012. 

From vision to reality 

Very soon, the Bidadari estate will once again come alive. Visiting the homes of happy residents in the Woodleigh district, Minister for National Development Desmond Lee  shared, “With the hard work of HDB colleagues and our contractors, we have managed to complete more than 70% of the new flats, and we are on track to complete the remaining flats by 2025.” 

Designed with sustainability and liveability in mind, the former royal estate will house nearly 10,000 flats amidst lush surroundings, a market square, a pedestrianised Heritage Walk celebrating the area’s history, an underground reservoir and a 10-hectare park that comes with its very own lake.  

Singapore might be a young nation, but our deep history that goes back hundreds of years has helped to give our housing estates their unique identity. Bidadari is no exception, which explains why there is no attempt to whitewash its past. Instead, we embrace it. And now that we have transformed the area, it will not be long before Bidadari enters our social lexicon as a place to go to.  

Photo Source: Lee via Facebook