Edgy, grungy MacPherson bursts with personality

By Ruth Loh Xiu
/ EdgeProp Singapore |
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MACPHERSON - Baby Dragon Playground At Pipit Road
Baby Dragon Playground At Pipit Road Photo Credit: EdgeProp Singapore
Did you know that part of the neighbourhood most people identify as MacPherson is actually designated under the Toa Payoh planning area? This swathe of land sweeps across much of the real estate flanking MacPherson Road and is home to the recognisable MacPherson Mall. The building stands at the crossroads of MacPherson Road and Aljunied Road but is considered part of Toa Payoh’s Joo Seng subzone. Curiously enough,a few more steps bring one closer to Paya Lebar Road, where the propertiesalong that stretch of MacPherson Road are designated under the MacPherson subzone under the Geylang planning area.
The geography boggles the mind, begging the question: Where exactly is MacPherson on the URA map?
MACPHERSON - The red line demarcates the MacPherson subzone under the Geylang planning area
The red line demarcates the MacPherson subzone under the Geylang planning area. Source: URA Space at www.ura.gov.sg
MacPherson is bounded by MacPherson Road, the Pan-Island Expressway, Aljunied Road, and Paya Lebar Road. It can be difficult to locate subzones accurately without a map, and it’s likely someone might have unknowingly stood in two different zones at once, with a foot on each (this applies to the rest of Singapore, really). For example, MacPherson Mall isn’t part of the MacPherson subzone but its grassy neighbour across the street is. Mostly neatly organised into rectangular land parcels, each subzone on the URA map sits beneath the umbrella of a larger planning area. Intriguingly, the Pelton Canal (with its impressive 4.7/5 Google rating as of June 20, 2019) meanders diagonally across MacPherson before flowing over into the Kallang Way subzone and promptly rebranding itself as Kallang River.

Low-rise architecture defines MacPherson

MACPHERSON - This durian stall at Jalan Belangkas (perpendicular to MacPherson Road) doesn’t sell only the king of fruits, but baskets of freshly baked sweet potatoes as well.
This durian stall at Jalan Belangkas (perpendicular to MacPherson Road) doesn’t sell only the king of fruits, but baskets of freshly baked sweet potatoes as well. Photo credit: Loh Xiu Ruth
MacPherson is considered part of Singapore’s central region, yet many of its buildings do not exceed the 2.8 to 3.0 plot ratio. This is in stark contrast to Central Subzone within the Downtown Core, with building plot ratios of up to 25.0. Many of the shops and landed homes along MacPherson Road are much lower and reminiscent of Holland Village, although of course, the heavily mixed nature of this quasi-industrial hotspot has given rise to a rawer environment.

Generations of history

MACPHERSON - Greenery abounds at Jalan Cheng kek, which is within eyeshot of the Pelton Canal
Greenery abounds at Jalan Cheng kek, which is within eyeshot of the Pelton Canal. Photo credit: Loh Xiu Ruth
MacPherson is indisputably a mature estate, going by its wide array of amenities and the age of its homes. Last year, HDB announced that the 50-year-old blocks at 81 to 83 MacPherson Lane had been identified for the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS). The residents will move to Circuit Road, still within the MacPherson subzone; the new HDB flats are scheduled for completion in 2023. These old blocks aren’t the only ones in MacPherson enjoying their golden years; multiple blocks at Circuit Road consisting of mostly three-room flats also date back half a century, with Blocks 67 and 69 Circuit Road celebrating their 50th birthday this year. Most of the other existing blocks range between 20 and 50 years in age, including the 46-year-old 30 Balam Road with its two-room to four-room units, and 33-year-old 53 Pipit Road with its executive flats. This year, however, four 19-storey Built-To-Order blocks at Circuit Road will become the youngest HDB flats to join the MacPherson family. MacPherson Spring was launched in 2015 and slated for completion in 2019. This group of studio apartments, three-room, and four-room flats are already erected and within very short walking distance of MacPherson MRT Station.
To give an idea of how much resale units are going for in this subzone, indicative prices for a three-room flat at 19 Balam Road are $224,000 and $724,000 for an executive flat at 53 Pipit Road (as of June 24). There are a number of predominantly freehold private properties in MacPherson, including the 228-unit Le Crescendo along Paya Lebar Road and landed houses, such as Happy Avenue (North, West, East, and Central), Jalan Melor, and Jalan Chengkek. Average prices for Le Crescendo are $1,261 psf (as of June 20, 2019), with a fairly average rental yield of 2.5%.

Transactions for landed homes at MacPherson

Landed homes at Happy Avenue are a mix of semi-detached and terraced houses, and sales volume is relatively slow. There haven’t been any transactions at Happy Avenue West since 2010, and between 2012 and 2018 there were no transactions at Happy Avenue Central. The latest transactions at Happy Avenue Central and Happy Avenue East were in 2018. Both of the most recent transactions were for 3,875 sqft semi-detached houses and psf prices hovered below $1,000 psf. The pattern plays across the other landed properties, with no sales at Jalan Mawar since 2015, a single sale in 2018 at Jalan Chengkek for a 2,594 sqft terraced house that sold for $1,003 psf, and a single sale in 2018 at Jalan Jermin for a 4,058 semi-detached house that changed hands for $1,016 psf.
One of the few exceptions was Jalan Melor, which saw six transactions in 2018, all for terraced houses ranging between 2,400 and 3,606 sqft and mostly transacted below the $1,000 psf mark.
Despite the freehold tenure and central address, MacPherson landed homes do not command spectacular psf prices. Ong Teck Hui, senior director of research and consultancy at JLL,says, “The MacPherson area is rather mixed, with both residential and industrial estates in close co-existence. This could affect demand from landed homebuyers as many would prefer predominantly residential areas, which offer a more exclusive feel and ambience.”

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A hodge-podge of contrary shops

MACPHERSON - Shops like this add life to an already bustling road
Shops like this add life to an already bustling road. Photo credit: Loh Xiu Ruth
Despite the lack of glamour in the air, the close juxtaposition of industrial and residential properties confers a unique appeal on the estate. A quick walk along MacPherson Road unveils a very eclectic set of commercial tenants. A traditional ethnic minimart, durian stall selling baked sweet potatoes by the basket, colourful costume dress shop, and a wholesome gym can all be found within a few minutes’ walk of one another. There is a distinctly non-homogeneous nature along MacPherson’s eponymous road, and it has created a charmingly chaotic vibe in this part of the subzone.
Further down Aljunied Road and Paya Lebar Road, approaching Aljunied and Paya Lebar MRT Stations respectively, the atmosphere settles into staid stability, with quiet HDB houses at Balam Road, Circuit Road, and Pipit Road. There are two food markets—MacPherson Market & Food Centre and Circuit Road Market & Food Centre—and a slew of eateries at the Circuit Road Food Centre along Circuit Road, next to Pelton Canal.
MACPHERSON - ​ The canal is wide and smells fresh, making it perfect for an after-dinner stroll
The canal is wide and smells fresh, making it perfect for an after-dinner stroll. Photo credit: Loh Xiu Ruth
With practical amenities, a peaceful river (or canal) walk, established residential and industrial estates, and extensive food choices, MacPherson brims with inextinguishable life, giving it character, colour, and creativity enough to entertain and nurture many more generations of people and businesses.
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