Paya Lebar, an estate situated in the eastern region of Singapore, has been populated for more than 180 years since the 1830s. The name of the area is derived from the amalgamation of two Malay words, “paya” which signifies swamp and “lebar” which means extensive or spacious.

The first recorded instance of the area was on a survey map from the 1830s, which was commissioned by the Straits Settlements. This colonial government was established by the British and oversaw Singapore, Penang, Malacca, and Perak (formerly known as Dinging) in Malaysia.

The National Archives state that Paya Lebar had several rural settlements and agricultural areas that had been set up by the 1890s. Additionally, a sizable expanse was occupied by squatters who were engaged in market farming, along with rearing of pigs and poultry for sale.

Paya Lebar’s prominent feature was the Singapore International Airport, which began its operations on August 20, 1955. The airport was built to replace Kallang Airport, situated near the Kallang River and approximately 5 kilometers away.

Paya Lebar Airport had been the sole commercial airport in Singapore for 26 years until 1981, when it was superseded by Changi Airport. Following its closure, Paya Lebar Airport underwent a transformation and became Paya Lebar Air Base, a military facility utilized by both the Republic of Singapore Air Force and the US Air Force. At present, Paya Lebar Air Base serves a crucial role in maintaining national security and military operations in the region. (See also: Paya Lebar Air Base)

Early development
In the early years, Malays made up the majority of the population in Paya Lebar. By the 1930s, several Malay-dominated enclaves had emerged, extending from the neighboring Geylang area. The name “Geylang” is believed to be derived from the Malay word “kilang,” which denotes a factory or mill. During that period, these factories and mills were widespread in the locality.

Geylang and Paya Lebar share a rich history of development, and today, Paya Lebar falls under the Geylang Planning Area according to the URA Master Plan. Launched in 1963, the Geylang Serai Housing Redevelopment Scheme was one of the government’s initial initiatives for urban redevelopment. 

This extensive project, carried out in three phases, was intended to revamp the Geylang and Paya Lebar regions into a contemporary housing estate, ushering in a new era of urban living. (See also: Paya Lebar Master Plan)

Geylang’s kampung houses were replaced in 1980s by: 

  • Public Housing Flats
  • Industrial Estates 
  • Shopping Centres 

The current population of over 87,300 residents and more than 30,000 flats, as per HDB’s March 2018 data.

Despite the rapid modernization, Geylang Serai has retained its unique Malay heritage, as it is one of Singapore’s oldest Malay settlements. Sri Geylang Serai, a public housing development, is integrated with the busy Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre, one of Singapore’s busiest wet markets.

The industrialization progress in Singapore necessitated further redevelopment of the Paya Lebar area’s industrial base. Later plans proposed by the URA aimed to convert the land surrounding Paya Lebar Air Base into industrial estates, according to the 1996 Development Plan.

Commercial hub
Geylang and Paya Lebar were earmarked as sub-regional commercial hubs in the 2008 URA Master Plan, aimed at easing congestion in the Central Business District by attracting businesses to these areas. 

The plan envisioned these hubs as modern and dynamic commercial centers with amenities catering to the needs of residents and businesses. This strategic initiative aimed to promote economic growth and a balanced and sustainable urban environment.

The aim was to develop Paya Lebar Central, located near the Paya Lebar MRT Interchange Station, into a commercial center surrounded by a mix of retail, commercial, and hotel buildings. 

The MacPherson MRT Interchange Station was also opened to enhance transport connectivity. It is only one stop away from Paya Lebar MRT Station on the Circle Line, providing commuters with access to the Downtown Line.

The project located at the junction of Sims Avenue  and Paya Lebar Road comprises of three elements – the PLQ Mall, three Grade-A office towers, and three residential blocks named Park Place Residences. 

Additionally, the PLQ Mall offers direct access to the Paya Lebar MRT Interchange Station that serves both the East-West and Circle Lines, making it a convenient transportation hub.

In addition to being a transportation hub, Tembusu Grand‘s location offers a range of dining and shopping options, including Paya Lebar Quarter, Kinex, and Wisma Geylang Serai, which are all just a short drive or walk away.


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