Making of Singapore into a lively, liveable global city

URA's Master Plan looks at softer features of urban life and new needs like population growth
Joyce Teo, Straits Times 24 May 08;

EVERY five years, Singapore's city planners draw up a plan that will change the face of the island and affect the lives of everyone living and working here.

It is a gargantuan undertaking, ironically made more difficult by the country's small size.

This is because the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) needs to pack a good number of objectives into planning for a space that is just 704 square km.

It needs to ensure, for example, that there is enough space for companies and businesses to site offices and factories. Otherwise, land cost issues could deter them from locating here and crimp economic growth.

But it also needs to pay attention to the living environment. This means setting aside land for homes in attractive surroundings and ensuring that there are enough leisure options to keep the island's residents entertained.

It is these principles that have guided the 2008 URA Draft Master Plan, released by Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan yesterday.
Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan said yesterday that Kallang Riverside will be the next prime area on the edge of the city.

'Together with the Sports Hub, Kallang Riverside will be a significant sports and lifestyle cluster with a slice of history, supported by attractive beachfront hotels,' he said.

'The challenge for our planners is to make it possible for this vision to be realised given our limited land resources,' he said.

And getting the balance right is crucial in what is increasingly becoming a high-stakes contest between global cities to attract investment and top talent.

'You have cities that are very environmentally friendly, but tend to be very boring,' said Mr Mah.

'Or, you have cities that are very lively, very vibrant but not so liveable...the air quality is not so good.'

This is why the theme of URA's new master plan is 'Where our future is. Great opportunities, good life', he added.

The plan envisions Singapore in 2020 as a city that is 'distinctive in its ability to offer a unique combination of economic opportunity, vibrant lifestyle and quality environment, for a cosmopolitan population'.

Urban planning is not new in Singapore and started before the country gained independence in 1965.

The first master plan was forged in 1958 by the British colonial government. It regulated land use by zoning areas and introducing land density and plot ratio controls that dictated how much built-up space would be allowed in a given area.

Land was reserved for schools, infrastructural facilities and other community uses. New satellite towns away from the city centre were also planned.

Since then, the master plan has undergone eight reviews and various amendments.

The most significant was in 1998, when the Government implemented major plot ratio changes in a forward-looking plan to make better use of land.

'There was a fundamental change in thinking in 1998. The Government put out 55 development guide plans, which gave a clear idea of its development directions for each region,' said Knight Frank's managing director Tan Tiong Cheng.

With that understanding, land owners and developers could, for the first time, plan confidently. They knew, for instance, what type of developments were slated for which site and how high the buildings could go.

'That was the first new Master Plan, so major changes were made then,' recalled Mrs Cheong Koon Hean, chief executive officer of the URA.

Before that, the planners made updates to the plan, rather than relook it from a fresh perspective, she said.

The next master plan review in 2003 was a broader, large-scaled plan that focused on parks and waterbodies as well as identity and heritage.

It was not a significant departure from before, as major changes had already been introduced in 1998.

Experts say this year's master plan review is more focused. Apart from detailed plans for Jurong, Kallang and Paya Lebar, the emphasis was also on the softer features of urban life and new needs like population growth.

In 2005, the URA started drawing up a plan for more leisure offerings.

'We were looking into how else to make Singapore an even more fun and restful place,' said Mrs Cheong.

URA planners looked at the whole island, took stock of what Singapore already had and acted on the results of a lifestyle survey which showed, for instance, that people liked to see parks near their homes.

Then, they worked out a plan - the first islandwide one - that capitalised on Singapore's green assets.

The resulting Leisure Plan, unveiled earlier this week, adds 900ha of park land and triples the size of Singapore's park connector network. One result: A stunning new 150km round-island cycling route.

In the North and West regions, for example, many of the new homes planned will be located near reservoirs and parks such as Jurong Lake and Lower Seletar Reservoir.

But the URA also looked carefully at each of Singapore's five regions.

A team of six key planners worked on the proposals for each region, while teams of around 10 key planners drew up the detailed plans for the new growth areas such as Kallang Riverside.

In all, more than 300 officers comprising urban planners, architects and technical staff got involved.

Hours were spent walking the ground to get a feel for the areas under study. And the URA went overseas to get ideas.

'We looked to cities like New York for its exciting nightlife and rich arts scene and to Seoul for its success in creating beautiful urban waterways,' a URA spokesman told The Straits Times.

The plans for Kallang Riverside, for example, have their roots in waterfront housing and hotel developments in the United States city of Miami as well as Barcelona, Spain.

Another theme that runs clearly through the 2008 Master Plan is the decentralisation of urban activity to commercial nodes outside the Central Business District.

It is a strategy that first made an appearance in the URA's 1991 concept plan, with the Tampines Regional Centre identified as the first decentralised commercial hub.

Today, Tampines is dubbed the 'Shenton Way of the East', with many banks having set up backroom operations there.

The idea, as Mr Mah puts it, is to 'bring jobs closer to homes and homes closer to jobs'.

Therefore, under this year's plan, Paya Lebar Central will be further developed and more jobs will be introduced to the North, North-east and East regions in various business and manufacturing parks.

Conversely, more housing will be introduced in the West region, which traditionally has been an industrial stronghold, in areas like the Jurong Lake District, Hillview and Choa Chu Kang.

With leisure amenities also coming up in all these regions, and transport links between the regions strengthened, the hope is that people will need to travel less to the city. And this will reduce the burden on the country's transport infrastructure.

Finally, with tourism now being a key pillar of growth, the new master plan has set aside more land for hotels to cater to tourists coming here to enjoy the attractions.

New hotels have been planned for areas such as Chinatown, Singapore River, Paya Lebar and Sentosa.

Initial reactions to the plan have been favourable, with developers applauding the clarity of the plans.

'It gives you a good idea of what the Government will be doing in the next five to 10 years and gives us investors more confidence,' said Mr Allen Law, director of the Park Hotel Group.

'In less developed countries, you don't know what type of supply may spring up next to your development.'

And for all the proposals for change mooted, some appreciated that certain policies would not change.

For example, there are no major plot ratio changes this year, which developers said may be a good thing, given the current market uncertainty.

The property market has had its quietest period in years as many buyers kept to the sidelines this year.

The URA has also pledged to release new land parcels at a pace that is in line with market demand and conditions.

Overall, Mr Simon Cheong, president of the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore, said the 2008 Master Plan provides for a very sustainable global city, which will offer a lot of opportunities for developers.

'It's very comprehensive and not a cut-and-paste approach,' added Mr Cheong. 'There's already a soul in Singapore and you want to maintain that.'


MAKEOVER #1: KALLANG RIVERSIDE
Beaches and waterfront homes at the edge of city
The area south of Kallang and Lavender MRT stations will be completely transformed
Fiona Chan, Straits Times 24 May 08;

THE year is 2020. The place: Kallang.

Gone are the unsightly gas tanks and drab industrial factories that once marked this area. Instead, it is sparkling with modern high-rise buildings, cool green parks and beachfront homes.

Families stroll down the tree-lined paths and frolic by the river, which has been cleaned up and beautified with sandy beaches, waterfront hotels and energetic water sports.

In the distance looms the Sports Hub, an impressive cluster of world-class sporting facilities, just minutes away to the south of the area.

This is the new Kallang - at least, the way Singapore's land planners envision it in 15 years.

Under the latest masterplan revealed by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday, the area south of Kallang and Lavender MRT stations will be completely transformed.

The URA will do away with the prosaic industrial estate of Kallang Basin, the site of the former Kallang Gasworks and some of Singapore's oldest public housing estates.

In its place will blossom the glamorous Kallang Riverside, an exclusive residential enclave, thriving commercial hub and nature-rich leisure seat at the edge of the city centre.

When the area takes shape, it could rival Novena and Sentosa as a prime living and working destination, property consultants said yesterday.

Kallang will have the added advantage of lush green parks and shimmering waterways to draw visitors, they added.

'Kallang is like a hybrid of Marina Bay and Sentosa, unique in that it will have beaches and waterfront homes so close to the city,' said Mr Chua Yang Liang, head of South-east Asia research at property firm Jones Lang LaSalle.

In all, the URA has set aside 64 hectares of land to be developed in the area - double the size of Raffles Place.

It will retain light industrial buildings that offer jobs in the neighbourhood, but eliminate Kallang's old, grey, stodgy feel.

Four thousand new waterfront homes will be created on the west side of the river, all to be built by private developers, said the URA.

They will be set in The Green, a halcyon housing suburb arranged around a long strip of grassy park to the west of the Kallang River.

This park will link Lavender MRT station to the waterfront, providing a verdant thoroughfare for residents and visitors alike.

On the river's east side, a commercial centre will spring up, with space for 400,000 sq m of offices, shops and entertainment venues. The offices here will allow businesses to expand outside the city and are envisaged as cheaper support offices for downtown firms, the URA said.

To accommodate overseas visitors, Kallang Riverside will host 3,000 hotel rooms in a tropical beachfront setting.

The river itself will realise its full potential as a recreational hub.

Already a popular dragon boating and waterskiing spot, it will also offer beachside lagoons for swimming and facilities for new sports such as boating or canoeing.

To top it all off, an extensive network of roads and walkways will be created to improve accessibility.

One is a sheltered walkway that will take pedestrians from Kallang MRT station all the way to the Sports Hub in air-conditioned comfort. This futuristic link will snake through the second storeys of office and entertainment buildings along the way.

A pedestrian bridge will also be constructed across the river, linking the mainly residential west bank to the commercial centre on the east.

But Kallang will not be all newfangled plans and sleek buildings. The URA stressed that care has been taken to preserve the area's historic identity.

One of the key landmarks is the former Kallang Airport, opened in 1937 as Singapore's first airport. The Art Deco-style building was once hailed as the 'gem of the British empire', with revolutionary facilities such as a circular aerodrome and a large open-air viewing gallery.

Increased air traffic led to the airport being closed in 1955 and replaced by Paya Lebar Airport. The runway was converted into a road and the airfield to a recreational area, but the terminal building still stands as the People's Association headquarters.

Now, it will be one of the key development sites to be launched for sale in Kallang, along with the accompanying office buildings, former hangar, front lawn and other historic structures.

The blocks, centred around the historic Old Airport Square, will be conserved and adapted for new uses that could include a boutique hotel or a mall, said the URA.

It also intends to redevelop the bus interchange south of Kallang MRT station into high-rise buildings, and is studying whether to integrate the interchange into the new development or relocate it.

MAKEOVER #2: PAYA LEBAR
From quiet town to bustling cultural district
The Paya Lebar area will become one of S'pore's major commercial hubs under URA's new plan
Hong Xinyi, Straits Times 24 May 08;

IT'S been the site of plantations and kampungs, witnessed political intrigue and riots, and remained a distinctive neighbourhood cherished by the local Malay community.

Under the latest masterplan announced by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday, Paya Lebar will take on yet another incarnation as one of Singapore's new commercial hubs.

Close to 500,000 sq m of office, retail and hotel space will be added to the area, bolstering the 200,000 sq m already available. 'Over time, we hope to see Paya Lebar Central attracting small and medium-size enterprises, but we'll have to see how things develop,' said URA chief executive Cheong Koon Hean.

One of the first major changes to the area will be the new Paya Lebar MRT interchange station, ready by 2010, which will serve the Circle and East-West lines.

Land adjacent to both sides of nearby Tanjong Katong Road will be used for new developments that will feature office, retail and hotel space, including an outdoor pedestrian mall in Geylang Road.

The Geylang River, which is currently more of a canal, will be reconstructed and become a focal point for waterfront dining and shopping.

No date has been announced for the release of these land parcels for development under the Government Land Sale Programme.

But already, some of the neighbourhood's most iconic institutions are being primed for the big Paya Lebar makeover.

The area is no stranger to change. Geylang Serai was first earmarked for the Malay community by the colonial authorities in 1840, and takes its name from the 19th-century lemon grass plantations here (serai being the Malay word for lemon grass).

Political parties United Malays National Organisation and Barisan Sosialis were once active in the area, and the 1964 racial riots broke out nearby.

In 1965, the flood-prone area's kampungs began to be replaced with government-built flats. The now-trademark street lighting during Hari Raya was introduced in 1984, and planned developments such as pedestrian malls and arcades were announced by the URA as early as 1994.

Joo Chiat Complex, built in 1983, is expected to complete its current upgrading by August this year.

The new two-storey Geylang Serai market in Changi Road is expected to be completed next year and, at 9,300 sq m, will be twice as big as its famous predecessor.

The original market, which opened in 1964, was known as the Malay Emporium of Singapore and attracted busloads of regional tourists.

Ravaged by a fire in 1999, it was torn down in 2006. But the temporary market in Sims Avenue - which retains the tradition of selling only halal food - is still doing robust business.

But at least one neighbourhood landmark will not be part of the new Paya Lebar Central.

The Malay Village, in Geylang Serai Road, was set up in 1989 to showcase traditional Malay kampung life. Plagued by management changes, the attraction never really took off. But just last month, the current management team announced plans for a $50 million revamp.

The URA confirmed that the current site of the Malay Village, whose lease ends in 2011, will eventually be used for a new civic centre.

But the authorities maintain that the cultural heritage of the neighbourhood will play a key role in its redevelopment.

The proposed civic centre, which may include a library, could also feature a gallery showcasing the area's history, said the URA. The building's design may also be inspired by traditional Malay stylistic elements.

New plaza spaces near the Paya Lebar MRT station and the Geylang Serai market will provide more space for the area's annual Hari Raya bazaar, as well as year-round grassroots events and cultural performances.

Madam Suriana Sabtu, 31, welcomed the prospect of larger bazaars with stalls concentrated in the two new plazas.

Introducing new shopping outlets will add diversity to the retail scene here, she felt. 'It's good to attract more people here, not just Malays.'

But if this neighbourhood is indeed about to become sleek and bustling, some hope it won't be at the expense of its longstanding haphazard charms.

In its current pre-hub incarnation, old-school provision shops and textile stores still line its quiet streets and run-down shopping centres. Colours pop up in every corner, from festive fabrics in bandung-pink and Kickapoo-chartreuse, to the vials of scent with neon labels proclaiming names like Raja Musk and Amber Mecca.

Sipping teh tarik at the temporary Geylang Serai market, which he visits twice a month with his parents, national serviceman Mohd Farhan Abdul Rahman, 22, was candid: The neighbourhood could really use some sprucing up; the Malay Village is 'too messy', and he won't be terribly sad to see it go.

But he hopes some things will remain. 'Making this place a hub is great. But I hope the atmosphere here can still be retained. It's still a part of my culture.'

More space, more buzz in expanded city centre
Size will double with 23,000 new homes; wider lifestyle, leisure and business options
Jessica Cheam, Straits Times 24 May 08;

THE heart and soul of Singapore is about to get bigger - and you might get to live closer to it.

The city centre is set for an injection of 23,000 new homes in the next decade, as the Central Business District (CBD) doubles in size to dwarf even that of London's famed Canary Wharf financial district.

In particular, Tanjong Pagar has been identified for rejuvenation, which will see new hotels, and commercial and residential sites being developed as the district becomes the 'Southern Gateway' to the city centre.

Plans for a bigger, bolder city centre - which will offer more lifestyle, business and leisure options - were released by Singapore's urban planners under the latest draft Masterplan 2008 yesterday.

Marina Bay will remain the mainstay of supply for Singapore's growing demand for office space. At 129ha and offering 2.82 millionsqm of office space, it will be the equivalent of Hong Kong Central, the city's main business district, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

While Marina Bay and the city centre will be the key commercial districts to meet demand, new 'commercial nodes' outside the CBD will offer attractive alternatives to businesses, said National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan yesterday at the launch.

This includes the Beach Road/Ophir-Rochor district, which will undergo a makeover previously announced by URA to become the 'Northern Gateway' to the city. Already under way is the development of the eco-friendly South Beach project designed by world-renowned British architect Norman Foster and his partners.

The development includes two towers of up to 45 storeys high, linked to the conserved military buildings of the old Beach Road camp. There will also be premium office space, two luxury hotels offering up to 700 rooms, service apartments and shops on the 3.5ha site.

In Tanjong Pagar, several sites have been sold in the past year for the development of new offices, hotel rooms and high-rise residential projects such as Pinnacle@Duxton and the Icon.

All this and more will further enhance the vibrancy and activities of the Tanjong Pagar commercial district, said URA.

In the broader central region, another 130,900 homes have also been planned, adding to the existing 335,400 units in the area.

These include new abodes in established towns Queenstown, Toa Payoh and Kallang. The proliferation of homes located close to commercial centres is also part of the strategy to 'reduce commuting by bringing jobs closer to home', said Mr Mah.

Public infrastructure, especially in transport, will be enhanced in the area, with the new Downtown and Thomson MRT lines and the Marina Coastal Expressway serving the expanded city centre.

Mr Danny Yeo, deputy managing director of property consultancy Knight Frank, said the latest plans will help alleviate some of the city's traffic problems.

'The increased residential component will also inject a lot more nightlife, and bring people closer to towns, reducing the need for travelling,' said Mr Yeo.

To give your feedback
Straits Times 24 May 08;

To give your views on the redevelopment plans, visit the Draft Master Plan 2008 exhibition at The URA Centre, 45 Maxwell Road from now till June 20.

Opening hours are 9am to 7pm (Monday to Friday), and till 1pm on Saturday.

Those who object to the proposals should write in to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of National Development, 5 Maxwell Road, Singapore 069110 - with supporting reasons - before June 20.

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