Transforming Singapore: Draft Master Plan 2008

Business Times 29 May 08

More nature areas and nature parks have been opened up, in a sensitive way, for public enjoyment. Examples include Chek Jawa where the National Parks Board has completed the boardwalk, and the boardwalks, observation tower and suspension bridge opened at MacRitchie Reservoir.

Regardless of the market sentiment, the three "L's" - Location, Location, Location - will always remain fundamental to the property sector. As such, it pays to know where the best real estate locations are likely to be.

And with the Draft Master Plan 2008 having outlined new key growth areas, hot spots and hubs, there is no guesswork required.

So read on to find out where we will Live, Work, and Play in the future.

Supplement editor: Arthur Sim; Copy editor: Elaine Koh; Sub-editor: Gouw Huat May; Cover design: Jennifer Chua; Artist: Ludwig Ilio, Sarah Loyola

Achievements of the past 10 years
Caroline Seah, Business Times 29 May 08;

THE Master Plan 2008 exhibition, launched at the URA Centre on May 23, is an important event for all here in the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Not only is it the fruit of many months of brainstorming, discussions with various stakeholders and plain hard work, it also gives us an opportunity to share our excitement about the plans for Singapore's future development.

For those unfamiliar with the Master Plan, it is the statutory land use plan that URA develops to guide Singapore's development over the next 10 to 15 years. The Master Plan is reviewed every five years, and details the land uses and development intensities for land parcels in Singapore. It translates broader, longer-term development strategies formulated as part of the Concept Plan, which is the plan that sets the direction for Singapore some 40 to 50 years ahead. Both the Concept Plan and Master Plan work to ensure that there is sufficient land to cater to Singapore's future needs, while maintaining a good quality of living for our population.

The launch of the Master Plan 2008 exhibition marks a significant milestone in URA's history. Ten years have passed since the completion of the URA's 1998 Master Plan. Though Singapore's first statutory Master Plan was completed way back in 1958, it was the 1998 Master Plan that took planning one step forward by clearly spelling out a vision for Singapore in years to come.

For the first time, each plot of land in Singapore had a specific planning intention and development strategy. Changes in the Master Plan now signalled changes in the future landscape, rather than changes in existing uses on the ground. With the 1998 revision, the Master Plan became the forward-looking plan that we are familiar with today, a plan which enables land owners to make decisions with greater certainty.

As we prepare to complete and gazette Master Plan 2008, it would be interesting to review how successful our past Master Plans have been.

New commercial centres

Over the past 10 years, Singapore has developed new areas for businesses to flourish. Our vision for Marina Bay as an expansion of our CBD is being transformed into reality, as we speak. New developments like the Esplanade Theatres by the Bay, One Fullerton, Marina Centre, The Sail, the Marina Bay Financial Centre have been realised within the decade.

Beyond development of the city centre, these 10 years have also seen the growth of other commercial hubs. The Tampines Regional Centre, Buona Vista Sub-regional Centre (now known as One-North) and the Novena Fringe Centre are three such centres outside of the city centre being developed.

Both Tampines and Novena are now bustling commercial centres, with a mix of offices, retail and entertainment facilities that cater to the needs of residents in the eastern part of Singapore. One-North is an established hub for research, and looks set to become home to a dynamic blend of commercial, residential and recreational uses.

Thanks to this strategy to develop new commercial centres outside the Central Area, businesses now have a variety of locations to choose from, which are more affordable than those found in the city centre and which are well-suited to back-offices.

Flexibility for businesses

Another pro-business move by URA over the past years is to introduce more flexibility for businesses through new zoning policies that take into account changing business needs. New business zones, Business 1 and Business 2, were proposed in the 2003 Master Plan. Under the new zoning system, industrial and business activities are grouped according to their impact on the surrounding environment. The new 'impact-based' zoning approach allows businesses to house different uses under one roof and change activities easily without re-zoning.

Similarly, Business Parks and Business Park White zones were introduced, which facilitated the development of Changi Business Park and International Business Park which are now key employment centres.

URA also introduced a new type of zoning - the White Zone - which allows for the development of a variety of different uses like commercial, residential and hotel within the zone. This gives the market greater flexibility and creativity in planning for developments that provide a mix of uses like residential and retail. Today, several successful and innovative developments have been built on white sites.

For example, Central at Clarke Quay, built on a white site, is not only a busy shopping centre, but also pioneers the 'Small Office Home Office' concept here in Singapore by offering custom-built offices that function as residential units as well. Another white site that was successfully developed is Square2 at Novena. This development seamlessly integrates a medical centre with a trendy mall, and strengthens Novena's position as a medical hub. Similarly, the white site in Farrer Park which was awarded in 2007, will see the introduction of a 'mediplex', which combines a hospital, hotel and specialist medical centre.

Good quality of living

Singapore has experienced substantial population growth over the past 10 years, from 3.9 million in 1998 to 4.6 million today. New housing had to be provided. Across the island, new HDB towns like Sembawang, Sengkang and Punggol have sprouted up to cater to the housing needs of our growing population. Since 1998, there have been 170,000 new homes created. We have also created a variety of housing choices, such as waterfront housing in areas like Tanjong Rhu. Industries in Bukit Timah and Hillview have also been relocated since the 1990s, and replaced with high-quality residential developments.

Recreation and leisure

Beyond housing, URA has also planned for the recreation and leisure needs of our population. As part of the Master Plan 2003, URA drew up the Parks and Waterbodies Plan and Identity Plan. The Parks and Waterbodies Plan set out proposals for an islandwide network of parks and park connectors. The park connector network has been implemented in stages, with the 42 km-long Eastern Loop running through Bedok, Pasir Ris and Tampines being completed last year.

The Parks and Waterbodies Plan and the Identity Plan also set out our vision for various areas like the Southern Ridges. As part of the Master Plan 2003, there was a proposal to connect the three Southern Ridges for a nine-km walk. This vision for a beautiful walk through nature has become a reality. Today, the Southern Ridges are linked by two bridges and an elevated walkway and are now open to the public.

More nature areas and nature parks have been opened up, in a sensitive way, for public enjoyment. Examples include Chek Jawa where the National Parks Board has completed the boardwalk, and the boardwalks, observation tower and suspension bridge opened at MacRitchie Reservoir.

The past decade has also seen the revitalisation of areas like the Singapore River. Through URA's land sales programme and environmental improvement works, the three quays of the river are now popular nightspots offering a array of entertainment and dining options for locals and tourists alike.

Conservation

It has not just been a decade of unrestrained urban development, however. Even as condominiums, shopping malls and office towers are being built, pockets of Singapore remain carefully shielded from the pressures of development. The Identity Plan, created as part of Master Plan 2003, set out to conserve historical areas and buildings that have a special place in our hearts. In the past decade, 1,200 additional buildings have been conserved, in areas like Holland Village, Joo Chiat and Tiong Bahru. These buildings not only help Singapore's streetscape to remain distinctive, they also provide our people with physical anchors for shared memories.

The next 10 years

Going forward, the Master Plan 2008 looks to build on the good foundations set by the past Master Plans. This time, the focus is on providing great opportunities and a good life. We have plans to develop new areas like the Jurong Lake District, Paya Lebar Central, Kallang Riverside, as well as continue growing Marina Bay as a 24/7 live-work-play environment. Tanjong Pagar and the Beach Road/Ophir-Rochor corridor will also be developed as strategic gateways to the city centre.

We also have an extensive Leisure Plan, which showcases a diverse range of leisure opportunities around the clock, island-wide, for people of all ages.

Our city's achievements and the garnering of international accolades in the past decade bear testament to the strength of the vision for Singapore. However, this vision was not created solely by URA. It was drawn up together with other government agencies, private sector representatives and various stakeholders through focus group discussions, public forums and dialogues.

More importantly, the transformation of the past 10 years was achieved through joint efforts by the public, private and people sectors. The draft Master Plan 2008 exhibition, open to the public until June 20, is an opportunity for URA to gather comments and suggestions on these plans that will shape the way we all live, work and play in the years to come. Together, we can make Singapore a home of choice, a magnet for business, an exciting playground and a place to cherish.

The writer is head of physical planning and policies at URA

Plans to improve urban spaces
Business Times 29 May 08;

CHUA YANG LIANG gives an overview of the proposals in the Draft Master Plan 2008 and presents a wish list to planners

BESIDES the three strategic commercial hubs of Jurong Lake District, Kallang Riverside and Paya Lebar Central, which will strengthen the CBD alongside with development plans for Tanjong Pajar and the Beach Road/Ophir-Rochor corridor, there were no major changes or surprises to the zoning, plot ratio and planning directions in the 2008 Draft Master Plan. This observation is based on our brief review of three areas in particular - Buona Vista, Paya Lebar, and Harbourfront (which includes Telok Blangah) that will house the interchanges of two major transit lines (existing and the future Circle Line).

The 2008 Draft Master Plan maintains the time-tested planning vision that focuses on improving the overall quality of life, supported by a pro-business environment. It maintains the central planning philosophy found in the 2003 Master Plan - that of improving the quality of urban spaces and supporting general economic growth. This vision is inherent within the four key thrusts of 'home of choice, magnet for business, exciting playground, and home to cherish' and the zoning maps that developed from there.

Market trends

This planning deliverable is a highly practical one and focuses on concretising market trends that are conducive to improving the quality of living spaces and favourable to the overall business environment in Singapore.

The 2008 Draft Master Plan has not only respected the organic development trends, such as supporting the interim uses of vacant government buildings and sites, for example, Dempsey Road and Wessex Estates, it has also formally accepted and recognised other key market forces that would help improve the overall quality of living in Singapore. For example, a notable change in Buona Vista was the re-zoning of a popular area in Holland Village from 'Residential with commercial at first storey only' and 'Commercial and Residential' to purely commercial use.

The continual agglomeration of retail and commerce activities in this neighbourhood over the past few years has permitted retail activities to reach a threshold level thereby strengthening the area's image and attractiveness as an F&B neighbourhood that is well patronised by foreigners and young locals. Coupled with the upcoming Holland Village MRT station and the one-north intellectual cluster located slightly further south, re-zoning to permit full commercial activities within this area is practical and will further enhance the overall quality of living in and around the immediate vicinity.

Similarly, taking its cue from current market trends, the 2008 Draft Master Plan has also proposed more housing in key areas where demand has been strongest. The urban planners have proposed an additional 300,000-plus housing units (both private and public) islandwide with an emphasis on 'water-fronting'. This is similar to that proposed in the 2003 Master Plan where over 300,000 housing units were also suggested.

The largest increase is in the central and north-east regions where some 39 per cent and 38 per cent of additional housing units (over the existing stock) have been proposed. Likewise, in terms of the distribution of total new supply, the central and north-east regions again topped the list at 40 per cent and 24 per cent respectively. This can be expected given the strong residential demand as reflected in the recent surge in property values in these regions. This proposed new supply should help ease the values in these areas in the longer term horizon.

Echoing this trend is Buona Vista, which witnessed several residential sites being introduced. A site in Holland Drive, which was previously zoned for a civic and community institution, was re-zoned as a residential site with a plot ratio of 4.2, while sites at Slim Barracks Rise and Dover Close East, which were initially zoned white, are now zoned residential. The re-zoning of these three sites will support the area's growing prestige as an education and research hub in Singapore.

For the other planning regions, new housing has been proposed around existing water bodies, for example, reservoirs in Bedok and Lower Seletar, and the proposed 4.2 km waterway in Punggol. This concept of urbanising Singapore's waterways is not new but it has been given a greater push with the strong market response to developments in the Sentosa and Harbourfront area over the past two years. This emphasis on providing more waterfront homes would greatly enhance social equity by making such homes more affordable to the regular guy on the street and not just limited to the affluent.

Shifts in preferences

However, the danger of following market trends is sudden shifts in preferences. Just like dark undercurrents are a result of changing tides, a sudden turn in market preference may send urban plans out of orbit. The secret is providing sufficient free play to accommodate such shifts. In line with the evolving landscape of Buona Vista as an R&D and education hub, a site next to Buona Vista MRT station, which was initially zoned commercial, has been re-zoned White. This gives the future developer more flexibility in its development, providing the free play that could potentially eliminate any shifts in market preferences and possibly enhance the area further.

Likewise, the Harbourfront has seen a similar trend in providing more 'planning flexibility'. Notable changes in the region were the shift in sites at Telok Blangah Road that were initially zoned 'Subject to detailed planning - Residential' to 'Reserve' sites.

The 'planning flexibility' in this instance is not accorded to the private market but given to the statutory planners. The 'Reserve' zone effectively buys the planners some extra time to evaluate and deliberate on the optimal land use zones on these sites.

This shift in zoning could also be a reflection of the evolving market dynamism in the area, i.e. the shift in demographic profile in the surrounding neighbourhood, particularly in light of current developments such as Resorts World at Sentosa, Reflections at Keppel Bay, VivoCity and the HarbourFront offices.

Coupled with the government announcing its intention to create a leisure and recreational destination along the Southern Ridges by introducing a 2.2 km linear park along the Southern Ridges Park, this could potentially be an indication of future alternative plans for the area other than simply residential. Whatever the intention, we do know that the statutory planners are deliberating on the potential uses and are not ready to disclose the plans for these areas as yet.

Urban sustainability

While the 2008 Draft Master Plan has clearly articulated the medium-term planning objectives, it could be further enhanced with an expression of how our statutory planners perceive and support the issue of environmentalism, particularly on the concept of urban sustainability, which stems from greater environmental awareness today. Increasingly, we have seen more private occupiers demanding, and developers providing, environmentally friendlier buildings.

Urban sustainability is more than just green buildings; it contains the same basic principles of social, economic and environmental sustainability but applied to a bigger spatial context, i.e. the urban conurbation in which sub-systems such as transportation, housing, retail, education and tourism should be duly considered.

We have the first ever Leisure Plan that would see to the tripling of existing park connectors, providing residents 150 km of round-island access 24 hours a day. Could we see an Urban Sustainability Plan that sets the targets, deliverables and specific actions of each sub-system, all towards a sustainable urban environment?

The writer is the head of research, South-east Asia and Singapore, Jones Lang LaSalle

New vision for Kallang Riverside
Business Times 29 May 08

The area is set to evolve into the next prime area at the edge of the city, say NICHOLAS MAK and TEO JUNRONG
THE Kallang planning area, positioned along the picturesque Kallang River and within close proximity to the Central Business District (CBD), has enormous development potential. Made up of nine sub-zones, it covers a land area of about 920 hectares that includes 101 hectares of water body.

Since the announcement of the 1998 Master Plan, planners have envisaged the Kallang area as an urban waterfront district. This vision includes it being a centre for sports, recreation and leisure with residential developments flanking the riverbanks. There were also plans to transform the Kallang planning area into a major commercial centre to capitalise on its proximity to the Central Area.

In particular, under the 1998 Master Plan, Kampong Bugis, a sub-zone of the Kallang planning area, was slated to be a transition between the Central Area and the sports and recreation areas at Kallang Basin.

High-density residential buildings along with recreational facilities will be orientated towards the river to take advantage of the waterfront view. Some of these plans have already materialised. Waterfront residential developments, such as Pebble Bay and Camelot, can now be found facing the Kallang Basin.

The latest Master Plan aims to build on the earlier vision for Kallang. The new planning sub-zone will be the Kallang Riverside, which refers to the areas on both sides of the Kallang River, bounded by Nicoll Highway, Kallang Road and Sims Way. With a total land area of 64 hectares available for development, Kallang Riverside is to be transformed into a new lifestyle district, offering waterfront homes with an exciting mix of retail and entertainment facilities.

In addition, the area will also be developed into a commercial hub outside the city centre, providing various business alternatives and employment opportunities. Kallang Riverside will embrace the nationwide vision to make Singapore a great city in which to live, work and play.

Work

As mentioned earlier, Kallang Riverside aims to become a major commercial hub outside the city centre. There will be over 200,000 square metres of new office space added to the area. Its proximity to the CBD will be an advantage, as it will provide an alternative location to the existing CBD. The resulting projected increase of 21,000 office workers in Kallang could provide the necessary pool of demand for the upcoming retail and entertainment outlets.

Live

Homes with waterfront views usually command a premium and the prices of some of these homes fall within the high-end price segment in Singapore. Distinctive waterfront homes within a lush park setting are planned to be developed on the western side of the Kallang River.

The proposed 4,000 new waterfront homes will have a range of heights to ensure that scenic views of the beachfront will not be obstructed. For instance, there will be varying residential plot ratios of 3.5 to 5.6 under the 2008 Master Plan for the area to the west of the Kallang River. Future developments can also adopt a resort-style design, to take advantage of the beaches and water edge location. These new homes could also be relatively more affordable and could be priced in the mass market and mid-tier segments.

In order to allow the water features and landscaping elements to seamlessly extend the lush park setting, developments here will be encouraged to go 'fenceless'. This will be similar to one-north Residences, where such a fenceless environment was created to enable pedestrian connectivity and interaction among the community.

This will also pose challenges and opportunities for architects, as they need to create this seamless environment for the developments in Kallang Riverside without compromising on the security of the residents.

With the presence of the various live-work-play elements, together with its waterfront location and proximity to the CBD, these developments are likely to be attractive to homeowners and investors.

Kallang Riverside will also take advantage of its distinctive tropical character and surrounding water features by forming a substantial hotel cluster to cater to family and business travellers. Under the 1998 Master Plan, the area to the east of the Kallang River had been zoned for residential purposes. Under the 2008 Master Plan, the zoning has now been changed to hotel and white sites.

The hotel zoning will have plot ratios ranging from 2.1 to 3.5 while the white sites zoning will have plot ratios ranging from 1.5 to 4.9. There are plans for up to 3,000 hotel rooms available along the banks of the Kallang River.

Due to tourism initiatives such as the Formula One race, Youth Olympics and the integrated resorts, the number of visitors to Singapore is anticipated to rise over the medium term from the 10 million in 2007 to about 17 million by 2015. As a result, more hotels are needed to meet the rising demand. Tourists should find hotels along the Kallang Riverside an attractive choice, with their scenic views, proximity to the CBD as well as major tourist attractions.

Play

Kallang Riverside will go through a metamorphosis to become a new lifestyle hub, with a vibrant mix of retail, food and beverage outlets, and entertainment facilities. It is close to key attractions such as the Sports Hub and the Illuma entertainment centre.

Costing some $1.2 billion, the Singapore Sports Hub would be completed by 2011. The integrated complex includes a 55,000-seat capacity stadium with a retractable roof, a 6,000 capacity aquatic centre, a multi-purpose arena and over 41,000 square metres of commercial space. It will be Singapore's premier land and sea sports, entertainment and lifestyle hub, hosting major international events and playing a critical role in taking sports in Singapore to a new level. Due to its close proximity, the Sports Hub is likely to add vibrancy to Kallang Riverside.

Illuma, located in the Bras Basah-Bugis district, is slated to be Singapore's first urban entertainment centre. Spanning a site area of 8,921 sq m, the complex aims to provide an exciting mix of arts and entertainment facilities all in one location, drawing both locals and tourists alike.

Within the development, public spaces will be provided to serve as venues for street performances, bazaars and open-air concerts. Likewise, this upcoming project would be something that the residents in Kallang can look forward to.

With its sandy beaches, waterfront views, and close proximity to the city, Kallang Riverside is indeed situated in a unique spot in Singapore. As the Master Plan gradually materialises, Kallang Riverside will evolve into the next prime area at the edge of the city. The growing population in the area would provide the critical mass to support these upcoming residential and commercial developments. In time to come, Kallang Riverside might become one of the places in which residents can truly live, work and play.

The writers are with Knight Frank's Research & Consultancy Department

Creating more buzz in the Central Area
Leonard Tay, Business Times 29 May 08

OF ALL the changes made in the recent announcement of the new draft Master Plan 2008, those being effected within the Central Region in general and within the Central Area in particular would have the most telling impact on commercial land use in Singapore.

The Central Area lies at the heart of the Central Region and includes the sub-zones of the Downtown Core, Singapore River, River Valley, Outram, Museum, Rochor, Newton and Orchard, as well as new areas for development comprising the sub-zones Marina East, Marina South and Straits View.

In the years since the last Master Plan in 2003, the Central Area has been evolving from a land use that was predominantly commercial to include a wider diversity of other uses, such as residential, lifestyle/entertainment and recreation. Yet, despite the influx of uses that were not typical to the Central Area 10 years ago, it is the commercial elements (especially the office sector) within the Central Area that look poised to grow in terms of both quality and quantity.

The confirmed supply of new office space in Singapore in the next five years is estimated to be about 10.2 million square feet and about 44 per cent of these new office buildings (Marina Bay Financial Centre, Marina View North Tower and Marina View South Tower) would be in the new commercial area of Marina Bay, and would be of Grade A quality.

In addition, 64 per cent of the future office supply islandwide would be Grade A buildings, undoubtedly raising the quality of office stock in the Core CBD, thereby contributing to the attractiveness of the city-state as a major financial centre.

At the same time, the Draft Master Plan 2008 provides the quantity of development space, as an additional 6.4 million sq m (69 million sq ft) of commercial space is planned for the Central Area in 10-15 years.

Rail network

A glance at the sites from the Draft Master Plan in the Marina Bay area shows that almost all the sites are 'white' sites, where mixed-used developments can be constructed.

Moreover, the plot ratios of the undeveloped sites range from 8.0 to 25.0, with most of the sites having a plot ratio of 13.0. These would mostly comprise modern office buildings, while at the same time suggesting that Marina Bay would have a diversity of uses that should see complementary retail space as well as residential homes. Therefore, offices with large floorplates, homes overlooking the 101-hectare Gardens by the Bay, or shops within walking distance of the entertainment highlights at the soon-to-be-completed integrated resort look set to transform Marina Bay.

In anticipation of these exciting changes, the government is also investing in significant infrastructure. In the LTA's Land Transport Masterplan, the rail transit network would increase from the present 138 km to 278 km by 2020.

Not only will this make the rail network comparable to those in cities like New York and London, it would facilitate the injection of even more activity into the Central Area. It is envisaged that commuters would have access to a rail transit station within 400 metres, or five minutes' walk, from any location in the Central Area, bringing people to an array of activities in the new downtown.

Not all the action will be in Marina Bay though as the Tanjong Pagar area south of the existing CBD will also be rejuvenated, and the Beach Road/Ophir-Rochor Corridor will house a number of varied mixed-use developments. The development of these areas would provide another tier of commercial facilities on the fringe of the CBD, supporting businesses that do not require a Core CBD location.

The writer is a director of CBRE Research

Paya Lebar Master Plan is long overdue
Business Times 29 May 08;

We owe it to ourselves to give this culturally rich area our best shot - and preserve part of our heritage, says COLIN TAN
NOT many Singaporeans, especially younger ones, would know that Paya Lebar Central - the Master Plan area unveiled last week - was once a booming commercial hub.

Those of us who grew up in the area remember the old wet market at Geylang Serai as the heart of all the bustling activity. So it was amusing to see the area described in the weekend newspapers as a sleepy industrial estate. Apart from the city centre, it was one of the earliest and busiest commercial hubs in Singapore's early history.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Paya Lebar boasted one of Singapore's earliest department stores - operated by Emporium Holdings at the Haig Road-Geylang Road junction, next to the Lion City Hotel. The area was teeming with people - especially at night. It was lit by gas-filled halogen lamps from the stalls of street hawkers, which bathed the entire area in a warm, golden glow.

Although Singapore's car population back then was minuscule compared with today, there were frequent traffic jams in Paya Lebar, even though most people either walked to where they wanted to go or took a trishaw.

The area was also home to Singapore's first 24-hour supermarket at Tanjong Katong complex. But the concept was way ahead of its time. And once the novelty wore off, the supermarket drew fewer and fewer shoppers.

And time stood still in Paya Lebar as the forces of change started to exert themselves elsewhere in Singapore. The population of Paya Lebar was slowly relocated to new housing estates such as Chai Chee and Bedok, and onwards to Tampines. Shorn of its population base, the area went into a slow decline. So in a sense, the unveiling of the Master Plan for Paya Lebar Central is long overdue. The area has been forgotten for far too long.

Its key strengths are its proximity to the city, its cultural heritage and the fact that it will have an MRT interchange. Its main weakness is the absence of a large population base. The nearest housing estates are at Geylang East and Eunos, which are small compared with the likes of Bedok, Tampines and Ang Mo Kio. As such, Paya Lebar is not a natural hub.

Having an MRT interchange helps, but it is no longer such a big deal. Soon there will be many more interchanges - all competing for the same market. Similarly, being close to the city is an attraction, but there are plenty of competing areas that are even closer, such as Kallang and Lavender. On the other hand, places like Novena have a huge head start.

Where will companies locate their backroom operations at Paya Lebar? If it is too expensive to be in the city, why stop at the edge of the city where rents are only a shade cheaper? Why not go all the way to Tampines or Jurong East, where rents are not just affordable but way cheaper? Is Paya Lebar a place for SMEs? Maybe. If property prices shoot up with all the upgrading and new improvements, as some analysts suggest, we can forget about SMEs setting up offices there.

The edge that Paya Lebar Central has over other areas is its cultural heritage. Geylang Serai - which maybe the Master Plan area should have been named - can be to the Malay Muslim community what Chinatown and Little India are to the Chinese and Indians. Ironically, what gives these two areas their vibrancy is the presence of the large number of work permit holders from India and China. It lends the area much-needed authenticity. Many Singaporeans are Westernised, preferring Starbucks or McDonald's instead of the traditional coffee shops or sarabat stalls.

Paya Lebar's cultural heritage also means it has strong tourism potential. At the moment, the celebrations during the month of Ramadan attract few tourists. It is mainly a local event. The number of non-Muslim local visitors is dismal. Singapore and STB have already achieved a difficult task - getting the numbers to even come to Singapore. And if the two integrated resorts and the hosting of global events such as the Formula One race and the Youth Olympics mean many more people will come to Singapore, the next step then is to increase their average length of stay. Increasing the number of must-see attractions is one way.

While it has been decided to do away with the Malay Village, there should be efforts to find an alternative. Having a civic centre with designs inspired by traditional Malay stylistic elements is good. But expecting it to take off like it did in Toa Payoh may not be realistic, as there is not much of a population base in the area. We do not want the place to be alive only during Ramadan. The tourists, if they come, will help supplement the market.

Maybe a museum celebrating Malay culture and heritage in the region - similar to the Peranakan museum at Armenian Street - can be set up. In fact, the Peranakan museum may be relocated to Paya Lebar Central, as the nearby Joo Chiat area was once an area populated by Peranakans. Chinatown and Little India are slowly coming back despite the pace of Singapore's modernisation. In the case of Paya Lebar Central or Geylang Serai, it will not be easy. But we owe to ourselves to give it out best shot - and preserve part of our heritage.

The writer is head of research and consultancy at Chesterton International

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