Ex-HDB chief says no to popular demands, ‘turkeys’ in urban planning

LOUISA TANG Today Online 15 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE — When it comes to policymaking, the Government needs to consciously make decisions not just by listening to the people, but to also source widely for opinions, Singapore’s former chief architect Liu Thai Ker said.

Raising an example from his 20-year experience in the Housing and Development Board (HDB), which began in 1969, the former HDB head told of how residents would ask the authorities for a bus-stop on their streets, but they would not want the bus-stop to be “in front of their house”.

“If we listened to that,” Dr Liu said, “since nobody wanted to put bus-stops in front of their houses, there would be no bus-stops. It is quite undesirable and dangerous for any government official to say, ‘I’m doing this because I’m responding to people’s requests’. That, to me, is not serving the best interests of the people.”

Dr Liu was speaking today (Jan 15) at the second of a six-part dialogue series with Singapore pioneers titled Pioneering the Future, jointly organised by The Economic Development Board (EDB) Society and The Straits Times. He was one of the keynote speakers along with Singapore Airlines founding chairman JY Pillay, who also used to be managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Dr Liu added that policymakers should listen to professional associations as well, given that businesses “have a broader perspective”. This was vital to him during his time in the Urban Redevelopment Authority, he said, where he was chief planner from 1989 to 1992.

He stressed the importance of having a long-term “grand civic design” for Singapore in the future. Going back to remarks he had boldly made previously, he added that planning for a population of 10 million in Singapore is one way to retain the nation’s status as a global city and to “advance further to become a great city”.

“(We should also) identify certain physical errors for grand urban design… and look at cultural developments,” he said.

Dr Liu envisioned Singapore’s physical infrastructure to be a “bird of paradise”, stating that he had drawn up a concrete plan to see land use flourish over the next 100 years, but Singapore’s urban planners are now designing the city-state for just the next 15 years, like a “turkey”.

“You must think through the issues and understand them carefully… find the root cause and the most effective solution, and once you have that, you dare to go against world trends,” he said.

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