Room for 7.5 million people in Singapore: "there's still Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong" - Ex-HDB chief

Singapore has room for 7.5m people: Ex-HDB chief
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 9 Sep 10;

SINGAPORE - The quality of life in Singapore will not be heavily affected even if the population were to hit 7.5 million people, said Dr Liu Thai Ker, the former chief executive of the Housing and Development Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Asked what he thought was the "appropriate size" for Singapore's population after a Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) lecture yesterday, Dr Liu said: "Since we have planned for 5.5 million people (in the Singapore Concept Plan 1991), if we increase ... to, say, 6, 6.2 million, I think that additional 10 to 12 per cent will not make a huge difference."

There are still the islands of Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong to fall back on, quipped Dr Liu, who was addressing the issue purely from a planner's perspective.

"If we have to grow to 7.5 million, personally I think it would not cause a deterioration of the environment.

"But beyond that, we need to do some re-thinking," he added.

Dr Liu, who chairs the CLC advisory board and is director of RSP Architects, spoke on the importance of urban planning in his lecture.

Singapore is the only success story of urbanisation in the 20th century in terms of dealing with high population density and high-rise living, he said.

Foreign visitors are always surprised when they learn the Republic is home to 30 golf courses and seven airstrips.

"Good planning can help you have your cake and eat it," said Dr Liu.

Export city planning skills: ex-URA chief
Singapore's experience can help Asian neighbours build up cities: Liu Thai Ker
Felda Chay Business Times 9 Sep 10;

SINGAPORE should actively export its city planning expertise to other Asian cities, said Liu Thai Ker, chairman of the Centre for Liveable Cities advisory board.

In a speech laced with anecdotes to about 250 policy-makers, industry practitioners and academics, the former chief executive of Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Housing and Development Board (HDB) said that Singapore should fly its brand name higher in the area of urbanisation given its sound city planning, which lives up to international standards.

'I firmly believe that we have an excellent team, a world-class team (of city planners).'

Singapore can take credit for what it has done, and help the countries around it, said Mr Liu.

Singapore stands out because it is developed 'by Asians in Asia within one generation', he said. This would be something that fast developing, rapidly urbanising countries like China and India hope to emulate.

The model of high density living that Singapore has adopted - one which countries like China, India and Indonesia are looking towards - is also what makes its city planning advice sought after, said Mr Liu.

While there are many liveable cities in Europe most, if not all, are not as densely populated as Singapore. This allows Singapore city planning experts to hold their own when it comes to offering advice and expertise on city development to Asian countries, he said.

Other marks of Singapore's urban development, such as having a clear objective and refusing to be a follower of trends, also put it in good stead to offer expertise to Asian nations - many of which are at the beginning stages of improving their city planning, Mr Liu said.

'We are very clear about what we are doing, what our objectives are, what we are looking for. We never chase popular trends. We always believed in and analysed what we needed to do and did it against the world trends. High-rise public housing, for one, was against the world trend in 1960 but Singapore went ahead with it anyway,' he said.

'Yes, we borrowed Western theories, but we did not just blindly use Western theories. We adapted them to Asian requirements,' said Mr Liu.

As such, 'we can share with the world general principles or even convert them into course materials because even that would be invaluable.'

This strong desire and belief that Singapore's city planning experience can help neighbouring nations build up their cities was what led the 72-year-old to put his feet back into the world of urban planning after leaving the URA in 1992.

'When I left URA, my intention was to say goodbye to planning totally and focus on architecture. But when I started going around to look at the horrible plans done by people from all over the world ... I just felt that it would be impossible for me to turn a blind eye to all those horrible plans. So I decided to carry on.'

The 'horrible' city planning the 72-year-old saw in cities worldwide stood in stark contrast to Singapore, whose planners have made her look 'amazing', said Mr Liu.

'So I think there is a great need for us to understand how it happened, document it and make use of the document for ourselves and the rest of the world, mainly Asia.'

More links
7.5 million population: what it means for Chek Jawa and Ubin from wild shores of singapore.

7.5m too many

City's 'elasticity' must surely have its limits
Letter from Narayana Narayana Today Online 15 Sep 10;

THE former chief executive of the Housing and Development Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Dr Liu Thai Ker, confidently said that "the quality of life in Singapore will not be affected even if the population were to hit 7.5 million people" ("S'pore has room for 7.5m people: Ex-HDB chief", Sept 9).

His optimism appears to be underpinned mainly on the premise that "since we have planned for 5.5 million people (in the Singapore Concept Plan 1991), if we increase to, say, 6, 6.2 million, I think that additional 10 to 12 per cent will not make a huge difference".

However, 7.5 million people is a whopping 36 per cent increase and elasticity must surely have its limits, with an eventual snapping point, which could have disastrous repercussions and consequences.

Dr Liu's experience in the housing sector may have blinkered him into thinking only of providing accommodation for any increase in numbers.

A 50-storey block of flats would, of course, be able to house double the number of a 25-storey one but would it be possible to provide the necessary corresponding infrastructure and supporting facilities as well to ensure that "the quality of life in Singapore will not be affected"?

That is debatable, despite Dr Liu's lecture on "the importance of urban planning". As that well-known phrase goes: "The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go awry" and so too do theoretical calculations and projections.

For example, the less-than-3 million population in the early '90s has burgeoned to more than 5 million today but, despite the many improvements, public transport is not the projected breeze.

The MRT stations were designed so that a very definite six-coach train would fit into them with no possibility of adding more coaches to each train. Commuters now often wait for two or three to pass before they can get into one of them because of the overcrowding.