Sustainable cities: innovative urban planning in Singapore
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Applicants are advised to confirm program details with the appropriate school before making an application. Skip to content Skip to navigation. Since our Independence, 3 we have taken on the challenges of providing for a nation in a city-state environment with virtually no natural resources. An Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change will also study what Singapore can do to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.
In fact, it is crucial for the country's survival. A city-state without hinterland, we face the challenge of ensuring we have sufficient land for housing, recreation and business. At the same time, we have to set aside land for defence, power generation, waste disposal and water catchment-all within square kilometres of land.
With one of the largest container ports in the world, our sea-space is limited by our international boundaries. As a regional air hub and with five airports and airbases, building skywards is also constrained. Deciding on one land use over a myriad of other possibilities inevitably involves making trade-offs.
For example, having more parks and open spaces means that more of us will live in high-rise housing. Allocating more land for industries could mean loss of waterfront and heritage areas. Having more roads and a smoother drive to work may result in smoggier air and more noise pollution. As URA's decisions affect many people, we cannot afford to go it alone. The result of many hours of discussions and consultations are consolidated into our long- and medium-term land use plans.
One product of many such debates and decisions is the Master Plan which was unveiled to the public in May This Plan guides Singapore's development over the next 10 to 15 years in a sustainable manner.
Building for People
These land use plans cater to multiple needs. For example, they try to facilitate economic growth by providing more industrial land for petro-chemical and aeronautical industries, hotel and tourism projects, as well as an expanding financial sector. These are then balanced with social considerations for achieving a high quality living environment to meet rising aspirations.
We will provide more variety of good quality housing, more greenery and more leisure choices. The challenge is to fit it all in. Planners overcome our land constraints by developing innovative solutions. We work towards ensuring that business activities use land optimally. For example, factories built with ramps allow trucks to access every floor, hence they function effectively as flatted factories.
Where possible, facilities such as polyclinics, libraries and community centres are co-located to maximise land space. Additional structural loading is also provided over Mass Rapid Transit MRT stations and underground roads so that we can build above them. To create a greater sense of space, our major parks and coasts are linked up using park connectors.
We also provide incentives for developers to develop more vertical greenery like skyrise gardens 5 to mitigate the dense built-up space. In addition, we work closely with PUB to utilise canals and inland reservoirs to create beautifully landscaped "lakes and streams" that integrate with developments. As a result, more leisure space is created, built-up areas are "softened", and we have been able to increase real estate values.
Various agencies also work together to harness new technologies to optimise the use of land. For example, the development of the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System by PUB replaces the existing six water reclamation plants and about pumping stations. This frees up approximately 1, hectares of land occupied by the existing facilities and buffer zones around the plants. Incinerating and recycling our wastes reduce the need for waste disposal sites. The JTC Corporation 6 is piloting a project to use subterranean rock caverns for storage.
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All these initiatives work towards making the most of what we have. A common question is "Should the Government leave things more organic and unplanned, or should it play an active role in shaping the urban landscape? Supporters of a more market-led approach often argue that top-down, government-led planning is overly rigid; centralised planning cannot create places with sufficient character, identity and vibrancy.
They see unplanned growth and a more laissez-faire approach to urban planning as the preferred alternative. On the other hand, unplanned growth, especially in fast growing and densely populated Asian cities, can lead to disastrous consequences. Market fluctuations can be very rapid, and private sector short-term responses may have very long-term repercussions. Once an office tower or factory is built, it is difficult, if not impossible, to "undo" the development.
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We cannot just walk away from mistakes made in our existing city and plan a new city. There is simply no room to do so. Furthermore, the market cannot ensure that infrastructure keeps pace with development. We have to make sure that our city works. It must accommodate a high population density while minimising the usual urban problems. A responsible government that is far-sighted must have the ability and capacity to make decisions that may not necessarily pay off in the short term but will reap benefit in the longer term.
For example, setting up MRT transport networks require high upfront costs that the private sector often shies away from. Sustainable development ultimately means keeping an eye on our future. As a planning agency, URA makes strategic decisions with years ahead in mind. The Concept Plan is a strategic, long-term land use and transportation plan to guide Singapore's development for 40 to 50 years. In the Concept Plan review, it became clear that we would face the potential problem of massive traffic congestion in and around the Central Business District CBD during peak hours.
To tackle this problem before it came to a head, a long-term strategy to decentralise commercial activities to commercial centres outside the central area was adopted. By distributing commercial activities throughout the island and bringing jobs closer to homes, travel into the central area would be reduced, and so would both peak-hour congestion as well as vehicular emissions. Decentralisation would also offer businesses alternative and more affordable office locations. This decision could only come about through top-down planning see box story on "Why Jurong? Conversely, left on its own, the market would likely continue to develop and expand the CBD-an unsustainable plan for the long term.
Another key consideration in our planning is to provide crucial facilities and amenities that will improve the quality of living, but which through normal market forces, would not be provided by the private sector. Would the private sector build parks, park connectors and community facilities instead of alternative, higher value uses? Similarly, who will ensure that there will be a buffer shielding our homes from industrial developments, or sheltered walkways and universally accessible public facilities?
The role of URA as a central agency ensures that the liveability of Singapore will not be left to chance. Through comprehensive planning, residents can still trek through the Sungei Buloh Wetlands or climb Bukit Timah Hill to enjoy the sunset. Planning also creates business opportunities and protects real estate values.
Dynamic Urban Governance
The Government supports the private sector with timely land release and infrastructure. Today, the Singapore River, Tanjong Rhu and Marina Bay Figure 1 areas are examples of this successful public-private sector collaboration. Transparent plans and orderly development also give certainty and protect the value of homes and business investments. To mitigate congestion within the city area and to bring jobs closer to homes, URA proposed a strategy to develop more commercial centres outside of the central area. We had identified several locations that were strategically well-spread throughout the island and well-served by MRT stations.
As part of the next phase of this development strategy, plans are being rolled out for Paya Lebar sub-regional centre located between Tampines and the city centre and the Jurong Regional Centre a commercial hub around the Jurong East MRT station on the western part of the island. Some may ask: Why Jurong? To many people, the Jurong of today is a sub-urban residential area located far away from the city centre. It is also perceived as an industrial area. Most businesses would likely prefer to continue to expand within the established office hubs in Tampines and Novena as they are better established and more familiar with these areas.
However, the planners took a longer term view, that there is a need to establish a large commercial centre to serve the western region. They recognised that Jurong had a huge untapped potential. Jurong is located within the heart of a population of 1 million residents.
It has ready access to a large talent and labour pool. It is central to an established cluster of multinational and global businesses, ranging from the high-technology sector around the International Business Park to biotechnology, pharmaceutical and chemical industries in Jurong and Tuas.
Future Cities Singapore: A Model for Sustainable Urban Growth
Hence, there are vast opportunities for business and commercial services to serve these companies. Jurong is also a major transportation hub. It is well-connected to the city and the rest of Singapore by rail and expressways. Creating a major commercial centre would also help create extra buzz in the western part of Singapore. Its proximity to the beautiful Jurong Lake presents a huge opportunity to transform Jurong into a unique lakeside destination for both business and recreation.
This will make the Jurong area appealing, attractive and exciting for residents, workers and visitors. Another dilemma in planning is deciding between developing or retaining buildings and areas.