Heng Chye Kiang: 'Urban planners have to be socialists'

Heng Chye Kiang: 'Urban planners have to be socialists'

An entirely different downtown, once the ports move. A commitment to open, public spaces instead of gated condominium communities.

A mindset change on cycling. There is lots to be be excited about in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Draft Master Plan released two weeks ago, says NUS School of Design and Environment dean Heng Chye Kiang.

He tells Singapolitics in this Supper Club interview why the plan pleases his "socialist planner" heart in terms of city life.

Q: What struck you about this Master Plan?

One is the housing in Marina South (a new district that will be next to Marina Bay). That's testing, on the larger scale, the idea of a pedestrian environment, of condominiums outside the norm of what we have now, which is gated. The concept is a commercial, pedestrian-friendly kind of environment with public space. This whole introduction of the importance of public space, which is very obvious in this Draft Master Plan (reviewed every five years), is what I find new and welcome.

The other thing I find that is stimulating is the Southern Waterfront (on 1,000ha of the southern coastline, once the ports move from Pasir Panjang and Tanjong Pagar in the next few decades). The very interesting and exciting component of it is precisely because so much land is freed up. That makes it possible to imagine a totally different downtown. The interplay and overlap of the waterfront, the eco-network and public spaces, that's very exciting.

In that sense, it's good to dream big. Daniel Burnham (the American architect and planner) said: "Make no small plans, they do not stir the blood of men." This is one of those plans that really get you excited.

Q: Is it unique that a city at the stage of development that Singapore is can still dream big in this way?

To the extent that cities can open up new land, they do dream of big plans. China does a lot of this. But in the case of Singapore, it's a great opportunity that such a lot of land in a prime area is being freed up. In China, they are freeing up land that is possibly not as prime. Often, it is the extension of the city fringes.

It's also because we have such a large port. The fact that ports are close to downtown is almost a matter of fact in all cities. But in many cases they are small ports. In this case, this is a contiguous piece of land adjacent to Marina South. There is the possibility for a different kind of imagination.

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