Bold visions, but firmly grounded

Bold visions, but firmly grounded


DEVELOPMENT of a new waterfront strip that will link up with the downtown core and Marina Bay might well fire the imagination of people responding to the call for comments on the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) draft land use blueprint.

It has other catchy ideas too like preening identity nodes at Holland Village and Jalan Kayu.

Alongside the wish lists and creative concepts that emerge, there should also be proposals related to larger issues like economic strategy, social equity, sustainability, care for the environment, and the liveability and efficiency of urban master plans.

The planning principles distilled by the Urban Land Institute and Singapore's Centre for Liveable Cities offer food for thought.

While exciting uses, variety and good design are desirable, there is also a clear need to ensure that "diversity is not divisive" and to create "a sense of inclusiveness through encouraging greater interaction".

Hence, the development of prime locations that command higher values should not perforce lead to the gentrification of, say, the port area. A parallel is the transformation of the London Docklands.

Advocates will argue that built exclusivity, symbolically on the order of Monte Carlo or Luxembourg, will propel Singapore in the real estate wealth league.

Critics will see this as accentuating social stratification. Sentosa's upmarket enclave is already a world apart to most Singaporeans. Thus, it will be useful to consider how mixed-use neighbourhoods can be developed in large land parcels - 1,000ha, thrice the size of Marina Bay, will be up for development in the Greater Southern Waterfront.

The plan should ideally meet the test of whether a huge public outlay produces the maximum social good.

Select developments on reclaimed Paya Lebar airbase land, Bidadari and Marina South, as well as extensions to Punggol and Tampines, will help to prepare for a population increase and to meet upgrading aspirations.

Improved housing and recreational facilities that form the bulk of the plan involve rejuvenations of older estates and extensions to parkland and cycling trails. The planners will do well to focus attention here as 80 per cent of Singaporeans stand to benefit from enhancements, if executed well.

The idea of liveability on a compact island makes sense only if it is all-inclusive and not confined to prime areas.

A valuable idea the URA has raised is to bring more jobs to the heartland. If neighbourhood job availability can reduce commutes and relieve pressures on public transport, a crucial aspect of public policy will have been fulfilled.

There is much grist for the public mill in the draft master plan and it ought to spawn many conversations on how to best exploit fresh opportunities to live, work and play as one people.

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