Chance for a fresh urban planning vision

SINGAPORE - First reactions have been fairly prosaic after the Prime Minister announced that two town-size land parcels will be available for redevelopment after the Tanjong Pagar container port and Paya Lebar airbase are moved.

Real estate people take a utilitarian approach by projecting what a larger population will require in about 20 years, when work on these two plots could begin.

One consultant said Paya Lebar's space of 800 hectares could accommodate 60,000 to 80,000 homes, aside from ancillary transport and commercial usage.

Non-residential constructions chew up land but this will be offset by removal of height restrictions to allow for taller residential blocks to be built, after the airbase goes to Changi.

The bigger Tanjong Pagar plot, of 1,000 hectares, will be no less a white site and actually more "prime" as it is close to the central business district and Sentosa. But the fact that the Government has provisionally planned a waterfront enclave to link up Shenton Way and Pasir Panjang might have foreclosed industry suggestions.

But need it be exclusively a "lifestyle" development, presumably catering to higher income people and experiential businesses?

The Economic Strategies Committee had in 2010 recommended waterfront living only as a planning proposition after container ports are consolidated in Tuas.

One group of people who should be heard are architects, town planners and urbanologists. They bring breadth of vision to urban planning - weaving quotidian concerns into designs for businesses and civic amenities such as plazas, green spaces and libraries.

Where developers might see Paya Lebar in isolation, urbanologists would see its requirements as a composite whole, with what has transpired in a neighbouring mature town like Tampines.

Development of the old port strip would take into account the southern islands, whose cost of built connectivity with the mainland (aside from ferries) can be justified only by appropriate land use.

Tanjong Pagar and Paya Lebar will be the biggest blank slates to work on since Marina Bay. This is an opportunity to re-engineer an urban vision to bring Singapore to the leading edge in liveable design.

Offering up a huge chunk of pricey Marina Bay to build public gardens was a financial sacrifice, but could go down in Singapore annals as an inspired choice in urban liveability.

Now, might designating the Tanjong Pagar strip as a waterfront city and Paya Lebar as an HDB dormitory town ascribe to them developmental values which could restrict planning mix? Promoting broad social interaction has to be a prime factor in a compact city state. Planners should be urged to keep the ethos of an inclusive Singapore in mind even as they dream big.

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