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The Japanese Garden’s iconic red bridges on 22 May2014. The Japanese Garden, built at a cost of $3 million, is home to ponds, arch bridges and stone lanterns.

Often thought of as an industrial neighbourhood with few leisure options, Jurong became the talk of the town this week, after plans to turn it into a "people's garden" were revealed.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, announced major changes to the area, in particular to the 70ha Jurong Lake Gardens.

This comes six years after the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) released plans in 2008 for Jurong to become a key regional hub, as part of a move to bring jobs closer to homes.

One of the major developments involves the Japanese and Chinese gardens being combined with Jurong Lake Park.

The two gardens, surrounded by the man-made Jurong Lake, were built in the 1970s and need an injection of new life.

The Japanese Garden was initiated by the late deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee. Built at a cost of $3 million and completed in 1973, it received funding from the Singapore and Japanese governments. It was designed by Professor Kinsaku Nakane, a leading Japanese garden and landscape artist, and his three assistants from Tokyo.

The Chinese Garden, which is connected to the Japanese Garden, was designed by prominent Taiwanese architect Yu Yuen-chen and opened in 1975.

Once plans are finalised, the integrated space will have a park in the heartland, bigger than the 62ha Bishan- Ang Mo Kio Park, one of the largest urban parks in central Singapore. The new gardens will be completed by 2017, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in his blog on Monday.

The transformation is not confined to the gardens. Under the URA Masterplan, which includes the Jurong Gateway, the Jurong Lake District will have edutainment attractions and hotel clusters.

The district, bounded by Boon Lay Way, Yuan Ching Road and Ayer Rajah Expressway, also looks set to become more vibrant as the 37-year-old Science Centre moves to a new site. The new building is slated to be completed in 2020.

There are also plans for waterfront housing, hotels and more leisure options.

A call for garden design ideas will go out next year and PM Lee encourages Singaporeans to send in the ideas they have for the area. Residents who spoke to The Straits Times earlier this week gave the plans a resounding thumbs-up.

Revamped gardens can be testbed for ideas

The Japanese and Chinese gardens have been around for more than three decades, without a major revamp to date. While their physical look is about to get a makeover, a change of perception of the area might be in order too.

DP Architects director Seah Chee Huang says if people see the Jurong district as an industrial part of Singapore, the changes, especially with more developments around the lake, will make it less so.

"If there are hotels and more waterfront housing, that will inject a 'live-in' population to the area. This also has the potential to bring people straight to the heart of the action, which is the lake... This will add to the vibrancy of the area. People will know it's a good place to hang out."

The gardens in the middle of Jurong Lake have long been dogged by comments that they are ghost towns most of the week. Even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at Sunday's rally the Jurong Lake Gardens were "under-utilised" and looked dated, compared with the nearby Jurong Gateway area, which has educational institutions and new malls.

But Associate Professor Tan Puay Yok from the department of architecture at the School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore, says residents would not think the gardens are not well used. Instead, he feels these areas are "under- visited" - an impression that should change once the new amenities are built.

He says: "Residents get a lot of utility out of them. But those who travel to visit don't return because they think they've seen it all.

"But there are two factors the area has: serenity and natural landscape, much of which should be retained and its biodiversity highlighted. This will get more people in. Keep it natural, rather than a highly managed area, like with other parks."

Indeed, the area has much biodiversity, especially bird life.

The Nature Society (Singapore) has a list of important bird sites in the Jurong Lake area with many uncommon and rare birds. The list was last updated in 2010. The group has records of 123 species of birds in the lakeside area, along the shoreline and at the Chinese and Japanese gardens.

For example, there is the rare Grey-headed Fish-eagle, spotted at the Chinese Garden, that is a resident breeder and is nationally threatened.

The non-profit organisation first wrote to the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2008 to make recommendations on what can be done to the area. The suggestions included growing aquatic plants along the lake to "create marshy habitats and to make the lake more scenic".

Dr Ho Hua Chew, vice-chairman of the society's conservation committee, says the members hope their recommendations will bear fruit now. "We're glad the National Parks Board will be on the team to look at the area's redesign. We're happy to work with them to see how the wildlife here can be protected."

Mr Franklin Po, chairman of landscape architectural firm Tierra Design, suggests the lake can be a good way to test new ideas for the future, especially when it requires "water-sensitive urban design" - a relatively new concept here. The lake could be a catchment area, and different ways to manage water can tried out.

For example, harvested rainwater can be used for irrigation. Mr Po, who is an architect and landscape architect, adds: "Grey water, which is from household water points such as sinks, can be recycled, while small riverines can have turbines within them to generate electricity."

DP Architects' Mr Seah adds that the redevelopment of the area with the new Science Centre as the jewel is an "exciting opportunity to take a more experimental approach".

He adds: "There are plenty of possibilities out there. Key is that the proposals must be sustainable, attractive and inclusive. Remaking Jurong with purposeful planning can show others what a liveable city Singapore can be."

What would you like to see in the new Jurong neighbourhood?


This article was first published on August 23, 2014.
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