Master developers to chart future of Singapore’s urban design

/ The Edge Property
June 9, 2017 11:00 AM SGT
The Singapore government is set to launch its pilot scheme for a “master developer approach” and the first site will be in the Kallang area. This is a departure from the typical government land sales, where land parcels are sold plot by plot. Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development, says: “Currently, developers bid for the sites and, because of commercial considerations and the price they pay, they will maximise the land use.”
Wong therefore urged master developers to be responsible and focus on long-term goals, given the larger plots of land that they will be taking on. Wong was replying to questions about the government’s development plans at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Asia-Pacific summit at Fullerton Hotel on June 7. It was the first time the event was held in Singapore.
Wong points to cities in Europe, especially London, where he was impressed by some of the projects undertaken by master developers.
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong with Aecom vice-president for Southeast Asia Scott Dunn at the ULI Asia-Pacific summit on June 7
“They are not out to maximise the plot ratio of every single inch of land,” he says.
Because of their long-term perspective, they are willing to engage industry partners to develop a high-quality product. They do not just focus on maximising land use, observes Wong. They consider the social needs of the community as well, by incorporating parks, open green spaces and infrastructure, including public transportation, he adds.
He cites, for example, the Canary Wharf project in London, where the master developer funded the building of the train station because the government had run out of funds. The master developer recovered the cost by leasing the retail space, explains Wong.
Citing another example, he praised the master developer of the regeneration of the King’s Cross area in London for creating an urban design that incorporates green and public spaces.
The Singapore government has decided to adopt a master developer approach for certain sites, especially new districts or areas to be rejuvenated. Currently, the government performs the role of master planner and sells land to developers on a plot-by-plot basis.
Things are set to change. The report released by the Committee on the Future Economy earlier this year recommended a master developer approach be taken for certain sites. This is to allow developers to purchase larger tracts of land and develop them in phases.
Making Kallang River more accessible
For example, bound by Kallang Road, Kallang River and Crawford Street, the Kampong Bugis precinct has a land area of 17.4ha and can accommodate up to 4,000 residential homes, connected to nearby MRT stations and with access to the scenic Kallang River promenade.
URA had launched an exhibition on March 29, showcasing the opportunities to revitalise the areas along the Kallang River. The exhibition was also a way to engage the public to get their feedback on a preliminary conceptual plan. Kallang River, at 10km long, is said to be Singapore’s longest natural river.
“In the past, it was about trade and the livelihood of the people living near the river,” says URA group director (physical planning) Yvonne Lim, one of the speakers on “Innovative Urban Planning”. “We recognise that there’s so much we can do to make it more accessible to people living and working along the riverside.”
About 800,000 people live within 2km of the Kallang River, and there is potential to increase the population by 100,000. For now, a marathon runner, for example, will not be able to run the entire 10km length of the Kallang River without having to overcome major obstacles such as the Pan Island Expressway and busy road junctions.
There are aspirational ideas to overcome these major obstacles along the river bank. For instance, a new underpass and cycling bridge could be built across the Pan Island Expressway. Lim says the aim is to provide a seamless active mobility route for cyclists and pedestrians along Kallang River — between Bishan and the city centre — that will have a catalytic effect and spur developments around it.
Source: URA
New underpasses and a cycling bridge across the Pan Island Expressway provide a seamless active mobility route for cyclists and pedestrians along Kallang River
Good news for cyclists
“We want to make Singapore a more bicycle-friendly city because it’s more convenient, environmentally friendly and healthy,” says Khoo Teng Chye, executive director for the Centre for Liveable Cities under the Ministry of National Development and chairman of Singapore for ULI.
Phase 1 of the Ang Mo Kio walking and cycling park was opened last year by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. From the Ang Mo Kio Cycling Park, which is a 4km loop, one can cycle to the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, and onwards to the Kallang park connector along the Kallang River. “It’s a wonderful 13km ride that I do regularly,” says Khoo. He admits, however, that “there are little bottlenecks here and there, as there are cross junctions and expressways”.
URA is also looking at injecting life into the Kallang River and Kallang Basin area by turning it into a sports and recreational zone, especially around the Sports Hub. By activating the waterfront and introducing spaces for activities, more people will be encouraged to exercise and to bring ther families to enjoy the amenities along the river, adds Lim.
“Through the exhibition, we have spoken to many resident groups and heard how they want new open spaces to be created and where they think the new pedestrian and bicycle connections as well as bridges should be located,” adds Lim. The next six months will see URA working with the various government agencies to develop more ideas. This is a more collaborative approach to sharing its vision and asking the public for their feedback. Adds Lim, “We’re very encouraged by the response from both the private and public sectors.”
Source: URA
URA plans to make Singapore a more bicycle-friendly city
Encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle
URA also wants to create an “attractive, liveable environment” by expanding bicycle paths and the park connector networks across the island. It also wants to improve pedestrian and bicycle connections to MRT stations to encourage more people to walk and cycle.
Connectivity within a city and mobility are becoming increasingly important. According to Simon Bee, managing director for design at Benoy, in cities in the UK and Europe, such as London, Paris or Rome, one can walk the streets and squares unhindered.
That is not necessarily the case in Asia, Bee adds, especially in cities such as Beijing, Dubai and even Hong Kong. “Singapore, on the other hand, seems to [be getting] that right,” says Bee, who has been living in Singapore for the past three years. “I’ve enjoyed many a day strolling the streets here: There’s great urban design; the landscaping and greenery is exceptional. And all this comes together as an innovative cocktail in urban planning.”
Benoy, an international firm of architects, was involved in the design of ION Orchard shopping mall, which is integrated with the Orchard MRT station as well as linked underground to the other malls in the area. It is also the design architect for the new Changi International Airport Terminal 4, which is expected to open in 2H2017.
“Singapore offers lessons on urban planning,” says Bee, citing the examples of intelligent mixed-use developments, incorporating green spaces in high-rise towers and imposing guidelines for landscape replacement areas within new developments. He believes other cities should emulate Singapore’s urban design efforts.
This article appeared in The Edge Property Pullout, Issue 783 (June 12, 2017) of The Edge Singapore.