Lessons Learned on How Singapore Got It Right

2014_11_19_Singapur-Trip - Marina Bay (18) PP Best Of

By Renard Teipelke

After I visited the city-state Singapore in November 2014, I wanted to write a blog article about my impressions from extensively walking and experiencing the city. I am not residing there, but at least I took what others consider an extremely long ten days to learn about how the city developed over the past century (check out the Singapore City Gallery). Before I came to Singapore, I only heard very good or very bad comments, ranging from ‘sustainable urbanism par excellence’ to ‘non-democratic techno-regime’. Equipped with a strong practitioner’s interest and a critical geography background, I ended up being puzzled by how much Singapore got right. I could simply not believe in how far this city-state has actually realized/implemented all those recommendations on resource-efficient, equitable, sustainable, livable, creative, effective, smart, x-y-z (…) urban development. While concepts for good or ‘the best’ urban development are always debated, very often they aim at improving life in a particular city to some degree, i.e. technocratic ideals of hyper-smart cities will probably end up in an Orwellian state; however, a somewhat smarter city can improve quality of life for its residents and visitors in comparison to technology-poor cities.

10 Principlies for Liveable High-Density Cities - Singapore in Numbers (ULI, CLC, 2013), p.11But instead of trying to formulate lessons learned from Singapore’s urban development, I rather provide you with a ‘take-away’ of the ten livable high-density urban development principles from a case study-, assessment-, and workshop-based research undertaken by the Urban Land Institute and the Centre for Liveable Cities in Singapore (see publication here). In addition to my ‘take-away’ summary, I will try to underscore what they have concluded through pictures that I have taken during my visit to this city-state.

Principle 1: Plan for Long-Term Growth and Renewal

Take-away: Long-term planning is good, but it should be facilitating and guiding – not rigid and inflexible. Urban dynamics are an opportunity in strategic (shorter-term) planning.

2014_11_18_Singapur-Trip - City Gallery (21)Principle 2: Embrace Diversity, Foster Inclusiveness

Take-away: Serious public housing makes a positive difference in dense cities. Interconnected private, semi-private, and public places are the design foundation of community life.

2014_11_17_Singapur-Trip - Bras Basah (4) Best Of2014_11_17_Singapur-Trip - Arab Street (2) Best OfPrinciple 3: Draw Nature Closer to People

Take-away: Nature is no separate part of the city. A network of urban greenery adds to place making, encourages outdoor activities, and preserves environmental quality.

2014_11_19_Singapur-Trip - Southern Ridges (1) Best OfPrinciple 4: Develop Affordable Mixed-Use Neighborhoods

Take-away: Instead of mono-functional places, neighborhoods should combine live, work, and play. Walkability and mixed use are a good starting point to realize true communities.

2014_11_17_Singapur-Trip - Chinatown (20) Best Of2014_11_17_Singapur-Trip - City Hall (8) Best OfPrinciple 5: Make Public Spaces Work Harder

Take-away: Multi-tasking, flexible spaces with different use(r)s at different times of the day/week are the logical response to valuable urban land. No city can afford dormant spaces.

2014_11_22_Singapur-Trip - Chinatown Best OfPrinciple 6: Prioritize Green Transport and Building Options

Take-away: Governments have to nudge and incentivize people and businesses to move towards more eco-efficient practices, because they often come at a higher upfront cost.

2014_11_17_Singapur-Trip - Downtown (3) Best Of2014_11_17_Singapur-Trip - Downtown (7) Best OfPrinciple 7: Relieve Density with Variety and Add Green Boundaries

Take-away: Height gradation, design variations, density differentials – there are numerous ways to create neighborhoods with individual character and room to breathe.

2014_11_17_Singapur-Trip - Little India (1) Best OfPrinciple 8: Activate Spaces for Greater Safety

Take-away: Multi-purpose spaces are active, co-locations are lively, open design allows for visual access. A safe city is less about policing than about interlinkages of places and people.

2014_11_18_Singapur-Trip - Boat Quay (3)2014_11_18_Singapur-Trip - Boat Quay (9) Best OfPrinciple 9: Promote Innovative and Nonconventional Solutions

Take-away: Singapore and non-conventional do not go together!? How about a critical assessment of previous planning decisions and public-private-civil cooperation that promotes innovation.

2014_11_21_Singapur-Trip - Clarke Quay (2) Best OfPrinciple 10: Forge 3P Partnerships

Take-away: Through a different style of communication and collaboration, “people, private, public” (3P) are fruitful seeds for new ideas, consensus-building, and broad-ownership solutions.

2014_11_23_Singapur-Trip - Orchard Road (5) Best Of2014_11_17_Singapur-Trip - Bras Basah (6) Best OfThe same as in every other city, plenty of challenges remain for Singapore. That makes it exciting. There is never an ideal, flawless urban development, so everyone is invited to contribute to better solutions. What I was very fascinated about is the commitment in Singapore to further improve livability for residents and visitors alike.

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Source: Centre for Liveable Cities. 2013. 10 Principles for Liveable High-Density Cities: Lessons from Singapore. Singapore (Urban Land Institute & Centre for Liveable Cities). http://uli.org/wp-content/uploads/ULI-Documents/10PrinciplesSingapore.pdf

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One Response to Lessons Learned on How Singapore Got It Right

  1. Pingback: IPM Bulletin archive – August 2015 – Institute of Place Management (IPM) Blog

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