Singapore’s population is expected to grow by about 30 percent to 6.9 million people by 2030, according to government estimates. Because Singapore is an island nation, high-density development is the only option. Innovative planning, design, and development practices that emphasize a “people-first” focus can help ensure that rapid urbanization does not compromise livability and sustainability, according to a new publication by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC).
10 Principles for Liveable High–Density Cities: Lessons from Singapore draws upon Singapore’s successful urbanization experience. The ten principles in the publication were developed during two workshops hosted in 2012 by the CLC and ULI Asia Pacific, bringing together 62 thought leaders, experts, and practitioners from different disciplines related to urban planning and development.
“Expansive, rapid urbanization is adding challenges to the business of building cities that are prosperous, livable, and able to withstand time and change,” notes Patrick L. Phillips, ULI’s chief executive officer. “Through our work with the CLC, we are aiming to demonstrate how well-planned design and development are the foundation for a physical environment that is conducive to a competitive economy, sustainable environment, and a high quality of life. Ultimately, cities are about what’s best for people, not buildings or cars. The places that are built to reflect this reality will have a competitive edge in our globalized economy.”
Each of the ten principles in the publication reflects Singapore’s integrated model of planning and development, which weaves together the physical, economic, social, and environmental aspects of urban living. The ten principles are:
· Plan for long-term growth and renewal. A highly dense city usually does not have much choice but to make efficient use of every square inch of its scarce land. Yet city planners need to do this in a way that does not make the city feel cramped. A combination of long-term planning, responsive land policies, development control, and good design has enabled Singapore to have dense developments that do not feel overly crowded, and, in fact, are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
· Embrace diversity, foster inclusiveness. There is a need to ensure that diversity is not divisive, particularly in densely populated cities where people live in close proximity to one another. Density and diversity work in Singapore because there has always been a concurrent focus on creating a sense of inclusiveness through encouraging greater interaction.
· Draw nature closer to people. Blending nature into the city helps soften the hard edges of a highly built up cityscape and provides city dwellers with pockets of respite from the bustle of urban life. By adopting a strategy of pervasive greenery and by transforming its parks and water bodies into lifestyle spaces for community activities, Singapore integrated nature with its dense developments. Nearly half of Singapore is now under green cover, which not only is aesthetically pleasing, but also improves the air quality and mitigates heat from the tropical sun.
· Develop affordable, mixed-use neighborhoods. The ease of living in a compact neighborhood that is relatively self-contained can add to the pleasure of city living. With density, it becomes more cost-effective to provide common amenities. Neighborhoods in Singapore’s new towns have a mix of public and private developments that are served by a full range of facilities that are easy to access and generally affordable.
· Make public spaces work harder. Often, parcels of land that adjoin or surround the city’s infrastructure are dormant, empty spaces. Singapore has sought to maximize the potential of these spaces by unlocking them for commercial and leisure activities. The idea is to make all space—including infrastructural spaces—serve multiple uses and users.
· Prioritize green transport and building options. An overall reduction in energy consumption and dependence adds to city sustainability. Singapore has adopted a resource-conscious growth strategy that relies on planning, design, and the use of low-energy environmental systems for its buildings. It has also developed an efficient public transportation system and well-connected walkways to give city dwellers alternatives to driving.
· Relieve density with variety and add green boundaries. A high-density city need not be all about closely packed high-rise buildings. Singapore intersperses high rises with low rises, creating a skyline with more character and reducing the sense of being in a crowded space.
· Activate spaces for greater safety. Having a sense of safety and security is an important quality-of-life factor. As Singapore became denser, designs of high-rise public housing projects were modified to improve the “visual access” to spaces so that the community can collectively be the “eyes on the street,” helping to keep neighborhoods safe.
· Promote innovative and nonconventional solutions. As a city gets more populated and built up, it starts facing constraints on land and resources and has to look to nontraditional solutions to get around the challenges. To ensure sufficient water, Singapore developed reclaimed water under the brand name NEWater to drinking and industrial standards.
· Forge “3P” (people, public, private) partnerships. With land parcels in close proximity to one another, the effects of development in one area are likely to be felt quickly and acutely in neighboring sites. The city government and all stakeholders need to work together to ensure they are not taking actions that would reduce the quality of life for others. URA launched the Singapore River ONE partnership to get the various stakeholders to feel a stronger sense of ownership of Singapore River so that social and economic activity in the precinct would be developed in a coordinated and sustainable manner.