Friday 20 September 2013

Lee Kuan Yew showed foresight in urban development

He ensured the bold plans were followed through, say speakers at conference
By Elgin Toh And Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 19 Sep 2013

MANY countries have a concept plan to guide physical development, but Singapore stands out in that it made bold plans early on and actually stuck to them.

That was largely because founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had the foresight to insist on it, the men who worked with him to transform the city said yesterday.

However, speakers at the second conference this week to mark Mr Lee's 90th birthday also identified areas in Singapore's urban development where meticulous planning came with costs, or were inadequate in addressing problems.

One said it made inequality "invisible" and, therefore, kept it under the radar. Another noted that it could not change uncivil forms of behaviour like littering.

The meeting - dubbed "Lee Kuan Yew and the Physical Transformation of Singapore" - was jointly organised by the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities and the Centre for Liveable Cities.

Speakers highlighted the importance of the 1971 Concept Plan - Singapore's first blueprint.

Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) chairman Peter Ho said this plan was "seminal" and that its "essential features are recognisable even today as the basic structure of Singapore".

These include: a nature reserve in the island's centre, heavy industry in the west, a network of transport links, as well as sea and air ports placed where there is space for capacity upgrades.

As Mr Lee said in an interview last year: "There's a definite plan, and we stuck with the plan. There is no corruption and nobody can deviate from the plans."

Former chief executive of URA Liu Thai Ker, who advises cities around the world, including over 20 in China, said Singapore's plan had "teeth to be implemented".

Deliberate planning ensured public housing was available to many, ethnically mixed and well connected.

But Professor Chua Beng Huat of National University of Singapore (NUS) also noted the move to mix all public housing types - one-room, three-room and above - so no ghetto developed had the unintended consequence of making inequality "invisible".

This, he said, resulted in a "neglect" of the "idea of poverty" until recently, when the inequality problem grew more pronounced.

Furthermore, these plans may be struggling to keep up with newer problems. Banyan Tree executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping said that the inability to integrate "sub-communities" in the population, such as blue-collar foreign workers living in dormitories, may turn into a social problem.

On plans for a clean and green Singapore, Gardens by the Bay chief executive Tan Wee Kiat described the effort Mr Lee put into parks and reserves. He noted how former prime minister Goh Chok Tong once remarked Singapore was the only country that read a gardening report in the Cabinet.

But these plans did not always accompany change in human behaviour. Mr Simon Tay, president of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said that the city is clean because before dawn each day, "armies of cleaners" sweep up the litter Singaporeans leave.

Some plans were hard-nosed, even unpopular, but necessary.

Moving the airport from Paya Lebar to Changi when it was not yet clear there would be sufficient demand paid off, said Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong. Selling public housing to recover costs made it sustainable, said Prof Chua.

Certificates of entitlement for cars prevented traffic jams and, crucially, were done early enough, at a time when fewer could afford cars, noted URA's Mr Ho.

But "tough love" was not always appropriate. Mr Liew objected to how some pre-school space is tendered out in closed bids to the highest bidder to maximise land value, making it difficult for socially minded operators who want to charge low fees.

"Maybe we should have a more gracious use of our natural resources and land," he said.


We have the magnificent Gardens by the Bay. We have the old, venerable Botanic Gardens. I would like to see a new park right in the middle of Orchard Road, to give back the meaning of the word "Orchard" Road. I think this could be done in the lower part of the Istana... and as far as I know, no one plays golf there any more.

- Mr Simon Tay, president of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and former chairman of the National Environment Agency


If someone living in Singapore in the 1950s could have entered a time machine and travelled to the Singapore of today, he would have found the transformation of this island literally unbelievable. Today's Singapore is the realisation of a vision and the pragmatic response to a series of challenges that we faced. We faced a bleak future then. We were in the middle of a neighbourhood that was not too sympathetic towards our emergence as a nearby independent nation. To survive, we had to create a Singapore, a cleaner and more efficient Singapore, with quality infrastructure and good living conditions.

- Mr S R Nathan, former president of Singapore


The kind of global city (Singapore) becomes could easily be characterised by many of the worst excesses of being urban, things like stress and inequality. I think having a... community-driven approach allows us to address some of them in a more realistic way. When you're trying to address things at a purely national level, what may not always happen are the neighbourhood-driven, kampung spirit sort of local identities, that can actually be just as powerful.

- Mr Aaron Maniam, director of the Institute of Policy Development at the Institute for Public Sector Leadership

Singapore urban planners to tackle challenges in future city planning
By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 18 Sep 2013

Singapore's urban planning agency, the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority), is taking a serious look at ways people can work from home and in offices in suburban areas outside the city.

URA Chairman and former senior civil servant Peter Ho made this point on Wednesday at a conference titled "Lee Kuan Yew and the Physical Transformation of Singapore", adding that a key issue in the planning process is whether everything has to be done in the city.

Discussing the role played by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in the physical transformation of Singapore, Mr Ho noted this was done through leadership and good governance, and sometimes with a dose of tough laws.

But speakers at the conference also said that as the population grows, the challenges for urban planners will evolve as well.

Chairman for Centre for Liveable Cities Lui Thai Ker said: "The bigger challenge for HDB is that with the continuous increase in our population, how are we going to make a long term plan to accommodate them with no loss in the quality of life? In the process of doing that, we also have to think of new MRT lines, new bus routes."

Mr Ho said: "We can't have the cake and eat it unless we can find innovative ways to use our space. And technology is beginning to make that positive.

"There has been some recent talk about underground space and I think underground space, if you put more of your functional types of activities underground, (it) opens up enormous possibilities. We will have to continue to innovate along the way. There is no such thing as an end point; it is always work in progress."

CEO of PUB Chew Men Leong said: "It is not possible to eliminate flash floods completely because nature is a powerful force and given the land constraints that we have, we can only build our capability up to a certain level of capacity. Impact of climate change is something we have to be concerned about; it’s extremity of weather we have to be concerned (about); it’s flash floods we have to be concerned. I think even more critical, (is) how we are going to prepare ourselves for prolonged drought."

Executive Director for Centre for Liveable Cities Khoo Teng Chye said: "When it comes to planning for a flood, our engineers have had to grapple with (Singapore being) a tropical country, we get lots of rain and we get lots of intense rainfall, so our drains have been designed for a certain intensity of rainfall and that has stood us well over the years.

“Even as we urbanise progressively over the years, the incidents of flooding has drastically reduced but with climate change and changing weather patterns it is very difficult to design what used to be an intensity that doesn't happen, now seems to happen more often.

"When you talk to the climate experts or the weather experts, they cannot give you a clear answer because these kinds of things need many years to play out before you can scientifically conclude that the weather pattern has changed. But there seems to be enough evidence over the past four (or) five years that things have changed so much… that PUB, without waiting for the final conclusion from scientists, have already taken certain decisions to minimise the risk of flooding in Singapore."

In his opening address at the conference, organised by the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities and the Centre for Liveable Cities, former President SR Nathan said: "This physical transformation of Singapore is a story of foresight, political will and people working together to beat what seemed at that time, despairing odds. It is a story of the challenges to find and implement the right policies, which has made our physical development and living conditions what it has become. But at its heart, it is about our story -- how our hopes, dreams and aspirations have been transformed. It is the story of our lives."

Lee Kuan Yew and the Physical Transformation of Singapore
[Book] A Chance of a Lifetime: Lee Kuan Yew and the Physical Transformation of Singapore

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