Singapore shows the way

T. Nandakumar
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Prudent land use and an integrated approach have paid off

development model The Merlion statue in Singapore.
development model The Merlion statue in Singapore.

Despite limited land, scarce resources and a high density of population, Singapore has emerged as a cosmopolitan city-state with a thriving economy, world-class infrastructure and quality of life that is among the best.

Four decades of prudent land-use planning, public housing projects and an integrated approach to industrial development and transport planning by the government have helped the country transform itself into a global model in urban planning and development.

Today, Singapore is sharing its public sector know-how in urban planning with cities across the world, helping them create sustainable development models to overcome the challenges posed by urbanisation and other factors.

The Singapore Cooperation Enterprise set up by the government is spearheading the effort.

Recently a team from Singapore was in Thiruvananthapuram for a workshop to share their expertise in urban planning, housing and waterfront development and facilities management.

Urban planning in Singapore is a centralised government function, with the Urban Redevelopment Authority being the designated national planning agency.

Concept plan

The concept plan lays out the strategies for the next 50 years on a variety of areas, such as land use, transportation, infrastructure and facilities, while the master plan outlines the detailed plan for 10 to 15 years.The government owns almost 85 per cent of the land. Right from the 1970s, Singapore followed the high-rise approach to public housing. High-quality living and environment have been the thrust.Parks and open spaces were created and waterfront development opportunities exploited.

Jeff Greig, Director of Business and Project Operations, Surbana International Consultants, said a city such as Thiruvananthapuram could make use of its panoramic view of the mountains, lakes and the sea to promote living in high-rise apartments.

He said natural heritage assets, such as biodiversity-rich areas, greenery and water bodies, could be harnessed to improve the quality of life and the environment.

Yin Kam Meng, Senior Vice-President (Engineering), said facilities management was crucial in getting people to adapt to high-rises.

“Very often, experiments in high-rise public housing go awry because after a few years of shoddy maintenance, lifts do not work, the paint starts peeling off and living conditions turn squalid.

The Singapore government evolved an efficient system of maintenance funded by conservancy charges collected from the occupants.”

Mr. Greig said, “Access to various facilities like open spaces, recreation and shopping is another important factor in public housing. While designing townships, we created community spaces within the high-rise structures. For example, we designed a sky terrace with a community garden, exercise facilities, jogging track and barbecue pits on the 26th floor of a 50-storey residential apartment complex. The sky terrace also promotes natural air circulation in a building, further improving the quality of life.”


For a country with an area of just 700 and a population density of 7,285 per, Singapore has managed to enhance its green cover from 36 per cent in 1986 to 47 per cent in 2007. Natural areas were kept rustic, the central catchment area was opened up and a network of parks created.

Reclamation project

The Marina Bay in Singapore, a reclamation project is a fine example of waterfront development -- vibrant open spaces, an 11-km waterfront promenade and recreational facilities including water taxis and a Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit.

The Great River Clean-Up Programme, an ambitious decade-long programme that revived the Singapore river, was highlighted.Town planning officials here said the programme could provide valuable inputs for the regeneration of the polluted Parvathy Puthanar canal in Kerala. Mr. Greig said reclamation had created opportunities for development in Singapore and in West Asian countries. “But it has to make economic sense, it is the last option and it has to ensure minimal impact on the environment. In Singapore we even transplanted mangroves.”

T. Nandakumar



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