Before July of 2012, I couldn’t have told you where Singapore was on the world map. But the move there for a two-year job opportunity happened in six weeks. Faced with downsizing our living quarters by half, we purged possessions and sold cars, shipped off essentials and left our home of 15 years in St…. Read more »
Before July of 2012, I couldn’t have told you where Singapore was on the world map. But the move there for a two-year job opportunity happened in six weeks. Faced with downsizing our living quarters by half, we purged possessions and sold cars, shipped off essentials and left our home of 15 years in St. Louis with our three-year-old son and four bags.
The first few months were tough for mid-westerners used to driving everywhere. Walking, public transportation, and taxi were the transportation options: A $20,000 Honda in the US costs $100,000 in Singapore (an attempt to limit vehicles on roads); our rent was three times our house mortgage in St. Louis; and after the dry and cold air of central Missouri, the hot and humid climate seemed unbearable.
The move seemed like the biggest and costliest mistake of our lives.
But, of course, we didn’t quit. After another month or two we got acquainted with the city and really started to enjoy it. We were impressed by how well-planned, coordinated, and diverse it was. We learned the advantages of living in the tropics and the city planning of Singapore worked like one giant TOD (transit oriented development) project. We didn’t worry about car payments, or insurance and record high gas prices. Plus, there were means and ways available to stay frugal in the expensive city if desired.
We spent three years in Singapore and got to experience one of the best professional phases of our careers. Both my wife and I are in the planning and urban design professions, so we were able to compare and contrast Asian and Western urbanism models, and specifically the nuances of “livable” high-density cities.
Today, Singapore has over 7,000 persons per square kilometer; despite that, it consistently ranks as one of the most livable cities in Asia (Hong Kong is a close rival) and among the top 10 worldwide. 10 Principles for Livable High Density Cities: Lessons from Singapore was produced by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Center for Livable Cities (CLC) to show examples of how livability and sustainability correlate with a city’s highly dense environment. Largely conducted a few months before my arrival in 2012, during the course or our stay I was able to draw many parallels with my work in Southeast Asia and cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Manila, and Jakarta.
Each principle reflects Singapore’s integrated model of planning and development, which weaves together the physical, economic, social and environmental aspects of urban living. The ten (abbreviated) principles are:
Plan for long-term growth and renewal –A highly dense city must make efficient use of every square inch of its scarce land in a way that does not make it feel cramped. A combination of long-term planning, responsive land policies, development control, and good design has enabled Singapore to have dense developments that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Embrace diversity, foster inclusiveness – Diversity must not be divisive, particularly in densely populated cities where people live in close proximity. Density and diversity work in Singapore because there’s a focus on inclusiveness through encouraging greater interaction.
Draw nature closer to people – With a strategy of pervasive greenery and transforming parks and water bodies into spaces for community activities, Singapore integrated nature with its dense developments. Nearly half the city is now under green cover, which is pleasing, improves the air quality, and mitigates heat.
Develop affordable, mixed-use neighborhoods – The ease of living in a compact, relatively self-contained neighborhood adds to the pleasure of city living. With density, it’s cost effective to provide common amenities. Singapore’s new neighborhoods mix public and private developments served by a range of facilities that are easy to access and generally affordable.
Make public spaces work harder – Often, land parcels that adjoin or surround infrastructure are dormant, empty spaces. Singapore has maximized their potential by unlocking them for commercial and leisure activities. The idea is to make all spaces serve multiple uses and users.
Prioritize green transport and building options – Singapore’s resource-conscious growth strategy relies on planning, design, and low-energy environmental systems for its buildings and an efficient public transport system and well-connected walkways as alternatives to driving.
Relieve density with variety and add green boundaries – Singapore intersperses high-rises and low-rises, creating a skyline with more character and reducing the sense of being in a crowded space.
Activate spaces for greater safety – As Singapore became denser, designs of high-rise public housing estates were modified to improve the “visual access” to spaces so the community can collectively be the “eyes on the street.”
Promote innovative and non-conventional solutions – As a city gets more populated and built up, it has to look at non-traditional solutions to get around resource 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 nearby. All stakeholders need to work together to ensure they don’t take actions that would reduce the quality of life for others. URA launched the Singapore River ONE partnership to allow stakeholders to feel a stronger ownership of the river so that local social and economic activity would be developed in a coordinated and sustainable manner.
Since our arrival back in the US six months ago, we once again own two cars and drive everywhere—but with a certain amount of guilt.
Dhaval Barbhaya is a planner and urban designer in the Laguna Beach studio. Click here for more information on the 10 Principles.