Bringing Town Planning to the Future
21 June 2019
3.30 pm – 5.00 pm. Registration from 3.00pm, seated by 3.30pm
MND Auditorium, MND Annex A, 5 Maxwell Road Singapore 069110
2 BOA-SIA CPD pts, 2 SILA CPD pts, 2 SIP CPD pts, 1 PEB PDU pts,
Lecture Poster (PDF: 331 KB)
Lecture Slides by Prof Wulf Daseking (PDF: 4.1MB)
The city of Freiburg, Germany is widely considered as one of the shining example of sustainability in Europe with its eco-housing, car-free streets with over more than 400km of cycle paths, and socially conscious residents. Starting earlier than most cities in 1970s, Freiburg has tackled energy and climate change, transport and land use, urban liveability, safety and democratic issues in an integrated approach Professor Daseking, a key figure in shaping Freiburg will give a lecture on planning for ecological and sustainable towns. The focus of the lecture will be on planning strategies to facilitate planning and development of towns that are oriented towards public transportation, decentralised urban development and cities of short distances.
“To create a city, you have to start today, not tomorrow. And never say ‘it’s not possible’. As a planner, you have to make it possible. So, day by day, drop by drop, you have to count it down.”
- Prof Wulf Daseking
As an urban planner, one needs to be armed with a “sharp knife” to cut what is unnecessary because “planning must hurt”. Urban planning also requires forward thinking and a tenacious spirit to push one’s vision.
These are among the key qualities that urban planners should possess, said Prof Wulf Daseking, a Professor at the University of Freiburg Germany, at a CLC lecture in June 2019. The session was moderated by WOHA Architects’ founding director Wong Mun Summ.
Creating Sustainable Cities
The world is presently grappling with the accelerated pace of megacities sprouting everywhere, with barely any “concept of which way they should grow”, he said. He further added that in these cities, urban sprawl festers like a cancer while open spaces gets killed when the cities are choked by traffic.
To create sustainable cities of the future, planners have to wield a “sharp dagger” and take difficult decisions that may sometimes invite controversy. “Mixture” must be instilled into the cities. For instance, when the bulk of economic activities are in a compact inner city, building an open public transport system that connects to surrounding decentralised residential suburban areas is important.
In his opinion, planners should also create a city of “short distances”, so that people can easily travel by cycling, walking or taking public transport. For this to happen, the number of cars has to be drastically reduced so open spaces in the city to flourish.
Prof Daseking cited Copenhagen’s Finger Plan (developed in 1947) as a successful model in carving out areas for urban growth, green spaces and new major transport links, which eventually resulted in an exciting and attractive city for the young. “Copenhagen is a stellar example of combining open public transportation systems and city development in the best way,” he said.
Being energy-efficient is another crucial element for a liveable city. Freiburg, for instance, was among the first cities in the world to pledge to reduce its energy consumption. “We were one of the lonely cities in this world,” Prof Daseking recalled. Following the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986, Freiburg decided to have a future-oriented policy with a focus on renewable energy sources. To reduce energy consumption, it sought to aim for low-energy houses or even plus-energy houses (which produce more energy than they need), where citizens can sell back the energy they generate, to power companies. Separately, with 400 km of bicycle lanes across the city, Freiburg now enjoys a strong cycling and car-lite culture, and 80% of all trips are either by bicycle or on foot.
Freiburg also provides an interesting housing template, which comprises of normal-priced rented homes, social housing at subsidised prices, and privately-owned homes. Another example of forward thinking is when the town’s urban planners designed and invested in kindergartens such that they could easily be transformed into youth homes for older children as the children grew older, with relatively limited additional expenditure.
Communicating Well, Planning Right
Planners need to be savvy in working and communicating with authorities and different stakeholders, Prof Daseking said. This is an important consideration when looking to privatise a city’s infrastructure assets, for example. Prof Daseking also emphasised the need to strike the right balance between how much say authorities have over developers, and how much freedom they’re given to operate. A relationship skewed in either direction is not ideal.
When asked about how Singapore’s Housing Development Board towns such as Tampines, Jurong and Bedok—which have populations equivalent to the size of Freiburg—can become more like Freiburg, Prof Daseking suggested that instead of continuously rebuilding its open public infrastructure or spending money on maintenance—which results in astronomical costs in the long run—Singapore can consider reducing such infrastructure or selling it off. Only then can more green spaces or more mixed-use developments come in.
He also suggested that the “decentralised city” of the suburbs can be made equally attractive if there are economic opportunities, as that will minimise the flow of people having to commute from suburbs to the Central Business District.
Attributes of a Planner
In Prof Daseking’s view, it is important an urban planner isn’t just be loved by the people, but “respected” for his or her vision. An urban planner must have the ability to make sweeping changes ahead of time, even if these changes involve difficult choices. As importantly, a city’s authorities must be steered by a team of leaders from different sectors, and engage with citizens. “Leadership is what is needed to bring our city systems into a new direction,” he concluded.
This report first appeared in the
Aug 2019 Better Cities newsletter.
About the Speakers
Prof Wulf Daseking
Professor, University of Freiburg, Germany
Assistant Professor, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL
Professor Wulf Daseking has over 30 years of experience in city planning and urban development and is an internationally renowned figure recognised for shaping the City of Freiburg to its current status as Germany’s ecological capital. In 2010, Freiburg was awarded “European City of the Year” by the Academy of Urbanism (London) for its consequent Town Planning concept. Prof Daseking is a strong advocate for development of dense, heterogeneous cities, urban development that is oriented towards public transportation, decentralised urban development and cities of short distances that enjoy social equilibrium and differentiated citizen participation.
Wong Mun Summ
Founding Director, WOHA Architects
Wong Mun Summ is the co-Founding Director of WOHA, an international award-winning architectural practice based in Singapore. He is a Professor in Practice at the National University of Singapore at the Department of Architecture, School of Design & Environment. He sits on the Nominating Committee of the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize and other design advisory panels in Singapore.