10 Principles for Liveable High Density Cities Lessons from Singapore

10 Principles for Liveable High Density Cities Lessons from Singapore Cover

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UN projects that nearly 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050 and cities are becoming denser. If this is the future awaiting us, and the popular sentiment is that high-density cities generally fail in terms of liveability, perhaps it is timely to ask ourselves what we can do to make highly populated and built-up cities places that we would be happy to inhabit?

In 2012, the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) initiated a joint study to look at Singapore’s urbanisation experience, to find clues on how cities can not only mitigate the stresses of high-density living, but also exploit the opportunities that density creates. The study examined examples of how liveability and sustainability were achieved in Singapore over the past half century. Singapore was chosen as it is a high-density city that has consistently ranked well in various international liveability surveys. The key findings were compiled in the book 10 Principles for Liveable High-Density Cities: Lessons from Singapore.

At the launch of the 10 Principles publication on 23 January 2013 in Singapore, the study’s lead investigators, Dr Limin Hee of CLC and Mr Scott Dunn of ULI, introduced the 10 principles, illustrating each with an example or two from Singapore.

Principle 1: Plan for Long-Term Growth and Renewal

Singapore’s use of “white sites” in its land development policy allowed private developers some flexibility to synchronise their development cycles with economic cycles in order to optimise land use in the longer term. “White sites” do not strictly prescribe land use but let developers, within some parameters, decide the development mix they want to be responsive to market conditions.

Principle 2: Embrace Diversity, Foster Inclusiveness

The city has fostered inclusiveness and built community bonds through neighbourhood community centres that bring together people of similar interests from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Principle 3: Draw Nature Closer to People

Not only has the city achieved 50 per cent green cover in line with its aim to be “a city in a garden”, it has also adapted the waterways system – from drains to canals to rivers – for recreational use. The accessibility of nature within the city has helped soften the harder edges of urban living.

Principle 4: Develop Affordable Mixed-Use Neighbourhoods

In Singapore’s new towns, facilities such as shopping malls and libraries are located at the town centre while kindergartens and childcare facilities would be closer to the residential areas. Generally, most services within a precinct can be reached on foot or by public transport. Having shared amenities also make the cost of living in these developments more affordable.

Principle 5: Make Public Spaces Work Harder

Utilitarian spaces such as train lines, flood ways and rooftops can be designed or adapted to serve multiple uses. For instance, to connect two waterbodies in Punggol town, the government built a canal instead of a utilitarian pipeline. This canal could then be used by the residents for recreational activities and it also increased the land value of the developments along the waterway.

Principle 6: Prioritise Green Transport and Building Options

Through the Green Mark incentive scheme, Singapore has promoted green buildings with an eye to mitigate the urban heat island effect and to reduce the carbon footprint. By 2030, the aim is to have 80 per cent of the building stock meeting Green Mark certification standards.

Principle 7: Relieve Density with Variety and Add Green Boundaries

“Checkerboard planning” was often used in Singapore’s town planning to mitigate density by having different types of land use within a town, and also developments that are varied in terms of the height and density. Green boundaries between one high-density neighbourhood and another also provide relief. For example, Bishan and Ang Mo Kio, two dense neighbourhoods in Singapore, are separated by a park that gives residents some “breathing space”.

Principle 8: Activate Spaces for Greater Safety

Safety and security are important elements that contribute to a high quality of life. Spaces in Singapore’s new towns are designed such that thoroughfares are punctuated by playgrounds and public squares, ensuring that there will be a level of activity throughout the day to keep these spaces safe. Public areas in Singapore are also designed to have few “hidden corners” so that there can be more “eyes on the street” to make the area safer.

Principle 9: Promote Innovative and Nonconventional Solutions

Out of necessity, Singapore moved from a horizontal perspective of land use to a more innovative vertical perspective. Utilitarian spaces in Singapore are both above and below ground. Underground stockpiles free up land for other uses while “ramp-up factories” have a small footprint as they are stacked vertically rather than spread out horizontally.

Principle 10: Forge 3P Partnerships

For dense cities where trade-offs are in land use are likely to occur when new development are initiated, collaboration among the public and private sectors, as well as with the people sector (the three sectors are collectively referred to as ‘3P’) not only helped improve development solutions but also allow for the smooth implementation of these solutions. The Orchard Road Business Association is a 3P collaboration that has contributed to the provision of underground pedestrian connections, thematic street lighting, innovative façade design and even a butterfly trail on Singapore’s main shopping street.

Several issues were raised during the panel discussion and question and answer session that followed, particularly on the roles of governance and private-public partnerships.