Singapore and Shanghai: Emerging Stronger in a Post-Covid World

Metropolitan cities such as Singapore and Shanghai are implementing new norms to the planning and design of urban areas and the built environment, in order to emerge stronger and more resilient from Covid-19.

December 2020 | Report

The Covid-19 pandemic poses severe challenges to urban governance and has heavily disrupted the way people live, work and play in cities. On the recent World Cities Day, held every 31 October, the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) and the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Housing, Urban-Rural Development and Management (MCHURDM) gathered professionals from Singapore and Shanghai to learn from one another on “Building a Resilient City Post-Covid”. Co-organised as part of the 2nd Singapore-Shanghai High Level Dialogue on Urban Governance, the participants discussed how cities must adapt the ways they plan and design their built environment to integrate regular prevention and control measures, and ultimately emerge stronger from the pandemic.


Fig 1
Figure 1. CLC Executive Fellow Michael Koh delivering a keynote speech at the dialogue.


CLC Executive Fellow Michael Koh shared how Singapore is pushing ahead with polycentric planning and integrated transport planning to further decentralise its residential and commercial districts. Currently, the city-state is developing urban sub-centres such as the Jurong Innovation District and Punggol Digital District in the west and north-east of the island respectively, which are equipped with efficient public transport networks to reduce travel time to work.


Singapore is also striving to emerge stronger on the sustainability front. It is expanding cycling networks and urban mobility innovations such as autonomous vehicle test-beds, as well as intensifying planning for green and blue spaces so that residents can enjoy park and recreational spaces within a 10-minute walking distance from their homes. A vision to become a “City in Nature” has also recently been announced, which will be achieved through softening urban infrastructure and re-establishing ecological connections within the city.


The future of master planning


In the post-Covid world, master planning will become more important in helping cities adapt to future health crises. Ms Karen Tham, Managing Director of Surbana Jurong, elaborated on five principles that can guide cities in rethinking their approach:


  1. Building vibrant communities through careful planning of public, semi-private spaces and amenities;
  2. Integrating urban and transport planning to enable accessibility;
  3. Integrating townships with natural environment to provide adequate recreational space and to achieve both healthy living and better sustainability;
  4. Mixed-use developments with good amenities to enable more flexible and adaptive use of space;
  5. Employing smart technologies in estate management, planning and design to cope with future crises pre-emptively.


Fig 2
Figure 2. Master planning principles. Credit: Surbana Jurong


Surbana Jurong has employed these principles to plan and design self-contained public housing towns that have a mix of amenities and land uses. In addition, smart technology is deployed for better urban governance. For instance, the Integrated Estate Management System (IEMS) can track about 26,500 lifts across 17 housing estates in Singapore. The system facilitates performance-based maintenance and has reduced the cost of overall maintenance by 30 percent.


Fig 3
Figure 3. Smart Technology for estate management. Credit: Surbana Jurong


A resilient built environment by design


Cities of the future will need to be planned and designed around new norms, one of which is designing the built environment for health. This requires considering how citizens interact as well as supporting their physical, mental and social wellbeing in order to deliver measurable physiological and psychological benefits. Population density can be managed through the creation of self-contained urban clusters that bring work and play into living zones, and the need for safe distancing can be aided by smart sensing and analytics.


Fig 4a
Figure 4a. The Integrated Precinct Development of Paya Lebar Central. Credit: Lendlease


An example of such a development in Singapore is Paya Lebar Central, which consists of about 50 hectares of office, retail and residential space. The precinct’s latest addition is Paya Lebar Quarter, a four-hectare mixed-use development designed by DP Architects. It is well-connected with an elevated pedestrian network and has civic spaces in-between buildings such as a plaza and promenade for community events. Such an evolved neighbourhood model has become a reference for similar integrated developments in China. These follow the concept of “Diversified Clusters and Complete Precincts”, which are characterised by mixed-use plots that are highly self-sufficient.


Fig 4b
Figure 4b. Elevated Pedestrian Walkway and Civic Spaces of Paya Lebar Quarter. Credit: Lendlease


Box Story

Rejuvenating Shanghai’s Yuyuan Precinct

Named after an extensive Chinese garden first built in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty, Yuyuan is a heritage precinct in the old urban centre of Shanghai. Its ageing residential population and expatriation over the past decades had made it challenging to renovate or rebuild the precinct’s old buildings. Instead, the district government led a comprehensive rejuvenation programme in partnership with the innovation-driven consumer group, Fosun International, to transform Yuyuan precinct into a mixed-use cultural and commercial hub based on the vision “China to the foreigners, Shanghai to the Chinese, and Homeland to the Shanghainese”.


Fig 5
Figure 5. A rejuvenated Yuyuan. Credit: Yuyuan Inc


The transformation was achieved by conserving historic landmark architecture, interwoven with commercial developments such as food & beverage and retail that reflected a coherent Shanghai identity. The development is also transit-oriented, featuring three well-designed walking routes, including one for exploring heritage, one for shopping/recreation and a sky garden. Public and communal spaces are managed under a co-governance model that regularly organises commercial and cultural events such as fashion shows, cultural performances and lantern festivals.


Fig 6
Figure 6: The transit-oriented development features 3 routes for heritage (red), shopping/recreation (yellow) and sky garden view (blue)


Moving ahead, Yuyuan precinct seeks to better integrate with the surrounding commercial and business districts to establish a wider ecosystem as part of the “Central Activity Zone” planning under Shanghai Master Plan 2035. Through the theory of organic decentralisation, the precinct aims to rejuvenate adjacent land clusters progressively with distinct functional focuses to stimulate the development of cultural and creative industries, local “time-honoured brands” and high value-add services. These will make Yuyuan more attractive to local and international visitors of all ages.


Fig 7
Figure 7. A Modern cultural performance in the Market Square of Yuyuan. Credit: Yuyuan Inc


Develop resilience together


As highly populated and dense cities, Singapore and Shanghai are at the forefront in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic. Contrary to popular opinion, a research study on Chinese cities conducted by Shanghai Jiaotong University found that the infection rate is not positively correlated with population density. Instead, such cities can offer better healthcare and service industry, so long as safe distancing is effectively managed through good urban governance.


The dialogue between professionals from Singapore and Shanghai affirmed the importance of an integrated and dynamic approach to planning, designing and governing cities. At such a time when many cities are re-examining their urban planning and design norms, the valuable exchange of ideas and insights also underscored the importance of cities learning from one another to adapt and create a more resilient built environment and society.


Author’s Bio


Deng Mao Profile
Deng Mao
Senior Assistant Director
Centre for Liveable Cities


Deng Mao is a researcher with the Centre for Liveable Cities’ socio-environmental team. He has previously worked in the environmental industry based in Singapore, and delivered products and services across Southeast Asia. His interest areas are sustainable development, climate change, green industry and built heritage conservation.