Friday, March 13, 2015

Three principles for planning great downtowns and waterfronts

Even though Singapore is already a great city by many standards, its planners and managers do not shy away from asking people to critique it, and to explore what could be improved.

At a Centre for Liveable Cities event today, Joe Berridge, a partner at Urban Strategies, Inc. provided a lot of good insights, but three things stand out the most for me: 1) the importance of a vibrant street life, 2) the need to phase development, 3) the virtue of having a mix of big, medium, and small.

1. Berridge highlighted how in many places in Singapore, buildings are huge, roads are wide and traffic is not heavy (i.e., something like this). Surely this is a virtue compared to the hellish traffic congestion that many other cities have to endure everyday. But Singapore can do better by sacrificing some of that smooth automobile traffic in favor of a more vibrant street life.
"Take a lane out from some major streets, you have too much asphalt. It's good to slow things down a bit."

2. He showcased his firm's design for Singapore's Greater Southern Waterfront (shown above). This is a project to transform the area that will be vacated by the Port of Singapore's City & Pasir Panjang Terminals into an expansion of the CBD. The consultants suggested building an additional island because with the exit of port activities, the waters were much too vast. What is the island for? Berridge doesn't know yet, but he said, "it would be great to have a large amount of space in the city that you don't know what for" (reserved for future development). He is also wary of large-size new town projects which are built in very short time-frame. Taking cue from Jane Jacobs, he suggested the city to consider development phasing carefully.
"Mix-up your buildings so when they get old, they won't all get old at the same time!"

3. As a city becomes too successful, it becomes too expensive. And this is not good news for the innovative start-ups that Singapore wants to nurture in order to build a greater creative economy. Many of the country's innovation incubators (such as those in One-North) are very high-end. Singapore should mix its real estate offering to include spaces which are big, medium, and small - in the spatial as well as financial sense.
"Small innovative start-ups want to spend their money on developing ideas, not on paying rent. That's why they go back to the shed, the garage."

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