Urban planning in Singapore
Urban planning in Singapore has formulated and guided its physical development from the day Singapore was founded in 1819 as a British colony to the developed, independent country it is today. Urban planning is especially important due to land constraints and its high density.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is Singapore's national land-use planning authority. URA prepares long term strategic plans, as well as detailed local area plans, for physical development, and then co-ordinates and guides efforts to bring these plans to reality. Prudent land use planning has enabled Singapore to enjoy strong economic growth and social cohesion, and ensures that sufficient land is safeguarded to support continued economic progress and future development.
The founding of modern Singapore in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles was arguably a planning event in itself, as it involved the search for a deep, sheltered harbour suitable to establish a pivotal maritime base for British interests in the Far East. The location also needed to keep Britain's maritime trading routes on the East-West axis protected. The British allowed Chinese labourers to migrate in large numbers into the island to make it an immigrant majority country to safeguard their trade in the Far East. The settlers found the waters of Keppel Harbour suitable, and an entourage of eight ships anchored off the mouth of a small river on 28 January 1819. Raffles made landing on the north bank of the river and discovered favourable conditions for the setting up of a colony. The area on the side of the river's north bank was level and firm, but the southern bank was swampy. The settlers found abundant fresh water, and the river itself was a sheltered body of water protected by the curved river mouth. The river was to become the nexus from which the new colony would thrive, and the immediate surrounding areas would form the core of the island's business and civic areas.
Upon its formal establishment with the signing of a treaty on 6 February the same year, Raffles left the settlement, leaving Colonel William Farquhar as the first Resident of Singapore. By the end of May, Raffles returned, and while noting the rapid development of the city, realised the need for a formal urban plan to guide its otherwise disorganised physical expansion. He left the colony again, instructing Farquhar to designate residential, commercial, and governmental land uses for the colony.
When he returned more than two years later in October 1822, however, Raffles was dismayed by the way the colony had grown. He therefore formed a Town Committee headed by Lieutenant Philip Jackson to draw up a formal plan for the colony, which came to be known as the Jackson Plan. The plan was the first detailed city plan for Singapore. It laid the groundwork of the city's street and zonal layout, the essence of which continues today. For example, the allocation of civic institutions on the north bank of the Singapore River and the creation of the main commercial area in what was then known as "Commercial Square" on the south bank have today evolved into the Civic district and the CBD on either side of the river. The grid-like street patterns continue to exist. While the ethnically segregated residential zones are largely depopulated by now, they continue as the ethnic enclaves Chinatown, Little India, and Kampong Glam, attracting the attention of tourists.
Raffles's foresight and well-intended efforts to maintain orderliness in the city's growth started to spiral out of control just eight years after the Jackson Plan was drawn up. With no updates and no new plans drawn up by the British, the city soon outgrew itself, and the plan soon proved completely inadequate. When Raffles arrived in 1819, the population numbered about 150. By 1911, this figure had mushroomed to 185,000, resulting in severe overcrowding, particularly in the Chinatown area. The road system, planned for travel by foot and horse carts, also could not handle the exploding traffic, particularly when motorised vehicles came to Singapore en masse in the 1910s. The 842 private cars in 1915 had multiplied to 3,506 by 1920.
With the severe overcrowding in the city centre, the population, particularly the better-off, started to move into the suburbs. The better-off families moved especially to the East Coast, where they often operated plantations and maintained large sea-side homes near the beach at Katong. Several wealthy Muslim families were to leave a legacy in the area through their family names, including those of Aljunied and Eunos. Less well-off families tended to move into the southern parts of the island as a natural extension of the Chinatown area. Subsequently, however, they also moved into other areas, including the East Coast, spreading the problems of overpopulation to the suburbs with the creation of squatters. This growth also resulted in suburban roads becoming congested by traffic, particularly along Geylang Road which leads to the East Coast.
In 1927, the colonial government attempted to arrest the situation by setting up the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), with the main aims of alleviating urban congestion and the provision and upgrading of public infrastructure, particularly in the widening of roads to accommodate rising and modernising traffic. Their efforts were evident only in localised areas, as the body did not have the legislative power to produce comprehensive plans or to control urban development. The Second World War also disrupted their efforts during the Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945.
Singapore emerged from the war in physical ruins and with a large number of homeless residents. A Housing Committee was thus formed quickly in 1947, and reported an acute housing shortage facing the city, where the population had already reached a million by 1950. With 25% of the population living in 1% of its land area, and with some shophouses housing over 100 people, the SIT's efforts were clearly inadequate in its attempts to rehouse the population into new multi-story apartment blocks.
Under the People's Action Party, which came into power when it won the 1959 Elections of Singapore, the Housing Development Board was founded in 1960, replacing the Singapore Improvement Trust. This proved to be the turning point in the history of modern Singapore. Within five years, the HDB had constructed more than 50,000 housing units, which was several times more than the SIT had constructed within the time span of more than 20 years. Within the 1970s, most of the population had found adequate housing. Most of the current urban planning policy is derived from the practices of the HDB.
Flats 10–15 storeys high were initially built. With time, they reached over twenty and thirty storeys, and at present, fifty-story housing complexes are under construction.
The current policy of Singapore's urban planners who come under the Urban Redevelopment Authority is to create partially self-sufficient towns and districts which are then further served by four regional centres, each of which serves one of the four different regions of Singapore besides the Central Area. These regional centres reduce traffic strain on Singapore's central business district, the Central Area, by replacing some of the commercial functions the Central Area serves.
Each town or district possesses a variety of facilities and amenities allocated strategically to serve as much as possible on at least a basic scale, and on the regional scale, an intermediate one. Any function of the Central Area not served then is allowed by the regional centre to be executed efficiently as the transport routes are planned to link up the regional centres and Central Area effectively. The Housing Development Board works with the Urban Redevelopment Board to develop public housing according to the national urban planning policy.
As land is scarce in what is the most densely populated country, the goal of urban planners is to maximise use of land efficiently yet comfortably and to serve as many people as possible for a particular function, such as housing or commercial purposes in high rise and high density buildings. Infrastructure, environmental conservation, enough space for water catchment and land for military use are all considerations for national urban planners.
Land reclamation has continued to be used extensively in urban planning, and Singapore has grown at least 100 square kilometres from its original size before 1819 when it was founded. The urban planning policy demands that most buildings being constructed should be high-rise, with exceptions for conservation efforts for heritage or nature. A pleasant side effect is that many residents have pleasant views. Allocating primary functions in concentrated areas prevents land wastage. This is noticeable in Tampines New Town in comparison to the housing blocks found in Dover. Housing blocks turned into complexes, which occupied a large area with thousands of apartments in each one as opposed to smaller high-rise blocks with hundreds. This allows for efficient land use without compromising the standard of living.
Urban planning policy also relies on the effective use of public transport and other aspects of Singapore's transport system. Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit system allows the different districts to be linked by rail to all the other districts without having to rely on roads extensively. This also reduces strain on traffic and pollution while saving space. The districts with their different functions are then allocated strategically according to 55 planning areas.
Post-independence Singapore government, with the exception of public housing in Chinatown, has largely shied away from allocating too much housing in the Central Area and especially the Downtown Core, but with increasing density and land reclamation in Marina South and Marina East, there are current plans for new public housing close to the Downtown Core.
Singapore's land is increasingly crowded, and hence the placement of a district of one function that obstructs more infrastructure development in that area (such as building an expressway tunnel or a rail line), as opposed to the placement of a district of a different function that would accommodate future infrastructure, has become increasingly likely. A district of one function could be inefficient if it does not have proper access to another district of another function, or on the other hand, if it is too close. Public amenities have to be strategically placed to benefit the largest number of people possible with minimum redundancy and wastage. A major feature of urban planning in Singapore is to avoid such situations of land wastage.
- Geography of Singapore
- Urban planning areas in Singapore
- Singapore City Gallery
- Urban renewal in Singapore
- About Us, Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)
- "Home, work, play" Sumiko Tan, Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1999 ISBN 981-04-1706-3
|Library resources about
Urban planning in Singapore
- Tan, Sumiko. "Home, work, play." Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1999 ISBN 981-04-1706-3
- About Us, Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)
- Dale, O.J., Urban Planning in Singapore: The Transformation of a City. 1999, New York: Oxford University Press.
- Lim, W.S.W., Cities for People: Reflections of a Southeast Asian Architect. 1990, Singapore: Select Books Pte Ltd.
- Bishop, R., J. Phillips, and W.-W. Yeo, eds. Beyond Description: Singapore Space Historicity. 2004, Routledge: New York.
- Yeoh, Brenda S. A. Contesting Space in Colonial Singapore: Power Relations and the Urban Built Environment. 2003. Singapore: Singapore University Press. ISBN 9971692686
- Yuen, Belinda. Planning Singapore: From Plan to Implementation. 1998. Singapore: Singapore Institute of Planners. ISBN 9810405731
- City & The State: Singapore's Built Environment Revisited. ed. Kwok, Kenson and Giok Ling Ooi. 1997. Singapore: Institute of Policy Studies. ISBN 9780195882636
- Wong, Tiah-Chee, Yap, Adriel Lian-Ho, Four Decades of Transformation: Land Use in Singapore, 1960–2000. 2004. Cavendish Square Publishing. ISBN 9789812102706