How Covid-19 will change Singapore's urban design

By Yun Xuan Poon

Interview with Khoo Teng Chye, Executive Director, Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore.

Cities will likely never look the same again. As streets emptied and stores shuttered in the pandemic, urban planners learned that city design would have to change radically to support a new way of life.

“We are re-thinking our approach to governing, planning and building our city in a post-Covid-19 world,” says Khoo Teng Chye, Executive Director of the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) in Singapore.

Greening Singapore’s urban landscape and partnering with citizens are two key aspects of Singapore’s urban planning going forward. Khoo shares how the pandemic has shaped the city’s priorities.

“Green as we urbanise”

Even when Singapore was under lockdown, citizens were still allowed to exercise in parks. The government recognised how important having access to nature was.

Post-Covid, it will continue to bring greenery into the tiny tropical metropolis. This will “give our people greater access to nature’s attendant benefits on their health and well-being in the ‘new normal’,” Khoo says.

The city doesn’t have the liberty to set up sprawling parks on every street, however. “Singapore’s land constraints require us to be innovative with our urban planning to ensure that we maximise the use of our space, and make our shared spaces green and pleasant,” Khoo says.

City in Nature

Singapore’s plan to include more greenery falls in line with its goal to become a City in Nature. Khoo shares four measures to achieve this vision.

First, Singapore will dedicate 200 hectares of nature parks to protect nature reserves from the impact of urbanisation by 2030. These parks also serve as recreational spots where citizens can hike or bird-watch.

Second, park planners will integrate more natural elements and living things, such as plants, into their design. Water bodies will double as floodplains to protect buildings from flooding while supporting rich diversity, he explains.

Third, Singapore will continue restoring nature into urban areas. “This includes encouraging more developers to incorporate skyrise greenery into their buildings and infrastructure, and working on greening up our industrial estates, which are among the hotter areas in Singapore,” Khoo says.

Fourth, the country will expand its network of park connectors that link up green spaces. These make the parks more accessible and also serve as spaces to cycle and jog. This network is “a great example of land optimisation”, he notes, since it uses unused spaces like paths under public train tracks. Singapore has announced a new route connecting a major residential estate in the east of the island to Changi Beach Park near the airport.

Social cohesion

“Covid-19 has caused not only economic disruption around the world, but also threatened social cohesion,” Khoo says. Social resilience is important for preparing a city to cope with uncertainty, he believes.

Last year, CLC launched a pilot project with a small group of residents to build community resilience against climate change. Citizens learned about the impact of climate change and came up with ideas to help their neighbourhood adapt.
For instance, some residents planted greenery along their back alleys to improve walkability, Khoo shares. “By developing design interventions through crowd-sourcing and regular conversations with stakeholders, their social network and capacity to respond is strengthened, which enhances community resilience.” These small steps also help start the larger conversation.

Partnering with the community

CLC will continue to partner with business to create opportunities for cutting carbon. One project involves the upcoming Punggol Digital District, a smart business park which will connect its multiple systems with sensors.

The building and environment data collected by the District’s sensors will be shared on an open data platform. Businesses can then use this to find ways to improve sustainability. They could even test their ideas on a digital twin model within the District, wrote JTC Corporation.

“For instance, someone could test whether they should send all their lifts to the ground floor at the same time if hosting an event,” said Ulf Pettersson, Chief Technical Officer at Info-Software Systems, Electronics, ST Engineering. This open data platform is a joint venture between JTC Corporation and ST Engineering.

Singapore also plans to involve the community when designing, building and managing more than 50 parks in the next five years. It has already brought citizens on board to build one million trees by 2030. “We hope to galvanise constructive community action towards caring for our living environment and making Singapore more liveable for everyone,” he says.

The pandemic has underscored what’s truly important for Singapore. While the path of recovery remains uncertain, Khoo is hopeful that incorporating more greenery and partnering with the community will help Singapore become more resilient.