Q: Who was your biggest influencer professionally?
Planners often build on the legacy of their predecessors. Singapore is fortunate to have capable urban pioneers like Mr Alan Choe and Dr Liu Thai Ker, who set out a strong framework of comprehensive long-term planning and public housing for Singapore.
The one person whom I most admire as a great urban visionary is Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Trace history, and you can see his hands shaping many of Singapore’s urban policies. His vision to build a nation of home owners gave birth to the extensive public housing programme, his Garden City vision made high-density living possible in our hot tropical climate, and his preoccupation with water adequacy drove many infrastructure initiatives such as the transformation of the Singapore River and the creation of the Marina Bay reservoir.
Even though he was not a trained urban planner, he asked many probing and insightful questions when I was planning Marina Bay!
Q: What do you consider to be your most significant contributions to the Singapore urbanscape?
The development of Marina Bay, a collective effort involving many colleagues, remains one of the most fulfilling projects I have worked on. Even today, I feel very proud and happy when I am there and I can’t help thinking of how we can improve it further since it’s a continuous ‘work in progress’.
Less visible, but extremely crucial, is the formulation of our long term Concept Plan every 5 to 10 years. I have worked on 3 rounds of Concept Plan reviews, and I believe such far-sighted planning has enabled us to achieve a highly liveable environment in spite of our land constraints. I have also enjoyed working on some of the recent new HDB Master Plans – particularly Punggol, Bidadari, Tampines North and Tengah. I am excited that we are progressively implementing them and look forward to creating the unique environments envisioned in these plans.
Q: What do you think are the future urban challenges of Singapore?
As Singapore matures, we will have less ‘greenfield’ sites for development. We must thus find innovative ways to ‘create’ land through reclamation, developing underground spaces, as well as redevelop and recycle ‘brownfield’ sites with ageing developments for future development. Innovative planning and design will be needed to ensure we continue to have a good living environment which takes into consideration climate change.
Our infrastructure is also aging and would need replacement. As we develop new infrastructure, we need to build them with sufficient capacity and to be future ready. Digital technology should be harnessed as it will greatly impact many aspects of city life.
As lifestyles change and aspirations rise, we need to focus more on the ‘software’ to enable our city to become more vibrant and to promote stronger communities. We should carry out more ‘placemaking’ and programming, and encourage communities to take greater ownership of such places and activities.
The creative use of greenery and good design will play an even greater role to mitigate our high density environment.
Q: What advice would you give a young urban planner looking to succeed in this field?
Urban planning and design is almost a calling because it takes a lot of perseverance and determination to get your plans and ideas implemented, over many years. But it is very fulfilling because you are able to impact many lives positively. Urban planning and design is a career to seriously consider for those who want to make a difference, and find meaning and purpose in their job.
Singapore is also one of the best places in the world to practise urban planning as there is a good framework in place, and strong government support.