Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Investing in architecture and urban design to create an attractive urban environment

Investing in architecture and urban design to create an attractive urban environment

President of REDAS,

Mr Kwee Liong Keng,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good evening.

Challenges facing Singapore

The past few years have been challenging ones for Singapore. Global terrorism, the Iraq war and the SARS outbreak - all these have taken their toll on our economy. We have tackled these immediate challenges head on, without flinching.
But even as we do so, we cannot lose sight of the longer-term challenge facing us, in the form of increasing competition among cities for the same global pool of investments, talents and jobs.

2 How we respond to this challenge will determine whether we succeed in the long-term or not.

Responding to challenges

3 The Government's response to the economic downturn was a decisive one. We announced a $11.3 billion off-budget package in Oct 2001 to help individuals and businesses cope with the downturn. Measures included property tax rebates and reduction in stamp duty rates. When SARS struck in early 2003, the Government again responded quickly with additional help measures in the form of a SARS relief package.

4 Now, the economy appears to be on the path of recovery. MTI's advance estimates show that gross domestic product (GDP) in the third quarter expanded by 1%, in real terms, over the same period in 2002. Our ability to overcome the setbacks caused by SARS and the economic downturn is possible only because of the close partnership among the Government, the private sector and the people sector.

5 I wish to put on record my appreciation to REDAS for giving us timely feedback and inputs on the property market and related policies over the past years. Your inputs have helped us to maintain stability in the property market, notwithstanding the difficult economic conditions. Given that the economy has shown signs of recovery over the last two months, let us hope that our efforts have paid off and the property market will recover together with the rest of the economy.

6 Looking beyond the downturn, our greater challenge lies in responding to intensifying global competition. The Economic Review Committee has developed a blueprint to re-structure our economy, and position us for growth in the longer term. We have embarked on measures to lower the cost of doing business in Singapore. But the key to our success going forward lies in our ability to attract and retain more talented, educated, ambitious, hard-working people to come to Singapore to work and to stay.

7 Tonight, my challenge to all of us in this room is to think of how we, in ways that we are responsible for, can help build an attractive city, a great city, a city that stands head and shoulders above the sea of cities around us, one that will help us attract talent and investments, that will enable us to stay ahead of the competition, that will make Singaporeans proud to call home.

8 Many factors contribute to making this an "attractive city": good governance, safety and security, a clean and green environment, good infrastructure, a vibrant city life and a high-quality and distinctive urban environment.

9 We have done well especially in the first few areas of governance, safety and security, pollution-free environment and good infrastructure. But good is not enough.

10 The competition among cities is a relentless and cut-throat one. Newsweek published a special issue, in conjunction with the World Economic Forum held in Singapore recently. It was entitled Asian Boom Towns. In its foreword, it said " Asia has the fastest rate of urbanization in human history. Its prospects will flower or fail in its cities." Which will it be, we cannot know for sure. But one thing we do know is that cities like Shanghai and Seoul, KL and Kolkata, Bangalore and Bangkok, are booming and busily re-inventing themselves.

Singapore's reputation for innovative and efficient solutions to the problems that plague large cities, is well recognized, whether it is combating traffic jams or water shortage or SARS. In an article entitled, "The City that Could", it said" when it comes to finding the quick fix, Singapore stays on the cutting edge. What will it come up with next?".

11 The competition is not only among different countries but even within countries. ST today had an article describing how cities in the US are engaged in a "Darwinian fight for survival". Cities like Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh are losing out to more exciting ones like Seattle, Boston and Denver. Mayors in all the major cities are scrambling to make their cities more attractive for young people, and a gateway for new immigrants.

12 The lesson for us is clear. If we are to remain relevant and successful, our city must be an attractive place not just for successful people but also success-hungry people.
It must have a culture that welcomes diversity, tolerates differences, and embraces change. It must appreciate good ideas and reward achievements. And finally, it must not just be a livable city but an enjoyable city, one with a high-quality and distinctive urban environment. This is where our developers, urban planners, architects and designers have a special role to play in order to give Singapore that winning edge in the global competition for talent and investments.

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Learning from Other Cities

13 Just look at what architecture and urban design has done for London. In the 1980s, London, one of the world's major financial centres, needed to look beyond the city centre to expand its financial centre district. The planners picked the former London Docklands for this expansion.

14 Over the last two decades, Canary Wharf has become the success story of the regeneration efforts at the London Docklands.

And what a transformation: striking modern office buildings with complementary facilities like restaurants and shops set alongside beautifully landscaped open spaces and served by well-designed public rail transport facilities. It houses the world's top banking, insurance and media corporations, and attracts a 50,000-strong working population, many of whom live in the residential developments that have sprouted up along River Thames. With its rich business, art and river-based recreational activities, Canary Wharf today has become a vibrant part of London.

15 Not wanting to be left behind, the City of London has also embarked on its own transformation effort. Projects, such as the Tate Modern Museum, the Millennium Bridge and the new City Hall designed by world-class architects, have provided the city with a new design focus. The City of London has even shed its traditional dislike for tall buildings, with the new Swiss Re Building.

16 Besides London, many other cities are also busy reinventing themselves. Take for example, Roppongi Hills, Tokyo's latest landmark. By integrating office, residential, hotel, retail, and cultural functions with parks and plazas, it is a showpiece of how one can live, work and play in one integrated development. Since its opening early this year, 25 million people have set foot in the development.

17 China's biggest cities are also undergoing rapid development and urban rejuvenation. They have sought to create a distinctive image for their skylines to capture the public's imagination worldwide and serve as a branding for their cities.

18 Shanghai is a prime example. It has been rapidly building up as China's financial centre in the past decade. Prominent high-rise icons such as the Pearl Oriental Tower, Jinmao Building and the proposed World Financial Centre in Pudong have given the city a distinctive image as China's financial capital.

These buildings have been featured prominently worldwide and are synonymous with the modern image of Shanghai.

19 Even second-tier cities like Chengdu, Dalian, and Tianjin are realizing the importance of creating a vibrant livable city to enhance their competitiveness and attract investments.

20 Further afield, cities in the Middle East are undergoing a building boom. Dubai is positioning itself as a financial hub and global exhibition and convention centre in the Gulf region. The Burj Al Arab Hotel stands as the symbolic icon of Dubai. Together with the Palm Island project and the new financial centre, these developments have underlined Dubai's efforts to project itself as the leading services centre in the region.

21 If cities around the globe, including established ones like London and newcomers like Dubai, have the will to regenerate and renew its city, can we afford to stand still?

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Value-for-money Architecture

22 Many may argue that spending on architecture and good design during lean times seems frivolous. Last year, during the Budget debate in Parliament, MPs raised concerns about extravagance and waste in some public sector buildings. These are valid concerns. I also feel we can do without some of the more expensive fittings like plasma screen TVs and water fountains in public buildings. But, we should be careful not to swing to the other extreme. Frugality in the use of public funds should not be translated into lower quality developments as a whole. Our buildings should not be devoid of any architectural merit and character. They are there for a long time to come and define the image and character of a place.

23 The economy drive that the public sector has embarked on is not about shoddy work or cost cutting at the expense of quality. Instead, it is about prioritization and value-for-money when considering projects to undertake.
If we do our sums and look at the long-term economic returns that an attractive city brings, I believe that our investment in enhancing the city is money worth spending.

24 The Tate Modern Museum costs £134 million or S$388 million to build, a large sum by any standard. But within 18 months of its opening, it attracted more than 7 million visitors. If we spread the development cost over the building's lifespan, and worked out the huge spin-offs from tourism, perhaps Tate Modern was not so expensive after all!

25 London's success through architecture and urban design excellence has also rubbed off on other U.K cities like Manchester and Newcastle, where architecturally distinctive buildings, bridges and open spaces have been developed, reflecting the cultural and artistic resurgence in these cities.

Cultivating an Appreciation for Architecture

26 The quality of Singapore's built environment has improved significantly since the rapid urbanisation in the 70s and 80s. Our city has achieved a signature skyline and new public buildings like the new Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay have become a waterfront landmark.

27 But we can do more to further enhance the quality of Singapore's environment. One way is to inculcate in our public a culture that appreciates good design in the built environment. There is already growing public appreciation in Singapore for good design as the economy develops and society matures. But we need to take it a step further. URA has started holding architecture exhibitions and competitions to encourage awareness of and to promote excellence in our building and architectural industry. I hope that, over time, we can inculcate an appreciation of the value that good design and good architecture can bring to a city. With this appreciation comes acknowledgement by authorities and decision makers, and action by developers and professionals.

Collectively, this will lead to more well-designed and architecturally superior buildings and structures which will enhance the fabric of our city.

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Singapore's growing Business, Financial and Entertainment Hub

28 On its part, the Government will continue to push ahead with distinctive developments, in order to ensure that Singapore does not lag behind in the face of the global competition among cities. URA exhibited some exciting plans for the City Centre in June this year. In particular, an exciting vision of the Downtown at Marina Bay was presented. The new Downtown is envisaged as a global business and financial hub with prime office spaces, complemented by a full range of residential and convention facilities, shops, eating establishments as well as a ring of arts, cultural and entertainment activities around Marina Bay.

29 The Downtown at Marina Bay is starting to come alive, with the completion of The Esplanade Theatres on the Bay and the Merlion Park. URA has also successfully sold two sites around the Bay. The One Raffles Quay project will meet the increasing demand for offices with larger floor plates. The second sale site developed by City Development is currently planned as a mixed residential and commercial development, to meet the increasing demand for city living.

30 The exciting potential of the Bay has not escaped activity organisers who are gravitating towards the Bayfront to hold their events there, even without permanent infrastructure. In July this year, Zoukout brought some 15,000 partygoers to the open area at the Marina Bayfront. I went to recce the place and saw for myself the lively party atmosphere, with partygoers enjoying themselves against the back-drop of our impressive city skyline.

31 I understand that the F1 boat race last month brought about 70,000 spectators to the Bay to enjoy the event. The Singapore Marathon to be held next month will bring runners along the promenade around Marina Bay and into Marina South before finishing in the Padang. I also hear that Mediaworks plans to screen outdoor movies at the Bayfront towards the end of this year. All these developments are very much welcomed.

Building Infrastructure at Downtown @ Marina Bay

32 Clearly, there is so much more that can happen in this area, when new developments come on stream and the area is made more accessible. URA is actively planning for the release of the site for the development of a Business and Financial Centre (BFC). The BFC has recently received positive feedback and encouraging support from investors, professionals and the public during the consultation on the City Centre exhibition in June. The development of the BFC will ensure Singapore stays competitive and keeps up with new developments in global and regional financial centres.

To prepare for the launch of the BFC, URA is working to put in place the necessary infrastructure, such as the Common Services Tunnel, and enhancement works to improve accessibility to the area. Two key projects that URA is studying in detail are the extension of the existing promenade from One Fullerton around Marina Bay to Marina Centre, and a new, low-level bridge for pedestrians and vehicles to connect Marina Centre to the Bayfront. These two projects will make the new Downtown a more accessible and more attractive place.

33 With the proposed waterfront promenade extension, visitors to Marina Bay will be able to stroll along the waterfront to the Marina City Park. Besides being able to enjoy a scenic view of the skyline, pavilions and kiosks along the promenade will provide additional amenities to these visitors.

34 The proposed new bridge will be the gateway connecting the cultural, hotel and entertainment uses in Marina Centre to the other parts of the Bay, both for pedestrians as well as drivers. Visitors will be able to walk from the Esplanade Theatres all the way to the Bayfront amidst tropical landscaping along the promenade. Short-term activity-generating uses and leisure activities will be introduced at the Bayfront.

35 The proposed bridge and the waterfront promenade will open up the Bayfront and add to the current life and vibrancy in and around the Bay. If designed to world-class standards, they can be the landmarks for the New Downtown as well as Singapore. URA is actively looking into making these new infrastructures a reality.

36 The Downtown at Marina Bay has the potential to bring so much vibrancy and life to our city. We, both in the public and private sectors, must seize this opportunity to develop it well.
If we succeed, it can make a significant difference to our urban cityscape and maintain our reputation as the "city that can".

37 Thank you.