Singapore’s Long-term City Planning: Optionality is a positive trait in a changing world

Long-term Plans, formerly known as Concept Plans, are strategic land use and transportation plans that provide broad directions to guide Singapore’s physical development over the next 40 to 50 years. These are reviewed every ten years to ensure its relevance to the needs and aspirations of current and future Singaporean generations. The first Long-term Plan was developed in 1971 and laid the foundation for Singapore’s growth and city structure. By 1991, the vision for Singapore evolved from meeting basic needs to creating an island city that balanced work/play, and culture/commerce. The Long-term Plan Review in 2001 factored in new trends to ensure that the land use plans remained robust in addressing future challenges. Then in 2011, the plan outlined the strategies to support population and economic growth, while ensuring a high-quality living environment for all Singaporeans.

As the latest review is underway, Singapore is changing its approach to long-term planning in order to formulate land use plans and strategies based on emerging trends and possibilities. Recently, The Straits Times published an article on “Designing S’pore Future”, written by Ng Keng Gene, to review Singapore’s long-term land use plans. The aim is to prepare for the future, by ensuring that future generations will have options and flexibility to meet future land use needs rather than deciding the needs for them, and to shape Singapore into an even more sustainable and livable city.

In the article, the author quoted Professor Heng Chye Kiang, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Asian Cities at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and enCity’s Senior Advisor, who said that “optionality is a positive trait, given the pace at which the world is changing.” This was in response to the question of whether this flexible approach would make it difficult for future generations to make decisions themselves. He said flexibility can be achieved by converting existing spaces to uses not planned for them. For instance, surplus parking or office spaces, unused school campuses and void decks can be put to other uses to serve community needs. Some policy flexibility is also needed to allow for the temporary change of functions, like converting car parks to night markets, according to Prof Heng.

Prof Heng Chye Kiang was the editor of “50 years of urban planning in Singapore” (published in 2016)

enCity is currently participating in this long-term effort by partnering with National University of Singapore to conduct a study for the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). We believe that our team will be able to contribute to the process of enhancing Singapore’s Long-term Plan with our experience and capabilities in urban planning. It is undeniable that the existential threat of climate change, economic and technological disruptions, the Covid-19 pandemic, and future pandemics, are just some examples of significant issues that will change how we plan for our future cities. Indeed, with the way the current pandemic has already changed how people live, work and play, it is important for land-scarce Singapore to be adaptive in city planning and to continue reimagining its use of spaces.

Huong Ly

(Featured photo: Lianhe Zaobao, Straits Times)