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Building Tomorrow: Singapore's Long-Term Plans (Part 1)


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In this Explainer, find out...

  • What is the Long-Term Plan?

  • How does the Long-Term Plan optimise land use for business, residence and transport?

  • What lessons can we draw from cities abroad to improve our urban planning?


Introduction


Singapore has a total land area of 728 km2, making it the third smallest country in Asia and the 52nd smallest worldwide. Despite that, it is the third most densely populated territory, trailing only Monaco and Macau. Its small size and large population mean that urban land planning is crucial for allowing Singaporeans to lead meaningful, prosperous and comfortable lives. In being forward-thinking, Singapore’s urban land planning also provides insight into the Government’s plans and priorities. 


This Policy Explainer will be the first of a two-part series where we aim to shed light on the processes that guide Singapore’s urban planning endeavours, reveal the outcomes of this process, and draw lessons from other cities. In this Policy Explainer, we will explore Singapore’s plans for the residential, business and transport sectors, as outlined in the 2021 Long-Term Plan. In the next Policy Explainer, we will discuss how Singapore plans to further sustainability and heritage through urban planning.


Long-Term and Master Plans


The Long-Term Plan is a plan that outlines how Singapore’s land use will be optimised to cater to our country’s needs over the next fifty years. The long time horizon is meant to ensure Singapore stewards its land sustainably not just for today’s use, but for future generations to come.¹


In the Long-Term Plan, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) maps out the overview of the allocation of Singapore’s land (see Figure 1). Residential properties are marked in beige, nature reserves or parks in green, industrial areas in purple, and commercial and business park nodes in blue circles.


Figure 1: Long-Term Land Use Map²


The Long-Term Plan’s vision is put into action through the more detailed Master Plans. These plans have a shorter time horizon of just 10 to 15 years, and distil the long-term strategies of the Long-Term Plan into actionable plans. For example, it maps out exactly which zones are slated for what type of development, allowing the relevant statutory boards to lease out land for the right purpose. This makes it key to guiding day-to-day land use allocations and aligning these decisions with their longer-term goals. 


The Long-Term Planning Process


While formulating the Long-Term Plan, URA draws additional insights from two sources: 1) stakeholder consultations and 2) data analytics. This is done to ensure that Long-Term Plans align with the future needs and aspirations of Singaporeans while accounting for more practical considerations.


Stakeholder Consultations


To better understand Singapore’s needs and plan its land space to meet those needs, URA engages a multitude of stakeholders, including government agencies, firms, and the public, while crafting Long-Term Plans. For example, in the 2021 Long Term Plan Review, the URA conducted a public poll which garnered over 5,600 responses from Singaporeans, followed by successive public engagements through focus group discussions. These responses and engagements captured Singaporeans’ hopes and vision for Singapore’s future land use, allowing the URA to change their plans to meet citizens’ needs.


Data Analytics


To augment the Long-Term Plan, urban planners at URA also use data analytics to forecast demographic trends and industry needs (see Figure 2). This enables the URA to identify unforeseen future needs, ensuring Singapore remains future-ready in its land use plans.


URA also uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide new ideas for optimising Singapore’s land space. For example, URA has leveraged AI to understand different scenarios experienced by commuters in the public transport network. This has helped to improve their planners’ understanding of travel times (see Figure 3), therefore ensuring that future developments are catered to the needs of commuters.


Figure 2: An example of Demographic Trend Analysis done by the URA³


Figure 3: Heatmap of Average Travel Time


The use of digital tools hence provides insights that enable it to keep its plans effective even into the distant future.


2021 Long-Term Plan


The 2021 Long-Term Plan is the latest iteration of the Long-Term Plan. It maps out Singapore’s residential, business, and transport land use strategy for the next 50 years to ensure Singaporeans’ lives are as enriched, convenient and meaningful as possible. In creating the plan, URA has also considered community feedback gathered during the 2021 Long-Term Plan Review, as well as recent work and lifestyle trends.


Residential Plans


The 2021 Long-Term Plan accounts for Singapore’s evolving housing needs in two ways. 


1. More Homes to Cater to Evolving Needs and Existing Constraints


As housing needs increase, more land is being set aside for residential use. New and existing housing estates are intentionally planned to meet new needs and overcome key constraints. For example, the URA plans to build more homes in and around the city area for quick commutes to the city centre, including in the Greater Southern Waterfront and Kampung Bugis (see Figure 4), as well as planning new residential developments closer to amenities and MRT stations.


Figure 4: Areas Around the Downtown Core Slated for Residential Use


This will increase the ease of commuting, saving time for work and leisure. It is also in line with community feedback, which revealed that Singaporeans desired to work closer to where they live and have more affordable housing options in or near the city centre. This would lead to win-win situations where both those working in and outside the city centre have more housing options.


Further, URA and the Housing & Development Board (HDB) are pioneering new housing modalities like Community Care Apartments for seniors that integrate key public services and public housing. This is to allow seniors to live independently and have easy access to key services like food and healthcare. This caters to the needs of Singapore’s ageing population.


Finally, new ideas have been proposed to overcome Singapore’s land constraints, in an attempt to accomplish more with less. For example, URA has drawn up plans to integrate community spaces into different levels of housing blocks (see Figure 5). This will make room for more recreational living spaces without sacrificing land space.


Figure 5: A Housing Block with Integrated Greenery and Recreational Spaces


2. Constructing Well-Integrated and Close-Knit Towns


Besides increasing the quantity and quality of housing, URA is also working towards increasing interaction among residents to build stronger-knit communities. For years, it has been planning a mix of private and public housing around key places like MRT stations or markets in new estates. This has been accompanied by increases in the number of walkable streets and a wider range of amenities and shared spaces to bring neighbours closer together (see Figure 6). Resident feedback affirmed these changes as citizens shared their desire for a “mix of private and public housing” when the URA sought community feedback in their 2021 Long-Term Plan Review.


Not only that, spaces like MRT stations are being reimagined as dual-use spaces. For instance, LTA is reenvisioning MRT stations, like those in Yishun and Tampines, as community hubs housing commercial and community services.


Figure 6: A Visualisation of Improved Walkability and Shared Spaces in New Estates


Ultimately, closer community interaction brings groups and individuals together to bond and care for one another, making neighbourhood communities more vibrant.


Business and Industry Plans


Singaporean employees spend an average of 44 hours per week at work. This means that URA’s business and industry land use plans are just as important as its residential ones.


Today, Singapore adopts a polycentric approach to distributing its key job nodes. This means that apart from the city centre, key commercial hubs, business parks and industrial areas are spread across the island. This improves connectivity as job nodes are spread out between different housing districts, enabling citizens to find employment closer to home.


Figure 7: Key Business and Commercial Nodes 

Spread across Singapore¹⁰



As highlighted in the 2021 Long-Term Plan, the URA will continue to expand on this framework by closely following work trends. For example, the recent rise in work-from-home arrangements has spurred URA to consider alternative workspaces like community co-working spaces located closer to residential districts. 


Further, workspaces are being redeveloped in line with changing business needs. As companies integrate their commercial, industrial and research and development activities all in one site, URA is exploring adding more Business-White zones meant for mixed-use developments (see Figure 8). This will allow companies to utilise their workspaces more flexibly.


Figure 8: Map of Existing and Potential Business-White Zones¹¹



Ultimately, Singapore’s land use plans in the business sphere are aimed at redeveloping current facilities to meet the dynamic needs of Singapore’s economy, while improving the ease of access to the workplace for Singaporean employees.


Transport Plans


As shared in the 2021  Long-Term Plan, Singapore continues to facilitate islandwide mobility through a comprehensive public transport network spanning the island. The Ministry of Transport aims for 8 in 10 households to be within a 10-minute walk of a train station by 2030, and is on track to reaching that target.¹² 


On top of the public transport network, provisions have been made to expand walking and cycling paths across towns, within towns, and even within neighbourhoods. For example, transit priority corridors (TPCs) like the North-South TPC will offer road spaces for buses, cyclists and pedestrians (see Figure 9). This will encourage active mobility and provide citizens with more commute choices.


Figure 9:  North-South Transit Priority Corridor¹³


Discussion


Like Singapore, New York and Barcelona, have relied heavily on intelligent and careful urban planning to cater to dense populations. Singapore may thus draw inspiration from these cities to improve its land use strategies.

 

New York City: Diversity and Dynamism


The New York City Planning Department, like URA, has a set of values and principles for urban planning. They recently released a guidebook with illustrations to explain them. New York's first principle focuses on improving citizens' daily lives by making cities inclusive and accessible. Their second and fourth principles align with Singapore's emphasis on heritage and sustainability. However, it is the third principle about embracing the city's dynamism which sets it apart.¹⁴


In Singapore, urban planning has placed a heavy emphasis on pragmatism, leaving little room (physically and metaphorically) for more vibrant and dynamic spaces. This emphasis on pragmatism stems from Singapore's limited land area and dense population. This thus requires a careful allocation and utilisation of space. Consequently, there is less tolerance for experimental or unconventional urban designs that may disrupt the city's efficiency-driven model.


COVID-19 has pushed urban planners to rethink and remodel how Singaporeans interact with communal spaces, as the pandemic brought to light the importance of “spacing out” while maintaining a sense of interconnectedness.¹⁵ This desire for more adaptable and dynamic spaces was reflected by calls in Parliament for less manicured green spaces and more authentic natural growth.¹⁶


To take a page out of New York’s book, flexibility is key. Mixed-use development, or spaces that blend multiple aspects of urban development into one building, are prevalent. New York City's zoning regulations, while still strict, are generally more flexible compared to Singapore's.¹⁷ This flexibility allows for a wider range of land uses to coexist within the same neighbourhood or building,  often integrating spaces of play, work, community, and living into one.


A prime example of this, Sendero Verde, is a city- owned residential development.¹⁸ Despite being primarily built for housing, it features a rooftop courtyard, exercise spaces, and community gardens, demonstrating how diverse, community-driven programming and thoughtful design coordination between indoor and outdoor spaces are foundational to a vibrant and dynamic living space.


While mixed-use condominiums are becoming more prevalent in Singapore, there is still a noticeable gap in accessibility to such spaces. Many of these developments cater to higher-income individuals, leaving a significant portion of the population out.¹⁹ This highlights the need for more proactive involvement from the public sector to develop mixed-use spaces that are accessible to a broader range of citizens. In turn, we can create more vibrant and dynamic living environments that enhance the quality of life for all Singaporeans.


Barcelona: Accessibility and People-Centricity 


Despite significant investment into Singapore’s public transport network, car ownership remains a popular choice for Singaporeans. Further, 12% of Singapore’s land is set aside for roads today.²⁰ Can urban planning play a part in guiding Singapore towards a car-lite future? Perhaps, examining a more radical and systematic approach to the car issue can inspire a people-centric urban design. 


How does a car-dependent country cut air pollution, noise pollution, free up their roads, and build interconnectedness all at the same time? According to urban designers in Barcelona, Superblocks provide a convincing solution. 


Figure 10: An Illustration of Barcelona’s Superblocks Model



Superblocks are three-block by three-block spaces where cars and traffic are banned on internal roads. According to data from Barcelona’s first Superblock experiments, foot travel in Superblocks increased by 10 percent and bicycle traffic by 30 percent, while vehicle traffic declined by 26 per cent on internal roads.²¹ In addition, thousands of square metres of new shared public spaces were opened to residents. Anecdotally, residents of Superblocks, though initially hesitant, are now highly supportive and appreciative of their car-free environment.²² 


That being said, it may not be practical to apply such a model to countries like Singapore, due to its urban culture that prioritises efficiency and convenience, potentially leading to resistance towards the restructuring of streets and public spaces on a large scale. However, unlike traditional approaches to urban planning that focus on isolated interventions, such as street improvements or neighbourhood revitalisation projects, the Superblock model fosters holistic transformations that extend across entire urban areas.


This comprehensive approach not only enhances connectivity and accessibility but also promotes social cohesion, environmental sustainability, and public health.


Conclusion


With a robust urban planning framework, Singapore remains a global leader in designing liveable, practical, and interconnected cityscapes. Its remarkable transformation in the past 50-odd years bears testament to the importance of good urban planning. As Singapore continues to evolve, finding solutions to new urban challenges, such as cultivating a collective heritage and addressing sustainability concerns, will be crucial in maintaining its status as a global leader in urban development. This will be covered in detail in the next Policy Explainer of this two-part series. 


MAJU PE 2024_16_Building Tomorrow- Singapore' Long Term Plans (Part 1)
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This Policy Explainer was written by members of MAJU. MAJU is an independent, youth-led organisation that focuses on engaging Singaporean youths in a long-term research process to guide them in jointly formulating policy ideas of their own. 


By sharing our unique youth perspectives, MAJU hopes to contribute to the policymaking discourse and future of  Singapore.




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