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The Singapore River One Plan

New place-making plans are underway for Singapore’s iconic river. Yvonne Xu reports.

The Singapore River One Plan


January 9th, 2013

The new skyline of Marina Bay has been the crowning glory of Singapore’s landscape in recent years, but the city’s planners are not neglecting its shorelines either. A renewed vision for the Singapore River is seeing the historic waterway being redeveloped and energised to make for a commercially stronger precinct – but also a ‘soft’ urban asset against an ever-rising backdrop of glass and steel.

Singapore River One (SRO) was formed in 2012 as a place-management team to work with both the public and private sectors in enhancing and rebranding the river and its surrounds over a five-year period. The project is, at its core, driven by a strategic ‘business plan’, but the qualities of urban space are by no means neglected.

Singapore River One

Ty Tabing, Executive Director of Singapore River One

SRO’s Executive Director Ty Tabing explains how the host of public amenities and urban programmes tailored for the precinct’s three focal quays (Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay) entail considerable urban redesign.

“We’re doing a lot of proactive interviews, dialogue forums and surveys with different public and private stakeholders, including business owners and residents around the river. And one result of that is we realised how everyone really wanted water taxis,” Tabing shares.

Singapore River One

Dragon boat racing

Inherent to the project is a geographical challenge; the stretch is composed of dispersed destinations, and with Singapore’s scorching sun, riverside walking is no stroll in the park. “You’d feel rather exposed if you started at Boat Quay and aspired to get to Robertson Quay,” Tabing empathises.

Singapore River One

One of Singapore’s new water taxis

Launched on new year’s day, a new water taxi service serves as a scenic transport option connecting 13 landing points, with 4 of them stationed next to MRT train stations to encourage transit to the city. Additionally, bicycle parking areas are on the cards, as are plans to make the riverbanks more pedestrian friendly.

SRO has also begun working on a proposal with MIN-US, a group of architecture and design students from the National University of Singapore, to bring street furniture to some key areas.

Singapore River One

Alkaff Bridge at Robertson Quay

“In Robertson Quay where I live, for example, people queue to go into different lunch locations and the children are playing and kind of running wild. There needs to be more places to sit or enjoy the landscape, and we want to have shading built into the furniture element so you can find points of refuge from the sun and cool down,” Tabing explains.

SRO is also looking at maximising existing infrastructure. “The tunnels that connect the three quays will also be revitalised by way of artwork. The goal is to get people to walk a little further than they typically do. We’re hoping that these experiences will [encourage them],” Tabing shares.

Singapore River One

Boat Quay – aerial night view

Tabing, a Kansas native, was deeply involved in the public policy development in Chicago (where he spearheaded programmes to revitalise downtown Chicago’s ‘Loop’) and recognises that events make the best place-making tools.

“As a new arrival to Singapore, I liked what was done during the Mid-Autumn Festival at River Promenade beside Central mall,” he recalls. “The giant lanterns floating on the water… It is these things that are unexpected, that make people linger longer, that tend to be the best place-making projects.”

Singapore River One

Singapore River boat cruise at Clarke Quay

Tabing’s team has identified a number of projects to activate the river along its ‘soft spots’. “Behind Liang Court, for example, there is a big swathe of grass that’s an opportunity to do something in the way of place-making sites,” he says. Another idea is to have pop-up stalls along the river, which might be commerce oriented or arts and culture oriented.

“There is also a desire to pedestrianise streets such as Circular Road [to make it] similar to Holland Village and Smith Street in Chinatown,” Tabing adds. “In 2013, we will be testing this idea out with several events, starting with a St Patrick’s Day event on Circular Road.”

Singapore River One

Night view of Boat Quay

The challenge of creating urban programmes, Tabing says, is in tying them to their localities and histories. “When I was still in Chicago researching different events that might fit here, I learnt that in old Singapore, storytellers would tell tales of their travels and discuss political issues of the day by the river – basically by the run of a joss stick burning for ten minutes. There is great potential in bringing back that kind of thing, but in a modern way. I think that’s what visitors want to see. They don’t want to see something that can just as easily be in New York.”

Singapore River One

Statue at Boat Quay

Top image: Clarke Quay at dawn. Photos courtesy of SRO.

Singapore River One

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