10 Principles for Liveable High Density Cities: Lessons from Singapore

New Publication Shows How Urban Density Can Be Managed with Innovative Planning, Development and Governance

SINGAPORE (January 24, 2013) – Innovative planning, design and development practices that emphasize a “people-first” focus can help ensure that rapid urbanization does not compromise liveability and sustainability, according to a new publication by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC).

10 Principles for Liveable High Density Cities: Lessons from Singapore draws upon Singapore’s successful urbanization experience – despite its population density, the city-state has consistently ranked favorably in various surveys measuring the liveability and sustainability of cities around the globe.

The ten principles in the publication were developed during two workshops hosted in 2012 by the CLC and ULI Asia Pacific, bringing together 62 thought leaders, experts and practitioners from different disciplines related to urban planning and development. Discussions at the first workshop centred around the four case study districts in Singapore that both organizations consider to be both densely populated and highly liveable: the mixed-use downtown district of Marina Bay; the commercial corridor of Orchard Road, and two new public housing developments in Toa Payoh and Tampines. The ideas and principles so generated were further developed, corroborated, and condensed into ten principles.

Read the report.

In the foreword to the publication, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Singapore’s Minister for National Development, points to the lasting benefits of building cities for people. “The inexorable trend of urban population growth in modern times is not likely to stop. Even for countries with no shortage of land, the growth of their urban populations has confronted their cities with constant challenges to the quality of their living environment…For Singapore, these challenges have been compounded by the limitations of its size as a small island,” he said. “Maintaining a good quality, liveable high-density urban landscape in which all Singaporeans can find and make a home is crucial to the survival of the Singapore nation.”

“Expansive, rapid urbanization is adding challenges to the business of building cities that are prosperous, liveable, and able to withstand time and change,” notes ULI Chief Executive Officer Patrick L. Phillips. “Through our work with the CLC, we are aiming to demonstrate how well-planned design and development is the foundation for a physical environment that is conducive to a competitive economy, sustainable environment and a high quality of life. Ultimately, cities are about what’s best for people, not buildings or cars. The places that are built to reflect this reality will have a competitive edge in our globalized economy.”

“Singapore is seen as a high density, high liveability development model. We saw some relevance of Singapore’s experience to others, particularly emerging cities, many of whom are high density and want to raise the quality of life for their people. We hope this joint publication will contribute in some way towards people having a more optimistic view of living in high density cities,” said Khoo Teng Chye, Executive Director, CLC.

Each of the 10 principles in the publication reflects Singapore’s integrated model of planning and development, which weaves together the physical, economic, social and environmental aspects of urban living. The ten principles are:

  • Plan for long-term growth and renewal –A highly dense city usually does not have much choice but to make efficient use of every square inch of its scarce land. Yet city planners need to do this in a way that does not make the city feel cramped and unliveable. A combination of long-term planning, responsive land policies, development control and good design has enabled Singapore to have dense developments that do not feel overly crowded, and, in fact, are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
  • Embrace diversity, foster inclusiveness – There is a need to ensure that diversity is not divisive, particularly in densely populated cities where people live in close proximity to one another. Density and diversity work in Singapore because there has always been a concurrent focus on creating a sense of inclusiveness through encouraging greater interaction.
  • Draw nature closer to people – Blending nature into the city helps soften the hard edges of a highly built up cityscape and provides the city dwellers pockets of respite from the bustle of urban life. By adopting a strategy of pervasive greenery and by transforming its parks and water bodies into lifestyle spaces for community activities, Singapore integrated nature with its dense developments. Nearly half of Singapore is now under green cover, which is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also improves the air quality and mitigates heat from the tropical sun.
  • Develop affordable, mixed-use neighbourhoods – The ease of living in a compact neighbourhood that is relatively self-contained can add to the pleasure of city living. With density, it becomes more cost effective to provide common amenities. Neighbourhoods in Singapore’s new towns have a mix of public and private developments which are served with a full range of facilities that are easy to access and generally affordable.
  • Make public spaces work harder – Often, parcels of land that adjoin or surround the city’s infrastructure are dormant, empty spaces. Singapore has sought to maximize the potential of these spaces by unlocking them for commercial and leisure activities, The idea is to make all space, including infrastructural spaces, serve multiple uses and users.
  • Prioritise green transport and building options – An overall reduction in energy consumption and dependence adds to city sustainability. Singapore has adopted a resource-conscious growth strategy that relies on planning, design and the use of low-energy environmental systems for its buildings. It has also developed an efficient public transport system and well-connected walkways to give city dwellers transport alternatives to driving.
  • Relieve density with variety and add green boundaries – A high-density city need not be all about closely packed high-rise buildings. Singapore intersperses high-rise with low-rise buildings, creating a skyline with more character and reducing the sense of being in a crowded space.
  • Activate spaces for greater safety – Having a sense of safety and security is an important quality-of-life factor. As Singapore became denser, designs of high-rise public housing estates were modified to improve the “visual access” to spaces so the community can collectively be the “eyes on the street,” helping to keep neighbourhoods safe.
  • Promote innovative and non-conventional solutions – As a city gets more populated and built up, it starts facing constraints on land and resources, and has to often look at non-traditional solutions to get around the challenges. To ensure sufficient water, Singapore developed reclaimed water under the brand name NEWater-to drinking and industrial standards.
  • Forge “3P” (people, public, private) partnerships – With land parcels in close proximity to one another, the effects of development in one area are likely to be felt quickly and acutely in neighbouring sites. The city government and all stakeholders need to work together to ensure they are not taking actions that would reduce the quality of life for others. URA launched the Singapore River ONE partnership to get the various stakeholders to feel a stronger ownership of Singapore River so that social and economic activity in the precinct would be developed in a coordinated and sustainable manner.

“For new cities that are forming and older cities that are redeveloping…the ten principles can be a starting point for city planners, developers and dwellers to trigger ideas about how they want their city to evolve and be shaped,” states the publication. “Creating a highly dense yet liveable city, while not always easy, is very possible.”

NOTE TO EDITORS AND REPORTERS: The 10 Principles for Liveable High Density Cities: Lessons from Singapore report is now available for download.

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For more information, contact:

Urban Land Institute
BlueCurrent Hong Kong
James Hacking
Direct Tel: +852 2967 8982
Email: James.Hacking@bluecurrentgroup.com

Centre for Liveable Cities
Ministry of National Development, Singapore
Jeannie Tay
Direct Tel: + 65 6908 7198/ Mobile: + 65 975 99703
Email: Jeannie_tay@mnd.gov.sg

About the Urban Land Institute
The Urban Land Institute (uli.org) is a nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in sustaining and creating thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the Institute has nearly 30,000 members representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.

About the Centre for Liveable Cities
The Centre for Liveable Cities (www.clc.gov.sg) was set up in 2008 by the Ministry of National Development and the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, based on a strategic blueprint developed by Singapore’s Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development. Guided by its mission to distil, create and share knowledge on liveable and sustainable cities, the Centre’s work spans three main areas – Research, Capability Development, and Promotions.