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WAF blog: Singapore unwrapped

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Mah Bow Tan, a member of the Singapore parliament and former government minister, explained the particular challenges that Singapore faces as a city state of 5.2 million people in an area half the size of London - and without, of course, any hinterland

These focus mainly on a shortage of land and a shortage of fresh water, both of which the country has dealt with in innovative ways, helped by the fact that it has only a single tier of government.

The success of its policies can be judged by the fact that between 1986 and 2007 the population grew by 70 per cent, yet in that time the proportion of green space actually increased from 35.7 per cent to 46.6 per cent of the total land area. 

‘The balance between quality of life and growth has always concerned us,’ explained Mah, who outlined the country’s development since independence in 1965, at which time it had slums and inadequate sanitation and transportation.

One of the most recent aspects of that has been the creation of the Marina Bay area from reclaimed land. Intended to facilitate the expansion of the central business district, it also includes the Gardens by the Bay, providing a green lung for locals as well as a new facility for the entire country.

‘We wanted a premier waterfront address,’ explained Mah, ‘and we also planned that it would be environmentally sustainable.’ This is evidenced not just in the building codes and in the provision of new public transport facilities, but also by the fact that the bay has been dammed to create a new freshwater reservoir.

Building regulations require the installation of skyrise greenery, an approach which is being adopted throughout the country.

Cheong Koon Hean, chief executive of the Housing Development Board (HDB) explained the country’s attitude to creating new settlements  and revitalising existing ones. Its programme is impressive, with 90,000 units planned for next year alone in 23 new towns. Singapore’s housing market is unusual in that more than 80 per cent of people live in state funded housing, but more than 90 per cent of them own the housing, rather than renting it. 

Developments have been careful planned to create a sense of community but many are being revisited, both to give them more lively centres and to ‘green’ them in both figurative and actual terms. Green plot ratios (the ratio of greenery to ground plane) have been set at between 2.5 and 4, leading to considerable investment in vertical gardening.

Wind flow is also analysed at the level of both settlements and buildings, since maximising wind will lower temperatures and reduce the need for air conditioning. And in projects such as Skyville@Dawson, the HDB has also introduced spaces that can be reconfigured to accommodate changing requirements throughout the residents’ lives.


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