Published on Sustainable Cities

Livability to start with the neighborhood – Singapore's stories (Part 2/2)

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In the first part of this blog, I introduced the 5D framework and discussed the first 2Ds – Density and Diversity in the context of Singapore’s public housing neighborhood, i.e. HDB towns. In the second part of the blog, I will share the observations of how the HDB neighborhoods reflect the other 3Ds – Destination, Distance, and Design. 
To improve destination access, Singapore has increased neighborhood walkability and encouraged residents to use public transportation  by putting in place the Walk2Ride program. This government policy ensures that public linkways are provided from MRT stations (Mass Rapid Transit, or “MRT”) up to a radius of 400m, or ¼ mile, to bus stops, public amenities, and public housing.
“Comfortable” and “walkable” access to public transportation is just one of the many examples that Singapore has done for its neighborhoods, and the total length of Singapore’s covered walkways has now hit 200km!
In order to decrease distance to transit, Singapore encourages people to cycle, which helps resolve the issue of the first and last mile connectivity to public transportation. Many MRT stations and bus interchanges provide multi-level bicycle racks as part of cycling infrastructure to make the city cycle-friendly. In fact, starting July 2016, any new constructions for schools, commercial, retail and business parks (up to a certain scale) must put in place a Walking and Cycling Plan to ensure the public space has adequately incorporated the design that facilitates walkability and cycling.
Neighborhood bicycle racks
Neighborhood bicycle racks. (Photo by Xueman Wang / World Bank)

For the last “D”, let’s explore Singapore’s various elements of urban design that create the city. I think neighborhoods are a key part of Singapore’s vision of being a city in a garden. Singapore is compact, but the government is making a tremendous effort to bring the natural environment to the residents.  

Specific guidelines are provided on “soft” and “hard” landscaping for the neighborhoods. The level of detail of such guidelines includes a recommendation for the density of trees and the connectivity of a neighborhood’s green corridors to park connectors and the national parks, so that public space is continuous and interlinked. The green space not only provides a soothing environment for outdoor activities, but, in fact, by increasing tree coverage, the temperature could be reduced up to 3.1 degrees Celsius, according to the research by Singapore’s Urban Development Authority.

Left: A bird's-eye view of HDB Ang Mo Kio (AMK) neighborhood. Right: a roof garden at one of AMK HDB buildings. (Photo by Xueman Wang / World Bank)
Madam’s Toh’s eldest son lives in a relatively new HDB neighborhood – Punggol, with 126,300 residents. An activity he enjoys much is to take his toddler to play along Punggol waterway – a 4.2 km man-made waterway that goes through the entire town. Along the waterway, there are parks and zones for cultural heritage and water activities for different age groups. When the grandparents come to see their grandson, the family simply walk to the waterpark to enjoy outdoor activities.
HDB Punggol neighborhood. (Photo by Xueman Wang / World Bank)
Walking through the HDB neighborhoods, I am particularly impressed by the attention to the carefully designed public space. In principle, a ratio of 0.75m2 per unit in each HDB neighborhood should be used for social and community facilities. One can clearly see that the facilities are designed to help promote bonding and interaction among the residents.
Madam Toh appreciates the ground-level facilities in public areas, where residents can come together to play cards or watch TV together. New handrails are installed along the walkway to improve the safety of the elders. Next to her home are playgrounds and game courts (e.g. basketball or badminton) with seats in the shade, where she can watch her grandson play.
A typical HDB neighborhood with all amenities.
A typical HDB neighborhood with all amenities.
Overall, Singapore has experienced an extraordinary transformation – from a backward tropical “dump” in the 1960s to a city in a garden today. It is ranked as one of the most sustainable cities in the world. The backbone of Singapore's urban sustainability truly lies with its vibrant, affordable and inclusive neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods are a key part of Singapore’s success story, which can be learned by many other countries and cities around the world. 

This blog post is also available in Chinese



Xueman Wang


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