Last November, PT did a series on the development of Brentwood station area (Burnaby Builds a City, starting here) – including a shot of the redesign of Lougheed Highway adjacent to ‘Amazing Brentwood’ at Willingdon:
While searching for images of new towns in Singapore, I came across this rendering for the proposed redevelopment of Pasir Ris, a residential town in the northeast corner of the island nation:
From the shape of the elevated MRT station to the design of the landscaping, from the separation of the paths to the location of the coffee bar, the similarities are so exact that it’s hard to believe this is all coincidental. Perhaps it’s a reflection of a global similarity in high-density station-area design, with an emphasis on walkability and mixed-use.
While Amazing Brentwood is practically finished, Pasir Ris station and adjacent mall still looks like this:
Brentwood, on the other hand, used to look like this:
Vancouver is a settler city that has been influenced by the culture of the West – the ultimate movement of European DNA to the coast of the Pacific. Today, of course, it is a hybrid city, as migration from the other side of the Pacific is shaping our new reality. (It’s what the ‘West Pacific’ series of images attempts to reveal.)
While Singapore and other Asian cities have looked to us for examples of city-building and urban design, the exchange, as revealed above, seems to be mutual. So logically we should be looking to what is happening in the dynamic cities of the eastern Pacific Rim, notably places like Singapore, for our inspiration as much as we do from the European and American antecedents we have typically turned to. The origins of who “we” are is ‘both sides now.’
(Michael Gordon, a retired Vancouver City planner and PT contributor, just took a trip to Singapore, as it happens, and in upcoming posts he’ll be reporting back on what he saw.)
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A brilliant piece of performance comedy from three guys – two of whom, Benjamin Kheng and Hirzi Zulkiflie, are the BenZi Progect. They satirize their home city, Singapore, and its people and culture. Here are fresh eyes on the multicultural, global world we share, with a startling similarity in character but enough local references (peranakans!) to go beyond cliche. The writing is, from the opening line, gently absurd.
Kheng and Zulkiflie play two execs at the Singapore Tourism Commission, interviewing a third, Andrew Marko, for a job. Give it a couple of views, and then check out other skits here.Read more »
“But what about Singapore?”
… having lived in the beautiful red-dot city state for two and half years, and seeing up close the experience of public housing in Singapore, one is struck by elements of the Singapore housing experience that are striking for its foresight and, yes, its replicability! …
How has Singapore succeeded where so many other countries have failed dismally? At the risk of over-simplification, there seem to be four essential ingredients to this astonishing success story:
1. The importance of neighborhoods.
… the careful bottom-up design of neighborhoods matters a lot! …
Singapore got this fundamental fact right early on. Housing estates are carefully designed with mixed-income housing, each having access to high-quality public transport and education, and the famous Singapore hawker centers where all income classes and ethnicities meet, socialize, play, and dine together on delicious and affordable food. …
The apartment blocks are designed to encourage the “kampong” (social cohesion) spirit with the “void decks” (vacant spaces on the ground levels of the HDB blocks) and common corridors (common linked spaces that provide access to individual units on the same floor) that foster interactions between neighbors.
2. The smart use of urban density.
This has been done by carefully designing the height and proportion of buildings in relation to one another. Dr. Liu Thai Ker, the legendary Singaporean urban planner, compares this to a chess board where no two pieces are of the same height. …
Buildings are also interspaced with high quality green open spaces.
3. An integrated approach to housing—from planning and design, through land assembly and construction, to management and maintenance.
The Housing & Development Act (1960) gave the Housing and Development Board, as the apex housing agency, the lead role across the housing value chain. In most countries, access to land for affordable housing is a critical constraint. In Singapore in 1967, the Land Acquisition Act empowered the country to acquire land at low cost for public use.
Today, 90% of land is owned by the state as opposed to 49% in 1965. Great emphasis is placed on standardization and efficiencies in construction management. …
They are immaculately maintained. In 1989, Town Councils were introduced to empower local elected representatives and residents to run their own estates. Today, there are 16 Town Councils managing the HDB housing estates in Singapore.
4. Long-term and strong political commitment.
The popular and political support for public housing in Singapore is strong and stable. And this has meant a high level of public subsidies to HDB (in 2017 this was S$1.19 billion).
The post on the World’s Best Bus Stop in Singapore got a lot of interest. You can actually see it under construction on Google Maps Streetview:
Tim Barton asked:
Does the amount of stuff to do here suggest that people are waiting a long time for a bus? I love this, but I would hope that people aren’t waiting long enough to make use of most of it. Shelter, seating, landscaping and bus time info excellent though.
Good question. So after a bit of research, I found out the stop was at Jurong East Central, went to the map and clicked on the bus logo:
Here are some of the buses on the Departure board:
So no, a Singaporean is probably not waiting very long – or at least knows when the next bus is coming. (That makes such a difference). And has a lot of choice.
BTW, you can do exactly the same thing in Vancouver:
I just can’t check out a library book at my bus stop.
The stop features ample seating, a rack of books geared for all ages, from Enid Blyton to Ray Bradbury, bicycle parking, a swing, artwork by the local illustrator Lee Xin Li, and a rooftop garden, complete with a small tree.
The space is also hyperconnected. In addition to the print books, users can scan a QR code to download e-books from the National Library, charge their phones, and peruse interactive digital boards that provide arrival times and a journey planner to find the fastest route. Screens also broadcast information on weather, news, and local events. Solar panels help offset electricity use.
More here. Read more »
I was watching an older SFU video last week on The Melbourne Experience.
… and one of the most interesting things to me was when Rob Adams mentioned that the vibrant Melbourne laneways are not an old thing, just like Granville Island, they are a thing of the 70s, which has become fundamental to the character of the city.
Vancouver has some of the world’s most expensive property values, yet nearly 50% of the ground level building frontage is forgotten, doomed at best to be avoided, dedicated only to waste and maybe graffiti. How is that a good use of space?
Last year, there was a great article about how Seattle wants to ‘Melbourne-ize’ its’ laneways Seattle’s Future Alleys Look Like Paradise
Nord Alley (SvR Design/Olson Kundig Architects)
Yes, there are a host of logistical issues to overcome, but all have been overcome by other places, and seriously, as valuable as land is, how can there NOT be ‘gold in them thar alleys’?
My friend Patrick Chan send me a few more examples from his Asian travels (below) … I acknowledge it might not work for every alley (a parkade can’t easily have its entrance adjusted), but I have to think that many people share my girlfriend’s view of alleys – she is scared of them – do re really want people to be scared of ~50% of a city’s streetspace?
A lane from Hong Kong… In the mornings a little van (kind of a Mr Bean type van) comes to deliver stuff. During the day this lane is shut.
I would say you can find it in lots of places, and it’s simply the “derp” mentality keeping it from arriving in Vancouver … people just believe “that’s not how we do things here.”Well, there’s plenty of Rad Shit out there … lets do some here! (if only because, seriously, how can it not be a good idea to monetize the space) Read more »
Vancouver is a young city. While this means we don’t have our own Arc de Triomphe (though some seem to imagine we do), we are lucky that if we let ourselves, we get to stand on the shoulders of giants.
I wrote about Design Thinking the other day, the great thing about this is that, somewhat like the scientific method, it establishes a systematic way of thinking which sometimes demands creativity, and at other times introspection, it involves the sharing of ideas, and the ability to learn from others.
What it does not involve is reinventing the wheel because you didn’t notice that someone else already did.
We get to see the runaway effects of a city growing increasingly unaffordable when we look at London. [see: There are now only 29 (yes, twenty-nine) homes in London deemed ‘affordable’ for first-time buyers]
We get to see how to design bike paths by studying the Dutch or the Danish.
We get to see how the city can build affordable housing by looking at Vienna (or Singapore).
We get to see how to deal with foreign money by looking at Singapore (or Sydney).
We get to see the effects of the conversion of streets to highways by looking at Miami or Pheonix and realize that Vancouver is fundamentally not really all that unique:
THE CASE AGAINST URBAN CORRIDORS THAT ACT LIKE HIGH-SPEED HIGHWAYS
From the beginning of urbanized America, streets functioned to provide mobility in many ways:
People walked to work, trolley, horse-drawn then powered moved workers from factories and offices to home. Trains played a role in commutes. Bicycles incited a pedal power mobility craze for a while.
Then the automobile came along. By the 1950s, roads became the sole domain of automobiles. The automotive industry even created the term “jay walking” and launched a campaign to demonize people on foot. Sidewalks shrunk and beautifully landscaped medians were torn out to create more lanes for automobiles.
Trolley lines were ripped out and replaced with buses. But buses were devalued and branded as last ditch transportation for the unfortunate. Only the sedan was fit for the upwardly mobile middle class American. Crosswalks were diminished. Those brazen enough to move around on two feet were seen as merely an impediment to moving more cars faster.
Government loans encouraged suburban single family homebuilding, giving rise to the super highway, and when highways weren’t enough, surface streets – even the most picturesque and historic – were overhauled to turn them into another layer of de facto highways.
(Anything seem familiar in these? … if not, as Gordon has written, Motordom 2.0 is around the corner)
We get to learn how to install a bike share by looking at New York City (or Paris, or Montreal) … and get to see what happens when you have a combination of bike-share and helmet laws by looking at Melbourne.
We get to see why limits of pollution are a good idea by looking at Beijing’s air quality (or this last week, Salt Lake City), even if we don’t read the Governator Arnold’s words last month, and why putting all our stock in LNG isn’t the best idea:
I, personally, want a plan. I don’t want to be like the last horse and buggy salesman who was holding out as cars took over the roads. I don’t want to be the last investor in Blockbuster as Netflix emerged. That’s exactly what is going to happen to fossil fuels.
And we get to look at things like fare gates in transit, and see if you install them, you have to make provision for the fact that when you put up a barrier, you put up a barrier, and some people won’t be able to deal with this fact. Again, in this we’re not unique, John Graham’s comments yesterday show one solution, but I can’t imagine its a cheap one.
The point of this is that in some ways, Vancouver is exceptional, we have an environment that many people would kill for, mountains that many dream about, and are generally pretty nice people. We are not, however, really that different from anywhere else except for the number of Learners permits on Lamborghinis …
Glen Chua sends this along:
Thought some of your blog followers will find this four-episode documentary series interesting –
It’s focused on urban design and the evolution (or maybe I should say rapid development) of the building landscape in Singapore. Over the four episodes, there are references to several buildings featured in your previous posts:
P.S. Perhaps you could start having a category for posts on Singapore in your blog?
Done!Read more »
From Sandy James:
… photographer Edwin Koo’s latest project has a lot to say about Singapore.
Transit, the 37-year-old photographer’s latest project, aims to “capture the daily theatre” of Singapore’s multi-racial passengers on board its Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) trains.
“If you commute on the MRT and we are forced two inches in front of the doors, we’d all have the same reactions and share the same expressions and vulnerability,” he told the BBC.
He was inspired in 2011 when he returned to Singapore after a stint in Nepal, feeling like it was “a different country”.
“I found that the trains in Singapore had become so crowded that it was difficult to board them during peak hours.
Out of frustration, I started to photograph what I saw at the doors.”
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