Our growing population in land-scarce Singapore means that the need for creative urban planning is now, more than ever, taking centre stage. Meet two recipients of the URA Undergraduate Scholarship who are part of the agency that is actively shaping our environment.
By Mabel Tan
“I believe that people make the city, and the city shapes the people living in it. Hence, urban planning is the fundamental aspect of this constant interaction,” Teo Tsu-Lyn says.
The 24-year-old Urban Planner with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) believes that good urban planning is about balancing people’s needs with the city’s spatial constraints. Crucially, it is also about putting people at the heart of this planning process.
Complementing urban planning is urban design; this is where 27-year-old Nicholas Li, an architect with URA, comes in. Urban design guides the design of buildings and how it relates to its surroundings, and enhances the quality of the urban landscape.
Both Tsu-Lyn and Nicholas share the common objective of enhancing the quality of the urban scene with their planning and design skills.
Shaping our City
Nicholas explains one way to know how successful the urban design is – by measuring the increase in activities in pedestrian malls. In that respect, Singapore scores very well.
“We see more kiosks on the streets as a result of shading, public seating, and improved street quality in general, to boost comfort and enjoyment in the outdoors,” Nicholas says.
However, the duo does encounter the occasional difficulty while planning the urban landscape.
“Good urban design seeks to improve connectivity between buildings. However, some developers and owners of shopping centres may be reluctant to accede because they don’t want shoppers to escape to the neighbouring buildings,” says Nicholas.
“Our challenge is to convince them about the merits of our planning intention. We have to convince them that connectivity doesn’t imply their businesses will suffer. It means people can visit their malls even when it rains.”
Tsu-Lyn agrees and adds on, “At the end of the day, we have to bear in mind that developers are profit-driven so it’s understandable that they want to maximise their retail and development outcome from the sites they develop.”
Tsu-Lyn sees her job as a “custodian” in ensuring that residents and citizens get to enjoy the amenities while developers still find their investments profitable, so that it is a win-win situation.
To Tsu-Lyn, homes and preservation of our shared heritage are integral parts of urban planning. “In the course of my work, I often get to visit the sites and see how people plan their dream homes. In addition, for identity nodes and conservation areas such as Balestier, I will have to ensure a good balance between conserving our built heritage and the development of new buildings” Tsu-Lyn says.
As for Nicholas, being an architect in URA does not only mean looking at buildings but also working with different stakeholders and the community.
“We are trying to help architects to work with the building owners to encourage good urban design and this is sometimes done by offering incentives,” Nicholas says. Lighting up buildings and displaying public art work are some examples of urban design initiatives that URA has offered incentives for.
A shared vision, brought about by a common belief, is truly what it takes to realise a commitment towards sustainable development.
“It’s remarkable how, as a team, we share the common goal of making Singapore a great place to live, work, and play in,” Tsu-Lyn says.
“It was my childhood dream to be an architect,” Nicholas smiles, as he recalls the days when he would paint, doodle, and re-arrange the rooms on his father’s construction project plans.
“So, it’s like my life fulfilment being here. URA has a healthy work culture that values work-life balance. The moment I started my job at URA, I realised there are many company and job-related activities, such as Saturday trips to places like Little India, to learn more about our environment and heritage.”
Tsu-Lyn concludes, “In URA, we hear people’s dreams and aspirations for the city and transform them into tomorrow’s realities. Therefore, we need people who are passionate and committed as a well-planned and distinctive city is the fruit of many years’ labour. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is Singapore.”