Saturday, April 3, 2010

URA: From slums to soaring skyline

THE Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) once presided over dreary carparks and was chastised by some for tearing down buildings at a clip in Singapore’s rush to urbanise. Now, it sells urban concepts around the world.

EARLY DEVELOPMENTAL CHALLENGE: Physically transform Singapore to support the nation’s rapid economic rise and social changes, and optimise scarce land.

THEN: The city had slums and squatters when the URA was set up in 1974 to rejuvenate the central area. In the booming 1970s, development also looked rather haphazard.The URA waded in, juggling multiple roles as master planner, resettlement agency, developer and landlord.

‘Towards A Better City’ was its mantra, so it swiftly improved infrastructure, sometimes bulldozing heritage buildings like the oldest school, Raffles Institution, built in 1837. Raffles City now stands on that site.

The URA also started to remake the Central Business District to support Singapore’s early ambition to rise as a global financial centre.

NOW: URA’s outlook is far more global and it is a major player in Singapore’s constant reinvention of itself to compete with global cities for talent and investments.It markets Marina Bay to a global audience – at real estate trade shows and conferences in Cannes and Dubai, for example – and has attracted investors for its new financial hub. It also flags development possibilities in Jurong Lake District and Kallang Riverside to investors.

Now that it is an international brand name, countries as far afield as Russia and Nigeria have come calling in the last three years. The agency also leads master planning of the Tianjin eco-city, a major green initiative in China.

Last year, the URA International Group was launched to provide planning consultancy and training to cities around the world.

The renewed mission of the URA is to make Singapore a great city to live, work and play in.

CURRENT TO-DO LIST: It now seeks to make the country an ‘endearing home’ for Singaporeans and global talent.To achieve this, it hopes to create more diverse lifestyle offerings in arts and culture, retail, sports, the culinary scene and events – while maintaining an ‘authentic’ style. The island will become lusher with more parks and skyrise greenery.

It is putting the finishing touches to the Marina Bay Promenade this year and the Gardens by the Bay after that.

It will work on what it calls the ‘heartware’ of the city, starting with Marina Bay where it partners stakeholders, like the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, to draw crowds. It wants festivals, sporting events and buzz, as much for economic reasons as to ensure that people bond with the place.

Next in line will be the Singapore River, Orchard Road and the Bras Basah/Bugis/Civic District area.

One challenge is to keep supporting Singapore’s growth in a way that is socially and environmentally friendly.

URA CHIEF EXECUTIVE CHEONG KOON HEAN SAYS: ‘Singapore has grown from a small trading port to a distinctive global city with a high quality of living.’URA has contributed to this transformation by being responsive to dynamic global changes, international competition and the increasing expectations and aspirations of Singaporeans.’

Source: Straits Times, 3 Apr 2010

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