Singapore's lessons for Christchurch

DAVID KILLICK
Last updated 08:37 27/11/2013

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OPINION: Singapore is a city always on the move. Every time I have visited over a period of nearly 30 years, something big, new, and dramatic is being built.

Architecture and MRT subway lines grow faster than bamboo in this hot and humid, densely packed, dynamic city-state.

Christchurch can learn a lot from Singapore. We could benefit by being more open to change and new ideas, and by championing exciting new architecture.

We must harness innovation and create an environment that is friendly to new businesses. And we could learn from Singaporeans' tolerance, trust, and co-operation.

Change is normal in Singapore. The scale is massive. The latest just- announced mega project is for a whole new CBD.

A new undersea road opening in December will cut off a 1km section of the East Coast Parkway, freeing up 70ha of land. The total roadway project will take four years and cost $4.3 billion.

The CBD will consist of "a pedestrian and cyclist- friendly area flanked by Gardens by the Bay, the Marina Barrage, and an international cruise centre".

Gardens by the Bay is a spectacular botanic display that includes artificial "Super Trees" (actually solar powered), and two enormous covered domes, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Dome. At night the Super Trees are transformed in a colourful sound and light show.

The Marina Barrage is another impressive, if non- touristy engineering development. Singapore is now able to source its own fresh drinking water.

Singaporeans eagerly embrace new architecture.

The Marina Bay Sands hotel with its cantilevered rooftop infinity pool has become a striking landmark.

Next to it is the Art Science Museum, designed to look like a lotus.

Even the mega malls look dramatic and different. Curves and angles, fountains, even an indoor canal with boats, ensure these shopping enclaves are more than utilitarian shoeboxes. Christchurch's CBD could probably fit inside a couple of Singapore's malls.

Most of Singapore's "old dungers" - dilapidated shophouses - have disappeared.

However, many around Chinatown have been restored. The best colonial buildings, including the celebrated Raffles Hotel, are preserved historic landmarks.

Trees and plants are important - which in such an intense urban landscape is not surprising. Green architecture is gaining momentum. The new Parkroyal hotel, with its plant-clad faade, stands out. Surely we could have some plant-covered buildings in the Garden City, too?

The MRT is fast, cheap, and easy. You are unlikely to wait more than five minutes for a train. The Government subsidises public transportation "as a social good".

Roads are also busy but highly efficient, with adequate lanes and turning signals.

One aspect in which Singapore is deficient is the lack of off-road cycle lanes in the city centre. In this respect it lags well behind Japanese cities. To be a truly green modern city, it needs them.

Another "social good" is housing. As one young Singaporean explains, the Government believes it is every citizen's right to have adequate housing. At Pongul, well away from the normal tourist beat, we take a coastal walk past Waterway, a massive new residential development. This city in the sky is being billed as eco- friendly, with walkways and cycle tracks.

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The development has roads, but few cars. Instead, residents whizz around an elevated railway aboard fully- automated, driverless railcars. The development feels highly futuristic and slightly surreal.

While such massive- density highrise living is unlikely in New Zealand, it is a necessity in Singapore. It also demonstrates an alternative to endless suburban sprawl.

Singapore gets things done. Bee Hong, whom I met a couple of years ago, said she was surprised that our house was only now being repaired because of earthquake damage.

Indeed, if Christchurch were Singapore, the rebuild would certainly have occurred much faster. The Government would have mandated new development, and there would have been few complaints; certainly not the bickering and squabbling that seem endemic in Christchurch.

Critics will say Singapore's government is authoritarian. That may be so, but streets feel safe and people seem happy. There is zero tolerance for crime.

Critics will say Singapore's population and economy are larger. Granted, but Singapore has few natural assets. It relies on trade. It is one of the easiest countries in the world in which to do business. (Surprisingly, despite having to be imported, food is cheaper.)

I like to escape from technology when travelling - but if you need them, the internet and cell phone calls are far cheaper and faster than New Zealand.

Singaporeans are tolerant. As a multi-ethnic, multi- religious society, co-operation is in everybody's best interests.

They are super helpful. In 1984, I saw the slogan, "Make courtesy a way of life". That is now a given.

By and large, people trust the Government to look after them. Profits are important, but local people come first.

david.killick@press.co.nz. Email letters@press.co.nz or respond at press.co.nz/opinion.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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