Article

Co-creating the Rail Corridor's Future

Broad hands-on community engagement has led the design and planning process for a significant stretch of former railway land.

Co-creating the Rail Corridor's Future

Date Posted

6 Jul 2018

Issue

Issue 19, 8 Jul 2018

The Rail Corridor refers to the former railway line that stretches from the north to the south of Singapore. Previously known as the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) Railway Line, it connected Singapore with Malaysia at the northernmost; at the southernmost was the terminus at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, located at the edge of Singapore’s Central Business District.

On 30 June 2011, the last train to Malaysia left Tanjong Pagar and the land occupied by the KTM Line reverted to the Singapore government on 1 July 2011. The Tanjong Pagar station building is now gazetted as a National Monument.

Most of the tracks, sleepers and railway equipment along the former railway line have been removed as part of the land return agreement. The Rail Corridor has become a swath of wilderness landscape and an informal public space. Popularly called the “green corridor”, it stands out in contrast to the dense urban environment found in most parts of the island.

The-Rail-Corridor-Map

A Special Corridor with Immense Opportunities

A Special Corridor with Immense Opportunities

Source: URA

The Rail Corridor is very long, covering a distance of 24 km and across the entire width of the country. This makes the Rail Corridor unique: there is no other extensive community space in the world that connects communities across a nation from end to end.

It is estimated that 1 million people live within 1 km of the Rail Corridor in public housing estates, condominiums and landed private housing. There are also work places providing jobs and amenities adjacent to the Rail Corridor. These include offices, retail areas, business parks, industrial estates, a hospital, schools and other educational institutions. When the train was running, the railway was a barrier that divided and separated these communities from each other. With the freeing up of the railway land, there is now an opportunity to link up communities across the island.

Beyond its obvious ecological value as a green corridor, the Rail Corridor could function as a multi-use recreational corridor that is integrated with the life and urban fabric of the surrounding communities. Where the Rail Corridor runs next to lands that have yet to be developed, the Corridor could be developed and integrated with adjacent uses in creative ways that optimise land use while preserving its seamless connectivity, heritage and special green identity.

As a community space that threads through the nation, ample room could be set aside for people to participate in various community activities, sports and the arts—it is a unique public space for people from all walks of life to enjoy and develop shared experiences and memories. In the process, the Rail Corridor can help foster a sense of community, strengthen social bonds and resilience, and enhance communal well-being.

It has been important for URA to work with the community to develop a shared vision for the Rail Corridor. This effort will guide the establishment of appropriate design goals and the formulation of a robust and comprehensive Master Plan for the Rail Corridor—striking a balance between meeting the public’s aspirations to retain the green character and heritage of the Rail Corridor, while allowing part of it to be sensitively developed.

The Public Engagement Journey

The Public Engagement Journey

Intense public interest after the railway stopped operations.
Source: URA

Since it was announced that the railway line was to be discontinued and the land returned to Singapore, the public has shown great interest in the fate of the railway land. Fearing that the Rail Corridor would be lost to development, the Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) sent in a proposal for the preservation of the railway line as a continuous “green corridor”—the proposal enjoyed widespread support on social media.

Recognising this broad public interest, Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) embarked on a comprehensive community engagement exercise to reach as wide a segment of the population as possible, before drawing up plans. The approach was both broad-based and targeted, with the aim to develop a shared vision and a set of planning and design goals to guide the future development of the Rail Corridor.

A variety of platforms were used to reach out to the public, including community walks, visioning workshops, design charrettes as well as public exhibitions and an online portal. “Journey of Possibilities”, an Ideas Competition for the Rail Corridor that was open to the public, was held in 2011–2012. In 2015, URA launched a Request for Proposal (RFP) to develop a Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals for the Rail Corridor.

Rail Corridor Partnership

A significant first step in community engagement was the formation in July 2011 of the Rail Corridor Consultation Group (RCCG).

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Shared Vision:
9 Planning and Design Goals

Engaging the public and working with community partners brought new perspectives on how the Rail Corridor could be developed into an endearing and inclusive community space. From the values and aspirations shared by the public, URA distilled a set of Planning and Design Goals, reflecting a shared vision for the Rail Corridor. These goals were incorporated into the design brief to guide the conceptualisation and design of the Rail Corridor:

  1. Retain the Green Corridor Identity
  2. Establish Seamless Connectivity
  3. Enhance Bio-diversity and Ecology
  4. Celebrate Sense of Place and Memories
  5. Develop Inclusive and Safe Space
  6. Promote Leisure and Spirit of Discovery
  7. Foster Community Ownership and Stewardship
  8. Encourage Healthy Lifestyle
  9. Create Innovative Design Solutions for Urban Integration

Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Rail Corridor

The Rail Corridor Nikken Sekkei

Source: Nikken Sekkei

In March 2015, URA launched the RFP to develop a Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals for the Rail Corridor. It sought design solutions and desired outcomes that were consistent with the aspirations that both government and the public had for the future of the Rail Corridor.

The RFP called for the transformation of the Rail Corridor into an “Inspired and Extraordinary Community Space”. It included concept designs for a number of key activity nodes, smaller community nodes, and plans for the adaptive re-use of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station into a multi-functional community building and anchor node for the Rail Corridor.

The RFP also called for innovative design typologies and creative concepts to integrate a new housing precinct with the Rail Corridor, while enhancing the latter’s green identity and user experience. The concept for this housing site should also demonstrate how the Rail Corridor, together with adjacent elements of greenery and water, could be integrated in a comprehensive design that would serve as a future model for sustainable high quality affordable housing in other similar green settings. Two of the RCP members were invited to join the team of local and international experts on the jury panel for the RFP.

In November 2015, Nikken Sekkei won for its proposal for the 24 km Rail Corridor Concept Master Plan; MKPL Architects and Turenscape won for its Concept Proposals for the adaptive re-use of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the new housing precinct.

Trail and Nodes 1 by Nikken Sekkei
Trail and Nodes 2 by Nikken Sekkei

Trail and nodes in the winning proposal for the 24 km Rail Corridor Concept Master Plan
Source: Nikken Sekkei

The winning proposals were exhibited at the URA City Gallery for public feedback. In addition, URA took a further step in public engagement by bringing the highlights of the exhibition to seven community centres near the Rail Corridor so that residents who live closest to the Corridor could also offer their views. These roving exhibitions were accompanied by a series of community workshops held in 2016 that targeted different groups of residents, including seniors, families with young children and the physically challenged.

Public inputs from the exhibitions and workshops were used to refine the Concept Master Plan1 and Concept Proposals and to develop the Preliminary Design for the 4 km “signature stretch” of the Rail Corridor at Bukit Timah Railway Station—identified as the first stage of the Rail Corridor—to be completed in 2019. The rest of the Rail Corridor trail will largely be developed by 2021.

MKPL Architects & Turenscape

Source: MKPL Architects & Turenscape

Rail Corridor Co-creation as Social Infrastructure

MKPL-Turenscape-TPRS-Arrival-View-1
MKPL-Turenscape-TPRS-Report-12

Concept proposals for the adaptive re-use of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station
Source: MKPL Architects & Turenscape

The future plans for the Rail Corridor will impact many people’s lives, by virtue of the fact that it spans the entire width of the country. From the onset, URA sought to develop a robust plan for the Rail Corridor that is able to meet most people’s aspirations, while making sure that land use is optimised. With optimal land use, not only can the Rail Corridor be retained and enhanced but more people will be able to enjoy its intrinsic attractiveness, unique greenery and rich heritage. The Rail Corridor will create a new space identity that gives urban residents the sensations of nature in the heart of the city. The future of the Rail Corridor had to be visionary, sensitive and pragmatic at the same time.

To ensure that the plan would be relevant to the community, it was important to first find out what people valued most about the Rail Corridor and what their own aspirations for the future of this very special place were. URA wanted to co-create the future of the Rail Corridor with the public.

MKPL-Turenscape-CCK-Linear-Forest

Source: MKPL Architects & Turenscape

URA began by touching base with stakeholder groups representing nature and heritage interests, as they were the first to provide feedback and suggestions to the government. But sensing that the “silent majority” of Singaporeans may not have been exposed to the Rail Corridor, and there could be different voices and opinions about the shaping of this space in future, URA decided to reach out to the wider community for inputs, particularly those living near the corridor.

From the beginning, it was clearly recognised that there are no set formulas to be used in the planning and design of this space given its special nature, and the government should seek the best ideas for the site. Guided by the overarching planning goals and design principles formulated from public feedback, URA was able to demonstrate that with creativity and sensitive design, the planning objectives of optimal land use could be balanced with aspirations to preserve the Rail Corridor as a unique green corridor and transform it into an extraordinary community space.

Concept proposal for housing precinct integration with the Rail Corridor

Concept proposal for housing precinct integration with the Rail Corridor
Source: MKPL Architects & Turenscape

The government did not just take a proactive role in engaging the community. URA was driven to match the passion and deep seated interests from civil society, built trust with stakeholders, and together develop a shared vision for the Rail Corridor. Throughout this process, URA as the land use planning authority needed to lead with vision, initiate actions and carry out plans with the support and advice of an equally committed Rail Corridor Partnership. The Partnership became a trusted and constructive “sounding board” for URA to test out ideas and seek views on proposals before going public. At times, they helped clarify URA’s views to the public.

MKPL-Turenscape-CCK-Linear-Forest-Aerial

Source: MKPL Architects & Turenscape

Community engagement goes beyond simply soliciting feedback and ideas from the public to inform the project. By nurturing community interest, URA also hopes to build up stewards that will look after the Rail Corridor in future.


Beyond its physical form as a linear green space, the Rail Corridor plays a unique role as a piece of social infrastructure with the potential to bring people together.

The focus of public engagement for the Rail Corridor was “co-creation”, with the government working closely with stakeholders and the community from the onset to achieve consensus on a shared vision and desired outcomes for the Rail Corridor. This contrasts with the government seeking buy-in or acceptance from stakeholders after plans have already been formulated.

For the Rail Corridor, co-creation was an important approach: beyond its physical form as a linear green space, the Rail Corridor plays a unique role as a piece of social infrastructure with the potential to bring people together. It socialises the community by creating a common space for people to develop shared experiences and memories and form community relationships with each other.

Artist’s impression of the “4km signature stretch”

Artist’s impression of the “4 km signature stretch”
Source: URA

If the Rail Corridor is planned well, developed and programmed properly, it will become not just a green haven and a leisure corridor, but a shared space for community bonding and social integration for people from all walks of life. Open spaces like the Rail Corridor are great social levellers—anyone and everyone can enjoy it. With a connection to nature running through the heart of our urban city-state, this project will improve the quality of life for all residents. It fosters a strong sense of community ownership, civic engagement and pride which will support its sustainability as a public space. Ultimately, it is our hope that the transformed Rail Corridor will be frequently visited and loved by the community and be a source of inspiration and national pride that holds a special place in the hearts of all Singaporeans.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tan See Nin is Senior Director (Physical Planning) with the Urban Redevelopment Authority. He led the design and completion of the Concept Master Plan and preliminary design of the Rail Corridor.


NOTES

  1. The Concept Master Plan for the Rail Corridor won two awards for URA and the Nikken Sekkei Design Team: the UK Landscape Institute 2017 Award for Urban Design and Master Planning, and the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) 2017 Asia Pacific Region “Outstanding Award” for Analysis and Master Planning.

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