Waterfront business districts such as Canary Wharf in London and Pudong in Shanghai have come, in recent years, to signify urban progress and prosperity. They have raised the international profile of their respective cities while spurring growth and investment.
Singapore's own flourishing Central Business District (CBD) will have to be expanded to meet the challenges of a growing economy, and to maintain Singapore's position as a premier financial and business centre. The groundwork for this expansion of the existing CBD into a waterfront business district in Marina Bay had been laid as early as the late 1960s. Land adjacent to the CBD had been reclaimed in phases between 1969 and 1992, but the long-term vision for Marina Bay was first crystallised in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) 1983 conceptual Master Plan.
FACTS & FIGURES
The 360-hectare Marina Bay is located at the southern tip of Singapore and most of the developments will be completed by 2009:
GROUNDWORK FOR SUCCESS
URA adopted a holistic and integrated approach to land use, transport planning and implementation in Marina Bay, with several distinctive features:
To cater for the seamless extension of the CBD, the development parcels in Marina Bay were planned based on a grid urban pattern. This pattern facilitates development by creating a flexible framework that can accommodate the amalgamation, subdivision and phasing of developments according to market needs. It also provides a vehicular and pedestrian network with a clear sense of orientation and hierarchy.
Planners recognised that current fixed-use zoning system would be too inflexible to meet the constantly changing land use needs of the new business district. The concept of "white" zoning was thus introduced, where developers have the flexibility to decide on the mix of uses for each site, including housing, offices, shops, hotels, recreational facilities and community spaces. This increased the potential for mixed-use developments and encourages live-work-play communities.
The infrastructure of Marina Bay also features creative engineering approaches such as the Common Services Tunnel (CST), an extensive system of underground tunnels which houses all essential utilities, including a district cooling system and a centralised refuse collection system.
In the planning of Marina Bay, specific attention was paid to the ambience and value of individual developments. Distinctive districts, each with attractive public open spaces and tree-lined boulevards, provide signature address locations for developments.
Along the waterfront and fronting key open spaces, urban design guidelines ensure that building heights are kept low and visual porosity is maintained between buildings. This safeguards views to and from individual developments, enhances their attractiveness, and creates a pleasant and aesthetic "stepping up" skyline profile for the district.
Developments in Marina Bay will be served by a comprehensive transport and pedestrian network — a critical but often underestimated factor in real estate planning. Marina Bay is well connected to the city's road and rail network and is a short 15- to 20-minute drive from the airport. Developments are fully integrated with transport nodes, through extensive underground, at-grade and above-grade pedestrian links. A 3.35-kilometre long pedestrian route is planned around the Bay, including a waterfront promenade and a new bridge, which will create a continuous loop of attractions accessible to all.
More than 100 hectares of the waterfront land has been set aside for the creation of the Gardens by the Bay. Three waterfront Gardens will capitalise on Marina Bay's green and blue assets to create an international attraction and local amenity, enhancing the value of developments in the district. The Gardens will be interconnected and linked to surrounding developments, open public spaces, transport nodes and attractions.
In planning for Marina Bay, URA has had to challenge established boundaries in order to develop a new model of city living. Having provided for much of the "hardware" for the new business district, it became clear that URA had to go beyond its traditional roles of urban planning and land sale management — it had to undertake marketing, promotion, and place management activities as well, in order to showcase the distinctiveness of Marina Bay. To this end, the Marina Bay Development Agency (MBDA) was set up as a department within the URA to focus on the "software" of developing Marina Bay. A branding exercise for Marina Bay established a consistent brand platform, which enabled future stakeholders, such as the MBFC, to market their offerings to international investors and visitors and define the strength of the new business district. As a result, the profile of Marina Bay has been raised both locally and internationally, catching the attention of international developers and investors through URA's conscious efforts to showcase Marina Bay at major overseas conferences and international real estate exhibitions. Branding has set Marina Bay apart from the competition: to date, it has attracted development investment of $10 billion. To generate buzz at Marina Bay, a calendar of events and activities for the public spaces and water-bodies has been planned, with URA playing a coordinating role with various partner agencies such as the Public Utilities Board, National Parks Board, Singapore Tourism Board, Singapore Sports Council and Singapore Land Authority. Signature events like the Marina Bay Countdown have initiated a new urban tradition to welcome the New Year, while sporting events like the F1 Powerboat Race have created much excitement on the water. Other unique activities have been planned, including the Marina Bay Urban Challenge, which includes a series of sporting events and races such as a duathlon, a vertical challenge and special runs for children and women.
PLANNING PRINCIPLES IN ACTION: THE MARINA BAY FINANCIAL CENTRE
The planning and sale of the Marina Bay Financial Centre (MBFC) site exemplifies the principles of flexibility, innovation and value creation.
For this site, the concept of a Master Developer was introduced for the development of an integrated business and financial centre on a large site, three times that of a typical commercial site. This was to allow the developer flexibility to master plan and customise the development to meet the needs of modern financial institutions and global businesses, and to implement it in phases, in tandem with market demand.
At the time of the announcement of the sale of the MBFC site in 2005, there were concerns that it would result in an oversupply of office space, and that it would lead to a hollowing-out of the existing CBD, given the poor economic sentiments then. To allay market concerns and minimise risk to the master developer, URA, as Land Sales Agent on behalf of the State, introduced a new flexible scheme for the sale of the site. Under the scheme, the developer was allowed to purchase and develop the site in phases to match market demand, thus mitigating business risks and lowering upfront costs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ching Tuan Yee is Executive Architect in the Urban Planning Section of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Benjamin Ng is Place Manager in the Marina Bay Development Agency.