Urban regeneration - it's still about creating places where people want to be

10 Apr 2017

The United Nations projected that by 2050 the number of city dwellers will swell to 70 per cent of the global population.

Tony Lombardo

Chief Executive Officer Asia

As cities come under increasing pressure from influx of people - coupled with rising population growth and demographic changes - the demands of trying to house, transport and supply residents with essential services is stretching cities' resources. Urbanisation has certainly escalated problems such as housing shortages, inequality, unemployment, crime and climate change. Adding to the urbanisation challenges are governments' aspirations to transform their cities to be smart, liveable places.

This common thread has given rise to a growing global trend of urban regeneration. At its core, urban regeneration puts communities at the centre of decision-making when it comes to place-making. The ultimate goal is to create an authentic place that meets the needs and aspirations of the community.

The benefits of urban regeneration are well known. When done well, it sees run-down areas revitalised and creates vibrant spaces that people want to live and work in. For Singapore, a place where people want to be is crucial to the nation's ambition to be a smart, green city that continues to attract talent. Thus, the vision and implementation of urban regeneration should promote sustainable communities as places that people like living in, and want to stay in, because their neighbourhoods have real character and a sense of place.

It requires a mix of supportive government policies, well-planned infrastructure and place mapping but there also needs to be a dynamic energy. The latter can come from the local community with their inherent culture and history, proprietors with fresh retail and dining options, and green spaces. These elements can offer lasting economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits. Above all, it shows that meeting the demands of housing growth and renewal is not just about units of housing; it is about transforming neighbourhoods.

The key ingredient to this model is ensuring the built environment is fit for the future. In other words, social and environmental considerations should form the basis of urban renewal plans and help public authorities deliver lasting outcomes. Bringing together the private and public sector should create broad economic and social benefits for the whole community, such as affordable housing, training opportunities and sustained employment.
Barangaroo, Sydney, Australia

INTEGRATED DELIVERY

Using an integrated delivery model with global experience, a developer needs to partner cities, governments and communities to create the best shops, workplaces, apartments and public areas and deliver spaces that are functional, enjoyable and foster genuine connection between people and place.

Urban regeneration helps deliver better city workspaces where we can do our best thinking and collaboration, while attracting the best diverse talent. The best places that people want to be are where people work to make a life, not just a living.

But how do people and places work well together? How can cities work for residents?

A good example of this is the successes of urban renewal at the Marina Bay area, an icon of Singapore's ambitions as a global city. The Marina Bay area, built on reclaimed land, has placed Singapore on the world map for international investors and tourists alike. World-class companies took up office space, attracting a diverse talent pool while fresh retail and housing options fuelled the vibrancy of the area.

Another example just 10 minutes from the CBD by car or train is Paya Lebar Quarter, a key catalyst to the URA masterplan to regenerate Paya Lebar. This massive regeneration project is expected to transform the area into a bustling, pedestrian-friendly, new city precinct in Singapore, while maintaining the Malay heritage and culture unique to the area. The generous green public space allows the community to engage in a diverse range of activities. In line with Singapore's vision to be a car-lite city, a cycling path around and within the precinct will be built to connect to the wider Park Connector Network.

Barangaroo in Australia, one of the world's foremost waterfront renewal projects, is creating a lasting legacy for future generations in Sydney through first-class community and public spaces. Barangaroo has transformed a long-neglected part of Sydney's central business district. The ambitious development is divided into three areas: Barangaroo Reserve, a Harbour foreshore park; Central Barangaroo, the cultural heart of the precinct with a future train station; and Barangaroo South, an economic powerhouse. When completed, Barangaroo will provide ample employment opportunities and economic benefits, as well as newly accessible public domain.

The emotive approach to making places is, really, to reimagine spaces in the cities while maintaining the character, culture and diverse fabric of the communities living in them.

Singapore is no stranger to urban renewal, and its successes with the rejuvenation of the Marina Bay area and the clean-up of the Singapore River have shown that effective governance and integrated long-term planning are required to strike a balance between economic, social and environmental goals.

As with any regeneration project, the overall vision needs to be sound. An approach that takes a 360-degree view from public and private sectors can certainly make the difference between a good place to live and a great one.

This article first appeared in the Business Times on 7 April 2017.