How the URA wants to bring work closer to home

In Singapore, which has an extensive public transport system, the rush is not only on the streets: busy metro stations and bus exchanges are a familiar sight in the morning.

But why does an hour commute into the city if your office could be just around the corner? The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is looking at data from public transport maps to gain insight into the travel patterns of the population, which inform plans for more work space in the neighborhood of residential areas, Chief Planner Hwang Yu Ning said.

In an exclusive interview she shares how the agency follows commuters, appeals to citizens and creates relaxing rules for a more holistic planning of neighborhoods.

Public transport insights

Transport data from rate cards – so-called EZ link maps – show how long it takes for people to travel to their workplaces, Hwang shares. The agency analyzes these travel data to determine if people want to work in the same region when there are good vacancies, as part of a strategy to "bring jobs closer to home".

This is part of a decentralization strategy that the agency is taking to create more business hubs around Singapore. For example, the Woodlands Regional Center in the north will soon have greater connectivity with the rest of Singapore via a new MRT line and via a cross-border connection with Malaysia. When fully developed, this regional center offers about 100,000 new jobs, according to the URA. Parts of Woodlands will also be reserved for small and medium-sized businesses that may not have to be located in the city, but must be well connected to it.

Burrowing underground

And since space on the ground is becoming scarcer, Singapore has to go underground. This is an increasingly common challenge in Southeast Asia, because developing countries are struggling with rapid urbanization and the associated problems.

URA uses 3D modeling to visualize extensive and complex underground building projects, before any terrain is broken. "It can help ensure that the proposed design meets the rules and requirements for underground planning," Hwang emphasizes.

The government is examining a variety of underground infrastructure, from electrical substations and ammunition shops to bus exchanges, the Straits Times reported. It also writes an underground master plan that will be unveiled in 2019.

In the meantime, URA has also launched URA SPACE v2, a one-stop online geospatial mapping e-service. It collects information on various government websites so that the public always has easy access, says Hwang.

To start with, URA SPACE v2 business operators who want to open a new restaurant in a retail store will be able to check immediately whether they can do this. Previously they had to register with URA for such questions and they were charged a search fee, she continues. Drivers can find real-time parking availability in URA and parking garages managed by the Housing and Development Board.

Inclusive environment design

Local communities need to be able to participate in shaping their own neighborhoods, Hwang notes. "Such experiments are a good way to beta-test the future and to be more inclusive in designing our environments."

URA does this through community workshops, where officials from the agency gather Singaporean citizens to discuss how public infrastructure should be used. For example, the government invited residents and local stakeholders in the vicinity of the rail corridor to give their opinion on how the 24 km-long route can be used and adapted. Following public consultations, the Rail Corridor is now being developed into a multifunctional corridor for multiple purposes, where people can walk, maintain urban farms and undertake other activities.

And in 2015, the URA launched the Streets for People program, which allows local citizens to organize their own street closures to temporarily transform roads into public social spaces, urban art festivals, outdoor workouts and the like.

Flexible planning

URA wants to make city planning more flexible so that the country can adapt smoothly to various future urban scenarios – by easing its regulations. First, the URA & # 39; white sites & # 39; implemented. These are pieces of land that allow different types of use. In the past, the URA had stricter rules on how land plots can only be used for specific purposes.

URA has also relaxed the zone regulations for developers, whereby "land use is controlled at district level, rather than individual land plots," Hwang shares. With this step, developers can develop complete districts holistically, instead of being restricted by traditionally imposed land use and density destination rules.

For example, relaxing URA's regulations has enabled a local developer to develop the Punggol Enterprise District more extensively and to integrate public facilities more closely. Right now, the Singapore Institute of Technology is right next to the Punggol business parks, allowing them to share public facilities, the Straits Times reported.

While Singapore continues to develop and redevelop itself to make use of the country it has, planning for the next fifty years will require a "sustainable, pragmatic and disciplined approach," as Hwang put it. It also means a little less frustration in the mornings.

Images of URA and of the URA Facebook page

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