Passing through Singapore: A Hub for Urbanist

When I moved to Singapore I had heard that it was a hub for many fields, a city where “East meets West” as the saying goes.  Even after hearing this and studying these trends I was still surprised by the influx of very interesting people passing through Singapore’s academic and professional urban planning circle last month.  Ranging from professors to practitioners, these individuals all have made significant contributions to how we think about solving problems in cities. Below are profiles of three of these visitors that I had to the opportunity to talk with. Some I had met before, while others presented new ideas, but all three provide great incites into the issues facing cities, particularly Singapore.

Peter Newman – Professor of Sustainability from  Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute. An author of many books, Newman is most well known for popularizing the term “automobile dependency”  in his 1999 book Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence, (by Newman P and Kenworthy J). His more recent book Resilient Cities, written with Timothy Beatley and Heather Boyer, challenges policy makers to think beyond just sustaining a city’s current economic, environmental, or social situation. Instead it propels cities to consider how to overcome the very real threats of climate change as resilient cities. While in Singapore Newman was teaching a short course at NUS on sustainability.   Although based in Australia, he has had many opportunities to teach and research abroad. He even spent a semester at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture while I was there.  Personally I really appreciated Newman’s views about researching cities in Asia. As an outsider he seemed very aware that no one could better understand Asian cities than Asian universities.

Tim Beatley – Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Virginia.  Beatley, besides co-authoring a few books with Peter Newman, was also one of my undergraduate urban planning professors.  While in Singapore he co-taught a course with Newman. He also conducted a lecture based on his new book: Biophlic Cities. In this book, like many of the lectures I heard from him at UVA, he challenged the audience on their knowledge of the environment around them while also sharing many studies that support his passion for bringing nature into the lives of city dweller.  For instance because of his lectures at UVA I will always remember what a sliver spotter skipper looks like and that children in day-lit schools grow taller than other children.  His courses at UVA also challenged us to actually explore our city and its local environment.  Because of his course I attempted to map all of the edible trees on UVA’s Lawn and even made a short film on urban foraging.  Now as I sit on my porch in tropical Singapore, listening to an the sounds of insects, I know that much of my curiosity about the flora and fauna in my new city stemmed from the lessons in his courses.

Herbert Dreiseitl - Partner of Atelier Dreiseitl, a design firm that places a strong emphasis on rainwater runoff. There are many notable Atelier Dreiseitl projects through out the world, however my favorite is the Bishan Park project they are just about to complete in Singapore.  This park is focused around the revitalization of a portion of the Kallang River.  Previously this park sat next to a cement lined canal that contained the water from the formally free flowing river. After a few decades of water flowing through it, the cement of this canal needed to be replaced. Instead of simply upgrading the current design Atelier Dreiseitl proposed that they renaturalize this portion of the river and then construct the park around this new body of water. This project however was never intended to be just one portion of the river, but instead is part of the larger Singapore ABC (Active, Clean, Beautiful) Water scheme.  In presenting his work on Bishan, Dreiseitl was very careful to emphasis that this is not a complete project within itself, but instead the entire drainage system of Singapore needs to be considered to slow the pace of water, to provide more flexible storage spaces for water, and to eventually  contribute to reduce incidents of flooding. Singapore still has many cement lined canals and open drains to consider before it can truly have a system that sustainably handles water, but in the mean time the Bishan Park Project provides an excellent example of how Singapore could redesign its storm water management system to be a series of beautiful rivers and streams.

- Melissa

Photo Credits: Book – Better World Books, Beatley – by the author, Bishan – Atelier Dreiseitl via The New Paper

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