How do you fit six million people into a 700 square kilometre city that feels spacious and safe, clean and green? Singapore has secrets to share with Australia, says Cistri’s regional director, Peter Hyland.
Hyland (pictured left), one of the Asia Pacific’s most respected urban land use strategists, moved to Singapore from Brisbane three years ago to head up Cistri, the international arm of Urbis Australia. He is one of several international experts sharing his insights during the Property Council’s upcoming Singapore study tour in March.
Hyland says Singapore can provide a host of take-home lessons for Australia’s property industry, particularly when it comes to density done well.
Singapore's density is among the world’s highest – with roughly 7,900 people per square kilometre of land. In comparison, Sydney has an average density of 2,800 people per sqm, although peak density in the inner suburbs has reached 14,500.
“If the world lived at the density of Singapore, our entire population would fit into New South Wales,” Hyland explains. “And yet, you never feel crowded in Singapore. The city feels open and spacious.”
Hyland attributes this, paradoxically, to the scarcity of land. “When every square metre of land is a valuable asset, the planning and development of that land is taken very seriously.”
Integrated and ingrained planning
Planning is “long-term, integrated and ingrained”, and Singaporeans are “constantly looking ahead”, Hyland says, pointing to the ongoing expansion of Changi Airport as an example.
“They’ve just completed Terminal Four, and are already planning Terminal Five, which will be built by 2030 and will be bigger than the first four terminals combined. It’s taken Australia 30 years to bite the bullet and commit to the Western Sydney Airport, while Singaporeans are thinking 30 years ahead.”
Hyland concedes that Singapore’s one level of government is a great advantage, particularly when it comes to visionary planning. The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s 50-year Concept Plan is revised every decade and is supported by a Master Plan that is revisited every five years.
“This means land use strategy is devised in concert with transport and other infrastructure,” Hyland says. The result is smart, sustainable and dense development like Lendlease’s $3.2 billion Paya Lebar Quarter – a mega project that connects the nearby MRT station with new office towers, shops and private housing.
“Paya Lebar Quarter successfully integrates retail, transport, density and commercial outcomes. We hear a lot of talk about transport-oriented development, but in Singapore it is implicit in everything they build.”
Density delivers amenity
When a reasonably basic freestanding house in Singapore on a 400 sqm block averages in value at around $15 million, most people accept apartment living as the norm – and they embrace the benefits.
“Most apartments will be less than 10 minutes’ walk from a transit station and within 200 metres of a green space. People live in density, but with high levels of accessibility and amenity.”
Around 80 per cent of the island’s land is owned by the government and developed by the government’s Housing Development Board (HDB) for apartments sold to Singaporeans on a 99-year lease basis. Approximately 90 per cent of Singaporeans live in housing developed by the HDB. “The government has a big role to play in developing the built form – and they do it with quality in mind,” he adds.
The Singaporean government has also made some “hard policy decisions” that have improved quality of life, Hyland says, such as the cap on car ownership that has cut congestion and emissions.
“Just 40 per cent of households in Singapore own a car, compared with over 90 per cent in Australia”. A combination of taxes and tolls make it 2.5 times more expensive to own a car in Singapore than in neighbouring Malaysia, “but making tough decisions have led to better city amenity,” Hyland explains.
Safe, clean and green
Singapore is routinely ranked the safest city in the world, with one recent Gallup World Poll finding 94 per cent of adults feel safe walking alone at night, compared with the global average of 68 per cent.
“This is partly a result of judicial decisions, but also because density brings activity and a sense of safety, that then creates further activity and makes development an attractive proposition.”
Dubbed “the city in a garden”, Singapore is also a green success story.
“Singaporeans are very good at integrating nature into development. Landscaping isn’t just an add-on. It’s an integral part of a development that creates value,” Hyland explains. This investment enhances the “ground plane experience”.
Almost a third of Singapore is covered by trees and vegetation, and city shapers continually look for new ways to incorporate sky gardens, cloud forests, waterfalls and reflection pools into their developments.
The four towers at Marina One, for example, all overlook a tropical oasis, providing a rainforest sanctuary for shoppers, office workers and residents and a microclimate for 400-plus species of plants and trees. Changi Airport’s new Jewel development boasts a five-storey ‘forest valley’ and the world’s largest indoor waterfall.
Hyland is passionate about Singapore city living, enthusing that it delivers a “simplified” life – connected, car-free and without the worry of train timetables or garden maintenance. And he encourages Australian property professionals to make the trip to Singapore in March.
“In just a small area you can see exciting and innovative projects developed in a similar economic context.
“Australian developers are world-class, but we find people pick up on fine details that can be applied to developments back home – whether that’s how Marina One undertook landscaping or how the Jewel integrated its food court”.
While there are undoubtedly challenges ahead – the high cost of living and an ageing population are just two – “in true Singaporean style they are planning for them,” Hyland concludes.Unearth the secrets of Singapore on the Property Council’s study tour from 17-22 March. Learn success strategies for high-density development from some of the world’s masters. Only three spaces remaining. Register now.