Archive for August, 2010

New Urbanists Who Admire Singapore’s Urban Planning

I just learned, via this blog, that they exist. I’m frankly astonished. I suspect few of these admirers have actually lived there. Superficially, Singapore may seem to align with New Urbanist ideals because of the high ownership taxes on cars, which have slowed down the growth of the car population, but it fails in a major way on these other fronts:

  1. Road design. While it is very expensive to own a car, if you do own one, you get treated to infrequent stop lights and many, many wide arterial roads and expressways, so cars can go much faster than they would in American cities of similar sizes. There are no traffic calming measures that I know of. This makes being a pedestrian or cyclist very uncomfortable. Furthermore, it is very difficult to find alternate routes for walking or biking on, because arterial roads are rarely interrupted by minor roads, so you’re often forced to take arterial roads just so you can cross yet another arterial road.
  2. Walkability. As mentioned in 1., there are few intersections, so pedestrians often have to walk a long way to cross roads, and the roads are wide, so it takes a long time to cross. Traffic light crossings at wide roads also mean waiting a really long time, in scorching 90 degree weather with 90% humidity. Also, most people live in high rise buildings, which gives an appearance of ‘density’, but they are built in clusters widely separated by empty land that the state is keeping for future development. If you live in a cluster far from the local urban center, you may be completely reliant on infrequent feeder buses or a private car to run routine errands. Or, you can brave the roads on your bike, which few are willing to do.
  3. There are no mixed use neighborhoods. None. The “new towns” most people live in consist of high rises with little or no commercial development on the ground floor, with commercial developments clustered at the nearest subway station. If you live a more than walkable distance from the subway station, good luck. Rich people live in terrace houses or bungalows, but these similarly are not interspersed with commercial developments — since these people are rich, they can drive to town centers to run errands, so the lack of walkability does not bother them.
  4. Very little variety of dwelling types. Most people live in high-rise public housing that looks very homogeneous.

I grew up in Singapore and have since lived in Chicago and Pittsburgh, and I found the latter two cities far more livable, and closer to fulfilling New Urbanist ideals, than Singapore is.