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(I wasn't sure where to post this, but move if necessary, please :))

With an increasingly cramped city center and farther-out apartment buildings and such, Singapore has decided to "decentralize" and move some commercial jobs outside of the downtown area to areas such as Tampines, Woodlands, and Jurong in their Concept Plan.

What does everyone think about this initiative? Personally, I think it's a good idea IF it is executed properly. Decentralization could really shorten commute times for those who live in far-out areas - such as the ones where regional centers are going to be developed - but in my opinion, that's the only advantage of decentralization that I see.

Plopping down commercial zones here and there is going to increase stress on public transportation. I can just see every train heading in every single direction packed with no extra space, and not just because no one wants to move in. :nuts: While there will be less people heading in one direction, there will instead be a steady crowd heading in both directions during peak hours.

Another disadvantage of constructing commercial zones in areas such as Woodlands and Tampines is that these are existing residential zones. These people often rely on buses (which are crowded infrequent enough because of infrequency, thank you very much) to take them to the train stations, which are also fairly full. Let's say that 50 people use a station to commute to the city center. If 25 new jobs are created near that station, now 75 people use it. Soon, stations will go over-capacity and become a hazard to issues related to overcrowding such as lack of air and trampling (I know I'm exaggerating a little, but you get what I mean).

So, is decentralization good or bad? I really want to have a discussion about this because countries such as the US with a lot of suburban sprawl around major cities (except maybe NYC) could adopt decentralization and would definitely benefit from it - if this thing works well. Like I said, commute times could really be cut down (thus producing less CO2 emissions?) and there will be a lot more convenience.
 

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An example (with a lower density though) that we can study is Toronto. Like Singapore, Toronto is around 630km2 and has a CBD that is skewed to the south with a large natural waterbody. The airport is on the extreme west of the city. 2 main subway lines serve the city, combined with a combination of commuter rail and streetcars.

As Toronto is an amalgamation of several settlements, it has led to the development of a few "city centres" outside Toronto City Centre itself. The gridded layout and the metro system (especially the Yonge Line) has catalyzed the decentralisation of the city. Some of the major centres include North York City Centre 15km on the north, and Scarborough Town Centre 20km on the northeast (near industries).

Other commercially successful centres that have sprung up around metro stations along Yonge Street incluse Yonge-Eglinton and around St. Clair TTC Stn. Although not officially part of Toronto City, Mississauga Downtown can also be considered a major satellite commercial centre at just 20km on the west and close to the airport.

The success behind North York and Mississauga, and partly Scarborough, was the automonous nature of these city centres. These centres are essentially managed by their own city councils (before amalgamation). Hence each city centre have their own niche markets, as well as services for the immediate community.

What this means that for every services that Toronto has, are available in these city centres too. This of course include branch offices of banks and financial services, as well as firms such as consulting, design, engineering, pharmaceuticals, IT and computing, etc. Some of these firms are attracted to these city centres due to the catchment, and the employment base (young professionals who buy the new homes around these area), while for others it was a natural move to set up companies in their home base.

So one important issue for decentralisation to work in Singapore is that - are we ready to allow for each region to be developed autonomously? This includes identifying niche markets each region will concentrate on, and have each regional centre working on their own ways to attract commercial services to their "city centres".

Take architectural consulting for example, today architecture firms tend to congregate around the city centre, with most smaller firms in the Tanjong Pagar and civc districts area, and bigger firms dotted in Raffles Place, Orchard, Marina Centre, Bt Merah and Novena. In the decentralised model, either each "city centre" may provide opportunities are office spaces to be develop for architecture firms of various sizes, or one of the city centre may identify it as one of the niche areas they will develop. A portion of the firms may then decide to relocate due to the lower rents and possibility to attract young architects and engineers staying around these areas.
 

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Next is of course one of the most important issue... transport. In either models, it is important that each city centre will have their own regional transport services. What this means is that these "city centres" must be major transport hubs as well. Other than being a major interchange. Bus services, with combinations of express and regional trunk services, must be readily available. Only when there is a significant increase in convenience (>20mins savings in transit time) then will people be willing to work nearer to their homes, over the choices available to them if they choose not to.

In the niche model, express services become a lot more important, say for example if medical services including research, insurance, and other consulting services are identified as a niche market in Jurong. Then extremely when planned express services from Tampines, Bedok, Sengkang, Punggol and even Ang Mo Kio/Bishan have to be provided to attract the professionals staying there to work in Jurong. In cases an express rail service will have to be provided to provide a max travel time of 15-30mins on the service to reach the destination.

Woodlands may have a slight advantage in this case, but nonetheless infrastructure cost may run as high as the others due to the lack of good transportation links to this area. (Served by only one MRT line and limited destinations provided by the bus companies).

Usually its a chicken or egg issue. On one hand demand for office spaces in these "city centres" are low due to the lack of enthusiasm from companies to relocate to these areas lest they confront with the issue of lost talents as these "city centres" do not have convenient transportation links to the rest of the island. On the other hand, transport providers and planners are unwilling to increase the transport services to these areas due to the lack of demand.

In the case of Toronto, the autonomy of the cities and hence the ability for them to commission their own transportation network is hence the critical reason behind their success.
 

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In the end it really depends on the decision makers. From the perspective of land use efficiency and better transport experiences and more efficient usage of transport lines in both directions, decentralisation is the way to go.

However, when it comes to environment and economic sustainability. The increased demand for transport between the regional centres may not be a good thing. If the niche market model for "city centres" is used. A lot of transport infrastructure need to be developed and upgraded to provide the convenient access critical to the success of each "city centre". This means more usage in materials and a lot more construction, and energy usage to support the new lines (commuter rail or express buses).

All these may be reduced with the non-niche model, but it will result in more daytime travelling. Take the architecture firm example again, engineers in a firm in Tampines may have to travel all the way to an architect's firm in Jurong to dicuss about project matters, likewise for other sub-consultants all over the island.
 

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MOE has its clusters/zones.
JTC used to have four zones.
SSC also have zones for the sports complexes.
I believe the Police also have their own zones.
URA as its own DGPs.
On tope, we have CDCs, GRCs, etc.

While each of them has their rationale, I thought we just missed precious opportunities to achieve synergy.

My view of the way forward is to levarage on the CDC as the blueprint for Singapore to have 5 towns. Based on this, all the agencies should also do their zoning. This way, the Mayor can really supervise that sufficient amenities are cater for their respective towns. Each town may also have its own characters. Eg, South-East will be more recreational. South-West more industrial, etc. But, the names of South-East, South-West do not help to build identity. Anyone has better ideas?
 

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Decentralization

Resurrecting this thread.

Always wanted to study in detail the pros and cons of decentralization. I know that one reason why planners tend to advocate decentralization is the need to minimise travel and the practice of self-sufficiency (a la Garden City ideals).

But I do wonder if lower travel journeys will materialise. If regional centres do become specialized places, say something like a mini-Silicon Valley, given Singapore's small size, will people necessarily move closer to jobs? Or would people end up travelling further to get to their workplaces, say if all the IT jobs just decided to cluster in Jurong all of a sudden instead of the City Centre? Sure there will be support services a la banks, retail, F&B etc, but what about the professional services which are increasingly more specialized?
 

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If regional centres become areas for specialised businesses (niche model). Then direct connection is a must. I do not think that given the way our housing market works it will ever be possible for people to just move closer to their jobs easily. I have friends working in Tanjong Pagar living in Woodlands and Bukit Timah, and those working in Redhill staying in Tampines and Punggol.

That's why for something like URA's vision for specialised regional centres to work. That diagram that they show having direct connections between regional centres and the CBD must be developed into a physical transportation system. The current MRT system, sadly, will never be good enough.
 

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There have been several points in support of decentralisation
one is that decentralisation helps to ease traffic and human congestion in the CBDs of Singapore. By spreading some commercial services to other parts of Singapore, is like a form of mixed land use. The people living in/around the CBDs can enjoy greater quality of life.
second is that with the advent and increasing relevance of ICT to work, companies don't have to be in clusters. Provided if they do apply lots of interfaces and tech to their operations, they still can communicate effectively from different parts of Sg.
third, (this point might be debatable) decentralisation of commercial activity would allow for easier commuting for employees. But on the other hand, for people who are posted to centres that is far from where they live, working in the CBD still might be a better choice- there is supposedly extensive networks linking to the CBD after all.
fourth point would be an incentive for companies. Because prime land in the CBD is expensive, companies might find situating their companies in other parts of Singapore like Tampines, Jurong, ect cheaper.

On the other hand, centralisation is necessary in some instances when businesses and employees have to interact face-to-face, where communication through ICT simply won't work.

What do you think?
 

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MOE has its clusters/zones.
JTC used to have four zones.
SSC also have zones for the sports complexes.
I believe the Police also have their own zones.
URA as its own DGPs.
On tope, we have CDCs, GRCs, etc.

While each of them has their rationale, I thought we just missed precious opportunities to achieve synergy.

My view of the way forward is to levarage on the CDC as the blueprint for Singapore to have 5 towns. Based on this, all the agencies should also do their zoning. This way, the Mayor can really supervise that sufficient amenities are cater for their respective towns. Each town may also have its own characters. Eg, South-East will be more recreational. South-West more industrial, etc. But, the names of South-East, South-West do not help to build identity. Anyone has better ideas?
Please allow me to elaborate on this. If we use this concept of 5 Towns as the backbone for physical, economic, and social planning for Singapore, this can potentially generate a lot of rationalisation. For example, major hospitals, major sports complexes, unis, polys, ITEs, business parks, transports hubs can be distributed amongst the 5 Towns. Transport problems may also be alleviated as more people will be able to work-live-play within their respective towns.

Some of you may have different views. But, please help me with this other thing also. I do not like the present CDC names of Central, South-West, North-West, South-East, North-East. They are rather artificial and rather inefficient to build a sense of identify and belonging. Any suggestion of alternatives?

Thanks.
 

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While they seem artificial, given Singapore's lack of size and the intensive expansion during the 60-90s, there's no way to forge some sense of identity. While the SW, NW, SE and NE are seemingly arbitrary, at the very least there's a belt of urbanlessness e.g. Pasir Ris Industrial/Jln Halus/Paya Lebar Airport between NE and SE; Central Catchment and Kranji between NW and SW. It does gets fuzzy close to Central.
 

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Forging 5 separate identities may be artificial, and doing them forcibly may undermine our efforts to integrate the society as a whole. It may however, be conceptualized based on natural landscapes and features within the area, of which the current CDCs may not draw valid boundaries. Demarcation of these regions based on this method however, does little business sense for the development of regional centres, and attract businesses to them.

In my opinion, regional centres, or even cities, are developed out of a business and financial need. If you look at how cities are formed, you will realise that they are often based on 2 criteria, firstly it's transport - a place where people and trade meet will become a martketplace, which will grow into a village, then a town, then a city. Railway cities in US are an example. Secondly, it's a presence of a core business. Las Vegas was built out of a core business of gambling, while Houston expanded under the petroleum industry. Even Singapore itself grew from the shipping industry. Consequently, if you want to grow 5 separate cities or "towns", they will need core businesses themselves.

Unfortunately, both are lacking right now in each of the identified regional centres. Jurong has a long-lasting niche in industry, and transportation seem to culminate at Boon Lay which gives the opportunity for it to be a successful regional centre, but there is no land available for further development, and URA's regional centre lies in Jurong East instead. Tampines is encouraged to be a secondary banking hub, but transportation is clearly lacking. Woodlands is clearly lacking in both.

Boon Lay was a lost opportunity, but is there any other regional centres or "cities" that can be developed? Seletar Aerospace Park seem to be a potential with the employment it can offer, unfortunately the northwest regional centre is scrapped. The north area does not have a consolidated core business. Possibly Buona Vista can become a regional centre instead considering that it has a core business and transport linkages.

In summary, a top down approach for decentralization will never work. But if URA can act decisively on a potential, such "cities" will grow quickly without anyone realizing it.
 

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^^ I think the developers in Iskandar is going to love this. They have promised that there will be water taxis between JB and Singapore when the entire Iskandar region is complete. :lol:
 

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I feel there is an added benefit of shifting government offices to much more centralised, non CBD areas such as Novena and Toa Payoh. These government departments can more easily serve the people.
 
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