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Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance, at the Place Management Seminar 2018

  Published: 17 September 2018

I am very happy to join you this morning at this year’s Place Management Seminar. I was here last year, and I am glad to see that in the one year that has passed, there is clearly more interest in place management as evident by the turnout today. I understand this is the highest turnout we have had since we ran this series of seminars on place-making.

Last year, when we discussed this topic of place-management, we highlighted the importance of place-making. We said this is an approach that has existed for decades; it is not new at all.

Place-making and place management is something that architects and planners are familiar with. This can be traced back to the idea of cities being designed for people – with walkable streets, welcoming “third places” which are places in the community that are separate from your home and work, and lively neighbourhoods. Architects and planners have long recognised the importance of connecting places with people and of connecting people with one another.

In recent times, businesses and retailers in particular are also catching on to this idea, and embracing the concept of place-making. In particular, with the changes that are happening in the economy, retailers realised that they cannot just offer discounts to entice shoppers anymore. That is the reality not just in Singapore, but the reality everywhere in the world.

In the digital age fuelled by technology, goods and services are becoming commoditised. Consumers will want to buy them at the cheapest price and they will know where to get them; they may not even be in the store and may be online. They will buy them at the greatest possible convenience to themselves. That is the reality today. 

Shoppers will need a reason to want to go to the store other than buying things. All of us, as individual shoppers and consumers ourselves, recognise that there is no need for us to go to a store unless we really have to. So what is the motivation to want to go shopping or a particular retail mall?

As one consultant put it to retailers, you have to – “stage experiences or go extinct”.

To stage experiences, we need place-makers to turn generic spaces into authentic experiences that can engage people and make them want to spend time, and come back again. Successful place management can also bring the community together, and help to develop shared memories and build meaningful connections. That is the key, also, in making our city special, distinctive and endearing – both for Singaporeans as well as our visitors.  

Many of us will say it is important to do good place-making and stage experiences. They understand the theory, but wonder how do they go about doing it. That is why we are all here today – to learn – because there is an art, science and skill involved in effective place-making.

There are many examples of successful place-making around the world. When we travel for vacation, we will come across places that we like, are memorable and have very good place management and place-making that causes us to feel like this is a special street.

One of my favourite pedestrian streets in Asia is Jinli street in Chengdu, Sichuan. It is only about 500m long. By comparison, Orchard Road is much longer.

It is one of the oldest shopping streets in Sichuan province, tracing back to the Three Kingdoms period. If you walk down the street, it is lined with tea houses, restaurants, artisanal shops – all offering very rich and authentic cultural experiences. It is a place that people want to go to, and not surprisingly, it is full of tourists and local visitors anytime you go. This is an example of an old district transformed, but it is rich in culture and heritage. 

But modern business districts can also be transformed through place-making. For example, in Tokyo, the central business district had office buildings within it, which was becoming obsolete.  The streets were deserted on weekends. 

The Otemachi, Marunouchi and Yurakucho Area Management Association was formed in 2002 to rejuvenate the whole area. The Association has over 100 members comprising private companies, office workers and students who came together to do place-making.  They did several things. They expanded the sidewalks to improve pedestrian experience, created car-free zones, beautified the streetscapes and organised events like the Summer Festival. All of these have helped to transform the area and make it a much more vibrant city centre.

I have just shared briefly two Asian examples – one in China and one in Japan – to show you that this is not just a concept that is in a faraway country. Here in Asia, we can do effective place-making as well. I am sure our speakers here today will be sharing many more examples and I hope they will provide useful lessons for our place-makers, business owners and property owners as well.

In Singapore, our efforts at formal place-making, as all of you would know, started in the Singapore River precinct. It was motivated at that time by the negative reputation of Circular Road and Boat Quay due to touting and overcharging.

Stakeholders came together and formed our first pilot Business Improvement District (BID).  They have successfully transformed the area over the years into a vibrant waterfront district. These are some of the changes that have happened. They introduced regular activities like a Car-free zone at Circular Road on weekend evenings. They improved the outdoor refreshment areas. They have signature events like the annual St Patrick’s Day Street Festival and Singapore River Festival.

They have also capitalised on the precinct’s rich history and heritage. They introduced a Singapore River map with recommended itineraries and trails in the precinct, and worked with partners to organise walking and cycling tours along these trails. All of these have helped to increase visitors to the precinct, and it is good for the precinct because it has now brought about greater footfall, and good for businesses too because everyone within the precinct now benefits from more visitors and business has improved. 

These positive examples highlight the importance of place-making and why it is essential for the government and businesses to work together to embrace this concept of place-making and raise it to a higher level in Singapore. We already do it but I think we need to do much more and do it better.

Announcement for Phase 2 Pilot BID

That is why last year, we announced that we wanted to scale up our place-making efforts and will expand the BID pilot, that we started with Singapore River One, nation-wide to more business owners, associations and precincts.

There was a very positive response to the announcement last year. We put out an Expression of Interest, and there was such overwhelming interest that we had to extend the deadline by 2 months in order to allow more submissions to be sent to URA. In total, we received submissions from 9 precincts.

This morning, I am happy to announce that all 9 precincts have been selected to be part of our pilot BIDs. These 9 precincts represent a good mix of different precinct profiles – from historic district, to civic district and mixed-used precincts both within and outside the city centre. These 9 precincts and Singapore River One, which is the existing BID, will now form our 10 BIDs in Singapore.

For the historic district, we have Kampong Glam. The precinct intends to tap on its rich historical and cultural heritage to differentiate itself and create a unique branding for the precinct. I think they were here last year and shared their experiences, and we are very glad they have now decided to come together and set up a formal BID. 

In the Civic District, the stakeholders for the City Hall precinct are planning to showcase the precinct through the arts, music, history and architecture of the precinct. Indeed, I think there is a lot that they can do within the Civic District itself.

Within the Central Business District, we have Tanjong Pagar and China Place, which are considering creating more car-free zones, while Raffles Place will be introducing activities and events throughout the year to attract visitors and support the working community.

Within the city centre, we have the Marina area – Marina Bay and Marina Centre. They are looking into physical enhancements to create more vibrant public spaces and improve connectivity.

I am very glad that there is also interest from precincts outside the central area. We have one at Jurong Gateway and another one at Paya Lebar. Both are our upcoming regional centres. Both precincts are looking to build better community spaces that are designed and programmed to be environmentally and socially sustainable. The stakeholders at Jurong Gateway are looking at ways to ensure accessibility and create a pleasant, attractive and welcoming environment for residents, working community and visitors. At Paya Lebar, the stakeholders are looking to build an active, green and engaging community through various programmes and creative use of public spaces.

For all the pilot BIDs submitted and that we have selected, we will be providing matching grants to each of these nine precincts, up to $500,000 per year, over a period of four years. The precincts will need to obtain the necessary support from their stakeholders and meet the pilot BID requirements. URA and various public agencies will work with these precincts as they develop and implement their 4-year business plans and get the support from the majority of the stakeholders in order to get this work going.

All 9 BIDs, together with the existing BID – Singapore River One, will be the trailblazers for effective place-making in Singapore. I hope you will help to demonstrate the benefits and positive outcomes of place management and encourage other private sector stakeholders to take ownership in managing your precincts.

The government will work with you closely. We want to learn from this experience as well, and as I have mentioned before, we are studying the possibility of legislation to provide legal backing for the BIDs. How this unfolds really depends on the pilots. We want the pilots to be successful so that as you undertake this work, you can demonstrate truly the benefits of having a BID; more stakeholders will come on board; and with legislative backing, they can truly take place-making in Singapore to a higher level.

There is still a lot to be learnt about BIDs and place management in Singapore. We are familiar with the concept, but there is still a lot that can be learnt about the practice of it and the effectiveness of what we do.

I hope today’s seminar will provide a common platform for stakeholders, partners and government agencies to come together and learn from each other’s experience, as well as from the experts and practitioners who are here – both local and overseas. We hope all these will help provide insights and knowledge to help raise the standard of place-making in Singapore and build capacity and capabilities amongst our local practitioners and public agencies.

I look forward to the realisation of all your business plans under the pilot BID programme and I hope that we can continue to work together to build a more beautiful and endearing city here in Singapore. Thank you very much and have a very good seminar.