Balancing competing land-use demands requires trade-offs

It will always be a challenge to strike a balance between retaining iconic landmarks and using the land for residential purposes ("Preserve icons that build history and define culture" by Dr Wong Wen Tsung; Feb 17).

Finding the right balance is never easy. There is a constant need to provide residential housing estates, childcare centres, schools, hospitals, parks, transport amenities, eateries, markets and eldercare facilities.

This cannot be done without trade-offs, due to our finite land resources.

Where possible, the Government tries to preserve landmarks that are of national importance and of historic, cultural, traditional, archaeological, architectural or symbolic significance.

While the Sungei Road flea market may give Singaporeans a sense of history and culture, it is not of national importance.

Conservation is more than just preserving a landmark. There must be a retention of the inherent spirit and original ambience of the historic place.

The "Thieves Market", with its makeshift stalls and transient hawkers, is no different from other flea markets managed by town councils.

The various land-use demands should be considered comprehensively, and a holistic approach adopted.

The question is whether Singapore should set aside more land for housing or use it to keep more iconic landmarks. Then, there are environmental needs to consider as well. Such is the dilemma of urban planning and balancing competing urban interests. The key is to prioritise.

Keeping Singapore a liveable and sustainable city may entail unpopular measures. But one cannot argue with the strategic needs of land-scarce Singapore.

Francis Cheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2017, with the headline 'Balancing competing land-use demands requires trade-offs'. Print Edition | Subscribe