The call for masterplan proposals, to turn Jurong Lake District into a second central business district, offers scope to create something viably different from the island's southern urban core. It is an ambitious step that needs to be thought through to avoid needless shuttling between two centres that are hardly cheek by jowl. Singapore can draw lessons from the experience of pairs like Canary Wharf-London, Pudong-Shanghai, Parramatta-Sydney and Putrajaya-Kuala Lumpur. The objective must be clear: for example, offering lower-cost business space, easing congestion in the city, or developing an area that stands to benefit from high-speed rail connections.
For some decades, Jurong's potential to be a vibrant regional centre (alongside Tampines and Woodlands) was recognised by plans based on "a decentralisation strategy to sustain Singapore's growth", as the Urban Redevelopment Authority noted. Marina Bay and the city were seen as the main commercial centres, while new commercial hubs like Jurong Gateway were envisaged to offer businesses more choices of location and to "bring jobs closer to homes". Growing from such a hub to a full-fledged central business district represents a bigger ambition that must take account of the possibility that infrastructure might be under-utilised if duplicated in a willy-nilly way.
Clear and conscious differentiation from existing business areas would hold the key to Jurong Lake District's success. A key draw of a second business district would be inclusive urban spaces in which people do not merely work but also live and play. Singapore would be using precious land optimally by not allowing more dead areas to crop up after dark, as in the existing Central Business District (CBD), because commerce was not integrated well with other human activities. Hence, masterplan proposals for Jurong should go beyond technological developments such as district cooling and pneumatic waste conveyance systems. They should also address larger issues of integration, including urban mobility and accessibility with a diverse population in mind.
Bringing people together in a CBD of the future is not just about creating critical mass but also about creating synergy. The idea is to wed proximity to diversity in creating an ecosystem that promotes knowledge sharing, innovation and collaboration among businesses and research centres. That ecosystem would help connect people not just in seminar rooms or eating places but also at various cultural, recreational and nature spots. The ideas and energy that could flow from such interaction would help Jurong to distinguish itself from the gentrified and historical charm of the CBD. To fulfil this broad remit, inputs for Jurong should come from not just businessmen, technologists and urban planners but also artistes, sports lovers, youngsters and others.