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News analysis

New Tengah town: No one-off showcase but culmination of green push

With unprecedented features such as a car-free town centre and a forest corridor, the new Tengah town will have a distinct identity.

Yet Singapore's newest Housing Board town, located in the far west, is arguably not a "game changer".

Rather, it could be seen as the fullest realisation, to date, of ongoing efforts to create greener, smarter and more sustainable public housing.

As a completely new town, Tengah is a blank slate, with the area containing only forest and scrubland. It thus provides the best opportunity to turn the ideal of a green and sustainable town into reality.

The 700ha town will be bordered by a forest fringe, include a 5km forest corridor and a 20ha Central Park and feature community farmways with gardens, farms and more.

There will also be a car-free town centre set in a park with traffic running underneath instead. And all roads in Tengah will have walking and biking paths on both sides.

These features may all seem distinctive and exciting. Yet none of them represents a change in philosophy or approach.

 
 

Instead, they are examples of a direction that the HDB, and indeed the Government more broadly, has been taking for some time.

Almost a decade ago, Treelodge @ Punggol was launched as the first eco-friendly HDB project.

It was designed to maximise windflow, featured copious greenery and had energy-efficient lighting in common areas - green features which have since been incorporated in following projects, including Tengah.

Announcing the Tengah masterplan on Thursday night, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong noted how Tengah builds upon preceding efforts in areas such as Yuhua.

"Having gained experience with these pilots, we are now ready to do a larger scale roll-out, townwide," he said.

Similarly, Tengah's car-lite design is part of a bigger national push to become less reliant on cars. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has pointed out benefits such as less congestion and pollution, as well as healthier lifestyles.

In 2013, Tampines became the first "cycling town" with a network of cycle paths. Earlier this year, the first phase of a cycle network in Ang Mo Kio was completed. Unlike Tampines, where pedestrians and cyclists share a path, cyclists get dedicated paths painted in bright red - similar to what Tengah will offer.

Over time, as the quality of public housing continues to improve, features that seem distinctive may become commonplace. Roof gardens are one example. Once unheard of, they now feature in virtually every new Build-to-Order project.

Seen in this context, Tengah is not a one-off, "showcase" town, but instead a natural culmination of HDB's green efforts.

Sceptics might add that Tengah needs to be attractive to make up for its far-flung location in the west.

Indeed, some visitors to the Tengah exhibition yesterday were intrigued by the green features but dismissed its location as too distant.

Still, there are reasons for optimism. The north-east towns of Sengkang and Punggol suffered from a similar image when they were new, but are now relatively sought after, with more than three times as many applicants as there are available flats in Punggol Northshore, for instance.

Buyers of new flats also tend to prefer locations near their parents. For people who grew up in western towns such as Jurong East - perhaps the first generation to do so - Tengah will represent an exciting new development in their backyard, rather than a distant territory.

There is another development trajectory into which Tengah fits snugly: the transformation of the west.

The new town will overlap with Jurong Innovation District and is a stone's throw from Jurong Lake District, set to become Singapore's second central business district.

A home in Tengah will thus be a front-row seat to the rise of the west. In this, as in various other aspects, Tengah does not break the mould - instead, it takes the current course further.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2016, with the headline 'No one-off showcase but culmination of green push'. Print Edition | Subscribe