Once, Jurong Industrial Estate reshaped Singapore's economic geography, confounding sceptics who thought that such an ambitious project would never succeed. Today, plans for a Jurong Lake District build on a legacy of bold thinking, careful planning and meticulous execution, once associated with the industrial estate. If the new district lives up to its promise of dramatic change, it will rival the contributions to Singapore's economic and social space that will flow from Changi's Terminal 5 and Tuas megaport. A revitalised Jurong will be to the land what those two transformative exercises in national planning will be to the air and the seas.
The district is being visualised as Singapore's second Central Business District (CBD) and one that's very different from the existing CBD. Anchored by key sectors, it has the potential of creating 100,000 jobs, yielding 20,000 new homes, and producing a car-lite environment so important to Singapore's ecological future. The district's proximity to the upcoming High Speed Rail terminus and Tuas mega port will also add buzz to it. With the number of people working and living there, and many others passing through, it might well be a CBD that never sleeps.
What distinguishes the lake district from other growth areas is its attempt to integrate nature more closely into a planned economic landscape. Its green features - centred on the lake and the gardens - attest to the importance of the natural habitat in producing a quality lifestyle that could entice players in the new economy to set up home in a particular place.
At least two caveats apply if the future of this endeavour is to be as exciting as its inception. One is the nature of planning. The district will have to balance the competing pulls of different uses - from providing jobs and homes to its function as the high-speed rail terminus. Hence, planners must leave sufficient space to ensure that mobility will not suffer as physical structures appear in Jurong progressively. The arteries indicated in planning maps must be capable of accommodating different forms of transport which might appear over time and must be free of congestion.
The second caveat is that the pricing of commercial property in the district must be realistic enough to entice businesses to set up or to relocate there. Premature price inflation might squeeze out smaller players. The process of development, extending over decades, will be guided by planning concepts. But zones for private development should not be overplanned, so as to leave some room for organic growth. Diverse people will be required to invest their imagination and energy so that Jurong can be propelled from being Singapore's main industrial district into a bustling mini hub as well. As the economic stakes are higher now, Jurong must succeed.