Reinvigorating Orchard Road is the current preoccupation of the various stakeholders involved in an exercise being led by the Singapore Tourism Board. Elsewhere, too, city fathers are striving to turn prime areas into "world class streets". The shrewd emphasise the quality of life in an area, rather than just focus on commercial pump-priming. The thinking is sound: Heighten overall vibrancy and relevance, and the shopping and dining experience will in turn soar to new heights.
While Orchard Road was the dominant spot for great shopping and social events in the early years, people are spoilt for choice now. Hence, just adding more retail space and dazzling LED displays there won't necessarily restore that allure. Instead, Orchard should become the go-to place for "experience shopping" that gives some meaning to a trip - like a therapy of distraction, a form of personal expression, or a childlike exploration to spur the imagination. If that is indeed "the true meaning of shopping" as Time magazine conjectured, merchants ought to be thinking of shaping spaces that are less transactional and more inviting.
A high-quality realm also means making the most of what lies between stores and buildings, to create active public spaces. Not every square inch needs to be filled with shops to maximise yield. Instead, there must be places to simply enjoy being in - to walk, hang out, take part in events and, yes, shop and eat. Orchard has much going for it, like its sheer concentration of prime offerings, serendipitous mix of urban features, and connectivity. With more imaginative and cooperative steps, spaces can be transformed to create an integrated and compelling Orchard experience.