It is historically apposite that Jurong has been chosen as the site of an innovation district to be launched. Some have wondered once if it would become "Goh's folly" when Dr Goh Keng Swee envisioned industries rising from what was then swampland. He realised that newly independent Singapore had to move beyond its accustomed trading activities and embark on an industrial future to provide the jobs needed by a growing population. His was an ambitious project to transform Jurong's jungles and fishing villages into a sprawling industrial estate. But Jurong's reinvention as a manufacturing hub helped lay the foundations of Singapore's modern economy.
The plan for the Jurong Innovation District, announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat during his Budget presentation, builds on the area's rich economic heritage. By making it an incubator for higher value-added activities, it extends the role of technology in taking the economy to the next plane.
The creation of the new district should mark another stage in Singapore's economic evolution. It once grouped disparate business players, focused mostly on production, but a revitalised Jurong will have spaces to bring together learning, research, innovation and production. And from just building industrial estates, planners are now shaping live-work-play environments. The synergies from the close proximity of these segments could play a catalytic role in furthering innovation, motivated by the desire to create new products and services, and to fulfil social needs in fresh and better ways. The liveliness and liveability of the district could help to spur the imagination of the Singaporeans who are attracted to it.
Making Jurong an integrated urban environment conducive to innovation would give it the potential to replicate the success of one-north, a strategic development designed to host world-class research facilities and provide business park space. However, the overlap between the two ventures would not be extensive. The expansive mandate of one-north covers support for the growth of biomedical sciences, infocomm technology, media, physical sciences and engineering. By contrast, the Jurong initiative would provide creative space for entrepreneurs, researchers and students to focus on smart urban solutions and sustainable infrastructure.
The hardware of the innovation district would be enlivened by the availability of social amenities in the Jurong Lake District. Seamless commuting is being put in place through the provision of a network of walkways for people to move conveniently from the train station to nearby developments in all weather conditions. It is now up to entrepreneurs and the young to ride on the wave of the future that innovation represents. Not to seize the opportunity would be folly indeed.