Singapore's first satellite town, Queenstown, was built on the twin principles of scarcity and efficiency. Land resources had to be optimised and a total living environment had to be created. The first post-SG50 town, Tengah, will add to these principles by making inclusion a part of everyday life in the heartland. As much as an urban space should help people mix freely - in car-free town centres, for example - it should also blend man-made settings with the natural resources that exist around and within it.
Like Punggol, the last HDB town which was developed two decades ago, Tengah should be strong on functionality. High-rise living demands paying close attention to safety and convenience, in the form of lifts that work and well-designed walkways that shelter residents from the elements. Reliable and speedy connectivity with other parts of Singapore would also constitute a basic requirement for a far-flung location in the west.
Conceptualising Tengah as a forest town would incorporate the natural advantages of Singapore's tropical topography into the modern urban dwelling environment which is already a characteristic of the country. Here, the challenge is for urban planners to create a 700ha forest town that will define Tengah as a home for Singaporeans of all ages. Their tastes have evolved socially and aesthetically along with the economic transformations here. Hence, Tengah needs to be different, and be seen to be so.
This will not be easy. Tengah's green character would be an incremental advance over existing initiatives. Treelodge@Punggol's status as the first eco-friendly HDB project set the pace for developments for almost a decade. Three years ago, Tampines became the first "cycling town", and Ang Mo Kio has joined it in the effort to make cycling a way of life. Tengah would need to integrate such features into a distinctive identity. Here, what should help is its dramatic forest fringe, which will run around the entire town, giving it the sense of an ecologically enclosed space separate from the rest of Singapore. The park at its centre would offer a green sanctuary to residents who need spaces where they can relax. Daringly, Tengah will boast Singapore's first permanently car-free town centre, set in lush parkland.
Tengah will not be unprecedented in its individual features, but it could be different in its effort to combine them to provide a unique living experience. Residents being the ultimate judge of a town's quality of life, the authorities should treat public responses to the masterplan for Tengah with the same respect that is paid to the unsentimental expertise of urban planners. However, this can occur only if Singaporeans come forward with practical suggestions on what they would like the town to look like.