Thinking big to make most of spaces

The planned rejuvenation of Jurong to turn it into an oasis of vibrant living and recreation is an example of sensitivity in land use. The huge expanse of the adjoining Chinese and Japanese gardens, the area's dominant features, will not fall to developers' earth-diggers but is likely to be redesigned such that it enfolds the residential zones in a verdant embrace. A reconstituted Science Centre, bigger and more contemporary, will be built on the edge of the parks. Accentuating the charm will be Jurong Lake. It all adds up to a quality rejig.

Many a visitor who had seen the twin gardens decline over the years in the civic role envisaged for them by their originator, the late Goh Keng Swee, might have thought parts of the under-patronised parkland could be turned over to other uses. High-end residences, perhaps. Singapore, as a city within a garden, would be the poorer were that to happen. Jurong's parks, the Botanic Gardens, Bukit Timah's nature reserve and the Mandai woods are among the few green lungs of scale left on a heavily built-up island. Long may they stay in the public domain.

Land is scarce, but that challenges planners to be ingenious in creating the illusion of space, aside from their constant reconfiguring to beautify pockets of the island so as to raise the tone for residents and businesses. The ritzy sweep of Marina Bay and its skyline - now the symbol of 21st-century Singapore internationally - came about in cascading steps, not so much as a grand plan set in stone.

Where there were only commercial buildings and asphalt two decades ago, the conglomeration of tastefully designed features that were added over the years - the Esplanade performing arts centre, Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands, promenades and eye-catching apartment and bank towers farther up the bay shore - has invested the area with a wow factor.

What might be next? The Urban Redevelopment Authority has a portfolio of prime parcels in the Holland-Tanglin-Grange zone to work with. These include the Dempsey Road cluster of eateries and bars, as well as the Central Manpower Base, which will be relocating. Farther afield, towards the one-north cluster, is Wessex Estate, also up for planning renewal. These are choice locations, on a par with the land to be vacated by the Tanjong Pagar container port. The nearby heritage-status Malayan Railway building, on the other hand, presents a challenge of designing for it a use appropriate to the setting. A working model is how the City Hall-turned Singapore Art Gallery will preserve the stately ambience of the Civic District. As the wealth of assets available for reworking shows, Singapore's physical smallness is just a state of mind.