Remaking Orchard Road

Orchard Road may go completely car-free as part of long-term plans to reinvent Singapore's premier shopping belt, which has lost some of its draw amid the growth of e-commerce and suburban malls.

The bold possibility was mooted by Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran last week at a tourism industry conference. He said such a format would support larger-scale experiential concepts.

But for a start, the 2.2km stretch will be made more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly, with the trial of a multi-way cross-junction and likely reduction of one of the road's five lanes to make way for pop-up concepts, events and activities. Plans are also afoot to use parcels of state land, like the open-air carparks in Grange Road and Angullia Park, for ad hoc events such as urban street markets and shows.

This is not the first attempt to jazz up Orchard Road. Previous efforts include late-night shopping, a $40 million makeover that involved the widening of pavements in front of Ion Orchard, Wisma Atria and Ngee Ann City, and a monthly pedestrian night, which did little to boost retail sales.

Shoppers and observers say malls along the street suffer from a cookie-cutter syndrome, dominated by international brands that can be found in tourists' home countries and heartland malls here.

A touch of local flavour is coming, with the creation of a Design Incubator to showcase and groom local brands, to be built at Orchard Green by the end of next year.

Adding unique offerings and street-level activities could give people a reason to make the trip to town, but whether more crowds will translate into ringing tills for retailers remains to be seen.

In an effort to coordinate programming, the Orchard Road Business Association will, on Friday, launch its first lifestyle and shopping campaign, which will involve several malls and hotels. A local gourmet fiesta will kick off the month-long event.

If stakeholders work together to refresh their offerings and connect in-store and outdoor activities, this latest push could be the shot in the arm that brings the buzz back to Orchard Road.

Tiffany Fumiko Tay

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline 'Remaking Orchard Road'. Print Edition | Subscribe