Although I'm here to study the local public art scene, I was, as an architect and urban planner, very excited to stumble upon Archifest, a local architecture festival hosting short events and exhibitions related to architecture, urban planning and landscape architecture. I just want to write very shortly about a point of view bought up at Archifest, that to me feels like one of the most interesting perspectives you can take towards urban planning in Singapore, that is:
With such scarcity of land, why is it so car orientated?
The city being largely built after the generalization of the automobile, Singapore does not invite you to use your bicycle. There are virtually no bike lanes and as to cycle between the cars just seems too risky here, not many people do it. So how to improve?
In my opinion, any change in a practice in any field will consist of two parts:
- change in circumstances
- change in mindset
For the first one to have an effect, you need the second one. One way that the event tackled this was to sit people on bikes with virtual reality glasses to try and bicycle in local settings redesigned as bicycle friendly. Riding in the virtual landscape, I was asked questions about how it felt in different surroundings. After being analyzed, the results can be used in designing better biking conditions. What a fun way to approach this! The project was called, Bike to the Future | Imagining an alternative future for the streets of Singapore.
Active mobility is defined as a general term to include all modes of transport that require you to be physically active in one way or another.
After my virtual bike ride, I was able to attend an interesting panel discussion about active mobility, titled: How To (Re-)Design Singapore’s Streets For Active Mobility? Active mobility was here defined as a general term to include all modes of transport that require you to be physically active in one way or another, in this discussion, including also personal mobility devices such as scooters and also motorized additions to the genre, that are more common here than in Europe. The panelists, very aware of the strategies that have worked overseas, agreed on so many solutions - such as mobility as a service, holistic approach to sharing space and linking different kinds of transport systems to each other, and so on - that I felt that, motivated by the shortage of land and listening to these thought leaders in the field, Singapore has an incredibly good change to become extremely bike friendly in the upcoming years.
"Yes, it works in Amsterdam, but we have __________ , won't it be a problem?"
Still, Singapore does have some characteristics that could be thought of as unfavorable to biking as a means of transport. As the panel moderator, Prof Dr Stephen Cairns from the Future Cities Lab, the organizer of the event noted - provoking for the sake of discussion - if we´re all sweating just sitting at a panel discussion, wont biking to work be a bit too much to ask in tropical climate? But, as Francis Chu, Co-Founder of Love Cycling Singapore, regularly bicycling to work himself pointed out, during the times when you would bike to work and back, that is, mornings and late afternoons, the heat tends not to be as intense as the heat of midday we were experiencing. Also, while you ride, the breeze created by your movement will help cool down. (Maybe, I was left wondering, the shape he must be in biking to work every day is a factor in not breaking a sweat even in this climate.)
It'r true though, the heat here is intense. On the other hand, to me, the question of heat was an excellent example of what any city faces when approaching a new policy. Will this model, that has worked elsewhere, fit our specific conditions? It is natural and wise to wonder about this. In Finland, the analogous question is the question of snow. "Yes, it works in Amsterdam, but we have snow, won't it be a problem?" Sometimes, of course, it might. Be it extreme heat or snow, cities, luckily, do have their special characteristics given to them by nature. Still, it is also wise to not let this hinder our imagination - most problems have solutions just waiting to be found by:
- closely studying successful solutions abroad
- listening to national pioneers, and
- testing in small bits, even in virtual reality - all of which Singapore seems to be well on its way to doing.
The fact that many people in Finland (with weather conditions ranging yearly from +25 to -25 degrees Celsius) bike year round speaks for the adaptability of humans to weather conditions, once suitable infrastructure is in place.