x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

No wonder Singapore is a model for other cities

Efficient, far-sighted planning has made Singapore a role model for Middle Eastern and Asian cities.

"It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the phrase, 'as pretty as an airport'," Douglas Adams wrote at the start of his novel Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul.

But even Adams would have had to admit that Singapore airport gives it a good try.

From the moment we landed in the island state to attend the World Cities Summit, we could see that organisation was the watchword. And so, as we would come to find out over and over again, was coordination.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Singapore should be feeling very good about itself. Long held up as the model for emerging Asian and Middle Eastern cities, it continues to set the agenda for sustainability and planned development.

Take a drive down Reem Island in Abu Dhabi and one of the most impressive structures rising, The Gate, is clearly inspired by Singapore's Marina Bay Sands hotel. It is no surprise that Marina Bay Sands's contractor, Ssangyong Engineering and Construction of South Korea, is hugely involved in projects in Abu Dhabi.

Dubai draws the most comparisons to Singapore, architecturally and economically. Indeed many building designs, from the sublime to the ridiculous, could be interchangeable. Other cities also take their cue from Singapore.

And if a word sums up how Singaporean officials go about their business, it would be "coordination".

Since the early 1970s buildings, roads and transport systems have been designed symbiotically. Developments and projects have not intruded on each other; newer ones complement, rather than disrupt, older ones. Above all, private and public enterprise work as partners.

In Marina Bay, a financial, residential and entertainment hub, buildings were designed to guarantee every apartment and office an unobstructed view of the bay. Traffic jams are not uncommon, but the high cost of owning cars and efficiency of public services have helped address congestion.

Perhaps Singapore's greatest infrastructure achievement is its Common Services Tunnel. Based on a similar development in Japan, this houses telephone and television cables, power lines and water pipes. Maintenance and addition of extra services can be done without disruption to surface traffic.

This summer the World Cities Summit, Singapore International Water Week and the CleanEnviro Summit attracted over 18,000 officials, experts and industry players from 104 countries. The clear message: sustainability leads to profits.

Greenery, for example, is allowed to flourish, but in a prudent manner. Singapore has almost daily rain but fresh water still must be - and is - used in an environmentally and economically efficient way, which is more than places like Jeddah, Abu Dhabi and Doha can say.

Singapore offers tourists a mixture of old and new. The legendary Raffles Hotel continues to symbolise colonial Britain; legend has it that on February 15, 1942, invading Japanese soldiers found the hotel's guests dancing one final waltz.

For visitors from this part of the world, Arab Street, where carpet shops and Middle Eastern restaurants line both sides, and Masjid Sultan (Sultan Mosque) are a reminder of the country's mixed heritage of religions and ethnic groups.

And then there's the jewel in the crown: Marina Bay Sands, an $8 billion (Dh29billion) casino and 2,561-room hotel, all in the shape of ship perched atop three skyscrapers. It has the highest, and probably most stunning, infinity pool in the world.

Sadly for tourists, this is for hotel residents only. The deck on the 57th floor, however, gives a perfect view of Singapore's Formula One circuit (where Sebastian Vettel won this year's race, last Sunday).

Monocle magazine recently voted Singapore one of the 25 most liveable cities in the world, and it is easy to see why.

Sadly, that list has no Middle Eastern cities - yet. It surely won't be long, however, with a little bit of effort. Coordinated effort, of course.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @AliKhaled_