From ‘ulu’ town to ‘heartlands CBD’: What will it mean to live in Jurong?

The Government’s vision for Jurong’s transformation into a distinctive, mixed-use heartlands business hub is gathering pace, following the news that the area will be home to the terminus for the Singapore-Malaysia High Speed Rail (HSR).

While many residents seem enthusiastic about the energy and vibrancy that is being added to what used to be a quiet, unfashionable part of Singapore, some are concerned about whether there will be a price to pay in terms of rising costs and congestion.

Once a mangrove swamp surrounded by farms, ponds and rivers, the western locale was developed into Singapore’s first industrial estate in the 1960s before a masterplan in 2008 moved to overhaul a 360-hectare space in Jurong East, labelled as Jurong Lake District. This will be Singapore’s biggest commercial hub outside the Central Business District (CBD).

Jurong Lake District will span three precincts: the commercial Jurong Gateway area; leisure zone Lakeside and the mixed-use Lakeside Gateway, to be served by three MRT stations – Jurong East, Lakeside, Chinese Garden – and supplemented by the Jurong Region Line in 2025 and Cross Island Line in 2030 on top of the existing North-South and East-West lines.

Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said Jurong Lake District will be developed over the next 10 to 30 years. It will be distinctive from the CBD and other “decentralised growth areas” in Woodlands and Paya Lebar by virtue of being a mixed-use business district in the heartlands, said the national urban planning body.

“For instance, there will be flexible office spaces for businesses to collaborate and grow, and the District will be a vibrant 24/7 hub with a wide range of amenities and recreational facilities for everyone to enjoy,” said a URA spokesperson. “We will also capitalise on the area’s unique lake setting and develop new homes and vibrant public spaces that are integrated with greenery and waterways. This will enable more people to live… close to the diverse range of job offerings.”

THE BUZZ

Member of Parliament (MP) Grace Fu, whose Yuhua constituency covers the Jurong Gateway area, pointed out that since the Jurong Lake District masterplan’s inception, residents have enjoyed “added vibrancy” and greater amenities whether in retail, healthcare or social services.

The Jurong Gateway precinct includes a slew of shopping malls – JCube (previously Jurong Entertainment Centre); JEM; Westgate; Big Box – which sprouted up between 2012 to 2014, as well as the Ng Teng Fong Hospital and Genting Jurong – which is the first major hotel in the western part of Singapore.

Ms Fu, who is Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, added that there will be “many exciting job opportunities with the addition of commercial and office properties”, while bringing “more human traffic to the area which will benefit the neighbourhood shops and food establishments”.

The adjacent Lakeside Gateway area will also house the terminus of the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur HSR, anticipated to start operations around 2026. This will “add substantial cross-country economic facets” to Jurong East, said the President of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) Kurt Wee.

“The HSR is likely to stimulate substantial cross-border investments,” Mr Wee explained. “These economic stimuli will energise and drive Jurong East, its peripheral industrial areas, and immediate adjacent districts, into a higher level of buzz and activity. It can also serve as an office and commercial hub for industries in Jurong Island.”

He added: “I think it will encourage a substantially increased working population to want to work and live in the vicinity… I expect that when coupled with the HSR, not only more Singaporeans would live there, more Malaysian SMEs would want to have a presence there as well. It has the potential to attract substantial Malaysian service professional firms to plant roots in the hub.”

THE GOOD

Residents in Jurong East largely echoed Ms Fu’s sentiments, hailing the increasing convenience, self-sufficiency and overall vibrancy of the area as beneficial to their living experience.

“The change in Jurong is tremendous,” said Justin Teo, 29. “There is now less incentive to head to town since we can get everything we need just a stone’s throw away. To a certain degree, the Government’s plan to decentralise the activity hubs is working here.”

Mr Ahmad Tarmizi, who has lived near Ng Teng Fong Hospital for nearly a decade, said Jurong was shaping up to be “a distinctive city of the future”.

“It’s amazing how in just three years, Jurong has transformed from a quiet town into an energetic place to live and play,” he said. “The choice of activities are endless. I’ve made fewer trips to town nowadays. Instead I walk from home to dine, relax and afterwards to run my errands. All can be done in the same vicinity.”

“I’ve been living here almost my entire life. It was boring before but now it’s just going to be more interesting and exciting,” said Chin Wei Young, 38.

Some said the best side-effect is the increasing property valuation. “I’m mostly happy that this will mean my parents, who bought our current unit back in 1986, can sell it for a higher price,” said Gwen Lee, 29, who stays next to Jurong East MRT station.

Mr Teo also pointed out that businesses in the area would thrive, with Malaysians entering Singapore via the HSR bound to shop at the cluster of Jurong Gateway malls as their first stop.

THE BAD

Yet the prospect of surging traffic – both human and vehicular – has also left residents concerned. “I’m not looking forward to the area becoming even more crowded,” Ms Lee admitted. “Although I suppose you could say that about most other neighbourhoods in Singapore in the next five to 10 years.”

Already, during the weekends, one can see long queues of cars waiting to enter the car parks of the malls, said Mr Teo.

Added Mr Chin: “Traffic now is pretty congested compared to before and the MRT is absolutely nuts at peak periods now.”

61-year-old Yip Kwan Guan was more optimistic, saying: “Hopefully, traffic congestion will not happen as more people will move into Jurong to work here.”

Ms Fu also acknowledged that the HSR project would attract additional traffic to the area. “We hope to work closely with the planning and transport agencies to integrate supporting infrastructure – such as new road networks, bus bays, connections to MRT stations – as the HSR is built, so that the transportation needs are dealt with comprehensively and effectively at the planning stage,” she said.

The rising cost of living was also cited as a worry, with Ms Lee noticing that food prices at nearby coffeeshops have already become more expensive.

THE SOUL?

For 25-year-old Joe Lee, the effects are more intangible. “Jurong will lose its ‘ulu’ reputation… Or has already lost it. It was special previously because it was very unpopulated, even during weekends. Now everything has changed and it attracts crowds on both weekdays and weekends,” said the finance analyst, who has stayed in Jurong East his whole life.

“The place no longer feels as homely as it used to be. There used to be empty spaces around Jurong East where you have funfairs, pasar malams, and you see people playing football; cricket and even flying kites. Now it’s all buildings everywhere.”

Mr Ahmad, however, said the Lakeside precinct would provide a natural respite to the otherwise man-made, commercial structures occupying the Jurong Lake District. The Lakeside precinct will, from around 2020, encompass a new Science Centre as well as Singapore’s “national garden in the heartlands”: Jurong Lake Gardens, an amalgamation of Jurong Lake Park, Chinese Garden and Japanese Garden.

“I hope that the plan to have a combined gardens will seamlessly link up the vast greenery that Jurong has to offer. Quaint and peaceful places such as Chinese Garden is a rarity and these area are to be developed with the utmost care,” said Mr Ahmad.

Meanwhile, noting that the Jurong Gateway precinct was developed on a green field surrounding Jurong East MRT station, Ms Fu said: “Residents have been waiting for development to take place on this empty piece of land for many years… I think the character of the Jurong area will evolve with time like any or space or place.”

“At the local level, we are keeping as many landmarks as emotional anchors for the residents as possible,” she affirmed. “We have for example upgraded the hawker centres, wet markets and neighbourhood town centres with residents in mind. We have also worked to retain all existing stallholders who wish to continue operating in our wet market after the expiry of the lease.”

“We believe that this will ensure continuity and preserve the emotional ties that have been built in the heartland.”

Source : Channel NewsAsia – 18 Aug 2016

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