Welcome to leisure island

SOON, when someone claims there is nothing to do in Singapore, you can tell him to go fly a kite. Or cycle around the island, literally.

Alternatively, he can relax amid the rustic charms of Changi on a spa treatment table, soak up the carnival atmosphere at night festivals down by the Singapore River and Bras Basah area, or take in a theatre performance at the nearest community centre.

Apart from a more vibrant arts scene and nightlife, parks, green space connectors, farms and a 150km round-island route form the centrepiece of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) plan to up the Republic’s leisure quotient — the first time the urban planners have drawn up a comprehensive scheme to help Singaporeans relax and have fun.

Notably, Changi’s distinct colonial flavour would be retained, with all-time haunts such as the old Changi Hospital and former Hendon Camp converted to spa resorts. The vicinity’s black-and-white bungalows could also be turned into boutique hotels.

Unveiling the “Leisure Plan” yesterday as part of the URA’s draft masterplan for the next 10 to 15 years, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said that with “judicious land use planning”, Singapore would be able to set aside land for new leisure options — or “valuable gateways for our city dwellers”.

At the same time, the URA will enhance the “night-time buzz” along Orchard Road, the Singapore River, Bras Basah and Bugis areas and Marina Bay through activities, bolder night lighting and new street furniture.

“Singaporeans need not be concerned that higher economic and population growth will come at the expense of a sense of space and greenery. Even as we seek to further green our city, we want to add life and colour to our city centre,” said Mr Mah, who was speaking at the Singapore Institute of Architects’ 47th annual dinner.

Touted to redefine the Republic as a “City of Garden and Water”, the blueprint would see the creation of new trails into the previously inaccessible Kranji marshland, while the Sungei Buloh wetland reserve would undergo a makeover. The Kranji and Lim Chu Kang area would also be spruced up into a “unique countryside destination” boasting of farm stays, spa resorts and kayaking.

Some 900 hectares of land would be carved out as parks, increasing park space by 27 per cent to 4,200 ha. Eventually, the total park space in Singapore would be equivalent to the size of 15 Bishan Parks.

The round-island route, which would take a day of cycling or a whole weekend of walking to complete, would take visitors through the “nature retreats, breathtaking waterfront views, beautiful beaches and attractive parks”.

For instance, a family can spend a morning at East Coast Park, enjoy the sea breeze at the Punggol promenade, take an evening stroll through the scenic Southern Ridges and end the day by pitching a tent at a campsite along the way.

Mr Mah enthused: “I think we may be the first and only people in the world to be able to take a walk, relatively easily, around our whole country.”

Part of the route is already in place, with Changi Point linked to the Southern Ridges via East Coast Park — a trail described by avid cyclist Joshua Lee as “beautiful”.

Still, the 28-year-old pointed out: “Unless the park connectors have nearby amenities such as fast food restaurants and restrooms, they will not be fully utilised as most people would stay put within hotspots like East Coast Park.”

By 2013, at least half of the route would be completed, in tandem with the creation of an extensive web of connectors linking up parks located all over the island.

The draft masterplan would be fully unveiled on Friday with a month-long exhibition at the URA Centre. The public is invited to give its feedback.

Source : Today – 22 May 2008

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