E S S AYDiversifying Activities in a Shopping DistrictReimagining OrchardRoad: Putting PeopleOn the StreetWith declining retail traffic in recent years, Orchard Road faces strongcompetition as a shoppers’ paradise. CLC Fellow Michael Koh—whowas involved in developing the 2.2 km shopping belt as an urban plannerfrom the 1990s to 2000s—shares ideas on revitalising the district for adiverse group of users beyond just shoppers.Orchard Road needs a bold rethink.The consensus is clear, judging fromdiscussions in the media on ways to boostthe famous boulevard’s attractiveness asa shopping destination.The question then is not whether weneed to do so, but how. How can OrchardRoad recover its buzz? How can it becomeinviting and intriguing again—both asa local street, serving the communityand residents, and as an internationaldestination, competing with the iconicshopping districts of major global cities?From July 2016 to April 2017, CLCconducted a joint study of Orchard Roadwith architectural firm WOHA and theNational University of Singapore’sSchool of Design and Environment.The study came up with two big ideason the way forward.The first is to implement car-litemeasures to open up spaces for visitorson foot, shifting the paradigm fromvehicles to people, and from drivingto walking. The second is to increasethe depth and richness of OrchardRoad by connecting it to side lanesand neighbouring precincts, as well asactivating existing spaces along the streetto enhance the diversity of activities.Both of these ideas come down to oneword: experience.Michael Koh is a Fellow with the Centre for Liveable Cities. He was the former CEO of the NationalHeritage Board and the National Art Gallery, and Director of Urban Planning and Design at the UrbanRedevelopment Authority.
45essayParticipants flooded Orchard Roadto practise yoga on one of thePedestrian Night sessions in 2014.
“It is not just about shopping and retail.It also has to be about engaging thecommunity’s wide-ranging interests.To be exciting, Orchard Road has tocreate a new experience that is richer andmore vivid for visitors. It is not just aboutshopping and retail, although that remainsimportant. It also has to be about engagingthe community’s wide-ranging interests,and leaving a mark on the visitor indifferent ways throughout his or her visit.Car-Lite MeasuresCar-lite measures are important becausethey are often the trigger for bringingpeople and vibrancy back onto the streets.This has been true in a number of successfulexamples, such as CheonggyecheonStream in Seoul—where the flyover overa river was removed, and the area aroundthe stream was converted into an urbanpark—and Times Square-Broadwayin New York, where road space waspedestrianised. Oxford Street in Londonand George Street in Sydney are followingsuit, with plans to go car-free by 2020,because they have seen the benefits thatpedestrianisation brings in higher footfall,increased revenues for shops and a generalsense of energy and dynamism.A full or partial pedestrianisation ofstretches of Orchard Road will allowroad space to be transformed into public”open spaces such as linear parks, urbansquares and event plazas. Traffic calmingmeasures and more pedestrian crossingscan also make life more pleasant for thosewalking along the street. Trial 30-secondscramble walks at the junction of CairnhillRoad and Orchard Road took place onweekends and public holidays from 16December 2017 to 28 January 2018.Organised by the Orchard Road BusinessAssociation, the trial may be extended totwo other busy junctions if it is successful.Imagine reclaimed car lanes at TanglinRoad converted into a line of pavilionsand pop-up stalls, with playgrounds forchildren and benches for friends to simplysit and chat. Think about expanding thesemi-circular square at Ngee Ann Cityby reclaiming the road space, to create afocal point for the whole district to hostbigger festivals and events.Or how about a green corridor along thefull stretch of Orchard Road for a “Shop inthe Park” experience? This walking routecould connect Botanic Gardens to FortCanning, and could even be extended allthe way to Marina Bay, via the SingaporeRiver. This pathway could also loop back toDhoby Ghaut, with continuous shelteredwalkways and other improvements to thepedestrian experience.01 Parts of Sydney’s George Street reopened in December 2017, towards its vision of full pedestrianisation.02 Brisbane’s Queen Street has sheltered walkways that provide a pleasant shopping experience throughout the seasons.
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01Side streetsto connectattractionsUrbanattractionFarm-totable diningexperienceSETONCLOSESidewalkcafes“Orchard Road can bepositioned as a flagshipproject for Singapore’snational car-lite vision,exemplifying the benefitsof a more sustainableenvironment.”Beyond pedestrianisation, work also needsto be done to make the walking experiencemore pleasant in the hot and humid weather.This can be achieved through greenery,overhead shelters, fans or cool air blowers aswell as pavilions and rest stops.Will the pedestrianisation—even partially—ofOrchard Road lead to traffic jams? This isa valid concern. The CLC study examinedthis issue and found some mitigating01 A visual summary of the study’s suggestions for Orchard Road.factors. Through traffic can be diverted toother alternative roads leading to or fromthe Downtown Core, and these roads canbe upgraded or redesigned to cope withthe increased traffic. Local and rear serviceaccess roads are already present, making mostexisting developments along Orchard Roadreachable from side or rear streets. Mitigatingstrategies that tap these side streets can befurther studied through modelling studies.Non-car options can also be enhanced. Twomore MRT stations at Orchard and OrchardBoulevard will be part of the new ThomsonEast Coast line, which will result in a total oftwo major lines and five stations serving thedistrict. We can also introduce bicycle lanes, ortake inspiration from Sydney’s George Street,which is completing an electric, wire-free tramservice along the street to supplement postpedestrianisation travel options. Zhuzhouin China is also test-bedding a cost-efficient,trackless tram system.
ubatorsoadFormerSCGS termeventsFlashbangmarket/GluttonsSquareConsidered holistically, Orchard Road can bepositioned as a flagship project for Singapore’snational car-lite vision, exemplifying thebenefits of a more sustainable environmentand attractive, non-car mobility options.Boosting Depth and RichnessOne main issue identified in the joint studyis that Orchard Road faces a structural issueof being a one-way corridor that offers littlediversity, in terms of side street offerings anddepth of experience. Other than EmeraldHill with its roadside eateries at Somerset,In other cities, side streets in major visitorareas have resulted in longer visitor staysand better engagement. The diversity ofMelbourne’s side lanes and rich textureof local shops along the side streets atTokyo’s Omotesando allow for serendipitousdiscoveries and interesting diversions.Fortunately, there is much potential to increasethe depth of offerings at Orchard Road. Inthe Somerset area, there is Killiney Road, anattractive side street currently disconnectedfrom Orchard Road. A way of connecting thetwo could be by activating vacant state landbetween the two roads, opposite ComCentre.Imagine this as a permanent site for a creativemarket similar to Bangkok’s popular ArtBox,which attracted massive crowds in its April2017 Singapore debut.ISSUE 12 JAN 2018The implicit principle of going car-lite isthat roads should ultimately be seen as assetsbelonging to the city and all of its residents,not just to car owners. Therefore, if and whenit serves the public interest, the city shouldhave the courage to reclaim the road—orparts of it—for use by people on foot, not cars.there are few side streets that encouragesecondary exploration.
010301 Takeshita Street just off Omotesando in Tokyo gives pedestrians more reason to stay in the shopping district.02 Transformation of the old Singapore Chinese Girls’ School site can follow Hong Kong’s adaptive reuse ofthe former Police Married Quarters into a creative hub.
51essay02The existing surface carpark behindOrchard Building at Grange Roadhosted the Flashbang market over thefestive period in December 2017, and canalso be used as an event space to hostreintroductions of the former “GluttonsSquare”—a popular street dining venueback in the 1970s that was located in aneighbouring site.Parcellation of other vacant state landnear Orchard Road into smaller lots fortemporary uses can similarly draw crowds.This could add a layer of alternative startup type activities—with priority given toexperimental and experiential concepts.For example, the state land behind NgeeAnn City can be used for an experientialattraction on a short term basis.04Along Orchard Road, more can be doneto increase the diversity of activities,by creatively adapting, reusing andredeveloping existing spaces. For example,the current black and white bungalows atSeton Close can be converted into farmto-table restaurants, offering a new diningexperience at the start of Orchard Road.A new nature attraction can also beintroduced at the two vacant land parcelsin Dhoby Ghaut. This can take the formof an urban zoo or aviary, similar to WildLife Sydney Zoo, located at the heart ofDarling Harbour. With a proposed linkbridge to Fort Canning, this can form acluster of nature-themed attractions inthe area.At the other end of Orchard Road, at thenexus of Tanglin and Orchard, anotherurban attraction can be developed toattract crowds. It could take the formof an amusement ride such as the“Halo” free fall tower proposed for NewYork City’s Penn Station, or signaturearchitectural forms such as the urban follyor convertible culture centre at HudsonYards, also from New York.More sidewalk cafes can be introducedin spaces between buildings, such as thatbetween Ion Orchard and Wisma Atria,between Wisma Atria and Ngee Ann City,and between Tangs Plaza and Lucky Plaza.03 Hosting creative markets like Artbox could draw crowds to Orchard Road.04 Sidewalk cafes provide welcome spaces for shoppers to sit and people-watch.ISSUE 12 JAN 2018JTC Corporation, Singapore TourismBoard and SPRING Singapore recentlyannounced plans for Design Orchard tobe built at the junction of Cairnhill Roadand Orchard Road. Slated to complete inlate 2018, the development will featurea retail showcase for more than 60 localbrands, an incubation space for designersand a rooftop event space. This conceptcan be further reinforced by developing afashion incubator at the former SingaporeChinese Girls’ School (SCGS) site atthe nearby Emerald Hill Road, whenthe current lease expires. Access intothe former SCGS site will allow visitorsto stroll into the historic premises andwander farther afield, into Emerald Hill,and finally completing the loop back toOrchard Road.Together these experiences can expandthe depth of activities, give the street asense of identity and authenticity, andrejuvenate the experiential quality ofOrchard Road.
“Along Orchard Road, morecan be done to increase thediversity of activities, bycreatively adapting, reusing andredeveloping existing spaces.01”
53essay02Working Together and Testbeddingfor SuccessNone of these changes have to happenovernight. They can be testbedded toobserve how people adapt to the changesand be subsequently adjusted for greatereffectiveness, just like New York City didbefore the permanent road closures in theTimes Square area.The bottom line is: Orchard Road mustchange to remain attractive in the faceof competition from global shoppingdestinations, local suburban malls andonline retailers.The writer would like to thank the CLC researchteam and the following individuals for theirparticipation in the joint study:WOHA Architects:Wong Mun Summ, co-founderNational University of SingaporeSchool of Design and Environment:Gifford Zhang, Master of Architecture studentTessa Grace Kok, Year 4 studentLiu Meilan, Year 4 studentThe Suzin, Year 4 studentZachary Kho, Year 4 student01 An artist’s impression of Design Singapore, due to be built by end of 2018.02A cross-section studio drawing of the possible future of the area at the beginning of Orchard Road at Tanglin.ISSUE 12 JAN 2018For example, the car-lite measures canbe done over a month-long pilot period.The stretch of Orchard Road betweenOrchard MRT station and BidefordRoad, for instance, can be closed beyondjust one-night closures previously doneas part of Pedestrian Night on OrchardRoad in the 2015 and 2016 pilots, andbe supported with proper programmingand events. The month-long test wouldbe more realistic and give residents andvisitors a better sense of the benefitsor inconveniences of the change. Theextended pilot will allow for datagathering and analysis on how the trafficcopes, as well as changes in visitors’profiles, behaviour and retail expenditureduring the pilot.The government has been working closelywith stakeholders on this. A MinisterialSteering Committee jointly led by theMinistries of Trade and Industry, NationalDevelopment, and Transport was setup in September 2017 to study how torejuvenate Orchard Road. A public call fortender proposals for a business study onthe street by the Urban RedevelopmentAuthority and the Singapore TourismBoard was also done in December2017. With a common vision and anintegrated plan that includes input fromthe private sector, Singapore can graspthe opportunity to turn Orchard Road’scurrent challenges into an opportunity toreimagine a street for everyone.