Singapore a success story in urban planning, says former HDB CEO

Romesh Navaratnarajah8 Nov 2017

Singapore traffic

View of rush hour traffic in Singapore.

Singapore’s former master planner Dr Liu Thai Ker said the city-state is a success story in urban planning due in part to strong government support.

Speaking to attendees on Tuesday (7 November) at PropertyGuru’s Asia Real Estate Summit held at Marina Bay Sands, he noted that despite its small land area (719 sq km), Singapore is subdivided into five regions and 20 towns.

“Without the subdivisions, all traffic would come to the Central Business District. But with subdivisions, some of the traffic goes to the regional centres and new towns.”

As such, Singapore has been able to avoid serious traffic problems, even with a high-density population, he said.

But there are huge challenges facing urban planners in other parts of Asia as the continent houses 60 percent of the world’s population on 30 percent of its land, revealed Liu, adding that there is a 50 percent rate of rural to urban migration.

“We need to rethink the approach to urban planning,” said Liu who feels that less attention is being placed on design compared to innovation, a field that’s seen as more glamorous.

“Design should come first and be enhanced by technology. You must first try to understand the basic human needs which haven’t changed for centuries. When you have this, then you create a design to meet today’s needs, but the design must (also meet) future standards.”

He explained that intelligent urban planning requires three elements – the right value, a scientific head and an artistic eye.

Without science, there would be floods, air pollution and traffic jams, while having an artistic eye puts “feeling” into the project, he said.

Liu was previously the CEO of the Housing and Development Board and saw the completion of over half a million public housing units.

He was also chief planner and CEO of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, where he led the major revision of the Singapore Concept Plan 1991.


Romesh Navaratnarajah, Senior Editor at PropertyGuru, wrote this story. To contact him about this or other stories, email


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