The rivers of Southeast Asia have crossed paths with urban developments taking place in recent times. Some projects went as planned, while others failed. Some were locked in controversies or shrouded in doubts.
/// ASEAN ///
Story: Oliver Lao
– SINGAPORE –
Let’s get started with Singapore. The estuary of the Kallang River originally was home to indigenous people, who had inhabited this waterfront area long before the advent of the Colonial era. The Kallang is also the island state’s longest river. Singapore began an ambitious project to restore the Kallang ecosystem to its natural vitality in 2006. It was implemented in conjunction with another project known as the “Park Connector Network.”
The Park Connector Network is about intertwining all recreational trails scattered across the island into one mutually accessible system. It started out in the watershed area known as Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and was completed in 2012. The park itself underwent massive updates. To facilitate the flow of water run-offs from nearby high elevations, the concrete embankments previously raised as a fortification were removed. In the process the natural waterway was expanded and garden areas were added to the landscape. People now have access to more recreational spaces. And the project wins over the hearts of many. The amalgamated development plan was the brainchild of Atelier Dreiseitl.
Meantime, the Kallang estuary also saw several mega projects take place, resulting in more beautiful landscape and cleaner water supplies. Green spaces were added to give people more recreational choices, including water sports, floating decks, garden passageways, rest areas, and more room being set aside for real estate development projects.
– MALAYSIA –
Malaysia also puts a high value on waterfront developments. While Singapore downtown is located at a river estuary, Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur sits at a confluence where the Gombak and the Klang rivers merge into one. The famed Jamek Mosque now stands on the ground where the capital city was founded. Nearby is another landmark called Central Market. For more than ten years, efforts at sprucing up the waterfront area haven’t been successful. It became difficult to make the area smart and neat after the socially disadvantaged had moved in and camped out on the walkway that was meant to be a new city landmark. Over time the area has become unsightly and littered with waste – quite the opposite of what the development project was intended.
In 2011 the government of Selangor, one of the 13 states of Malaysia, launched a campaign to revive the rundown waterfront area. Known as “River for Life,” the project did away with the concrete walkway and opened up the entire riverfront by adding plenty of green spaces to the area. Meantime, water treatment plants were put in to improve water quality. It reached out to connect with people in the area and provided recreational facilities that they needed. In redeveloping the waterfront land, the Malaysians got their inspirations from two good examples — the Kallang River project in Singapore, and the Cheonggyecheon project in Korea.
The nearby old market will soon become Kuala Lumpur’s new food and drink hub. Plans are afoot to put in nice restaurants with panoramic views of the river landscape. It is hoped that the complete makeover will attract more tourists and locals to the area. The effort includes improvements in the rampart so that people have easy access the clean river. Other attractions are retail shops, public parks, pathway, bike trails, office buildings, and residential homes. The complete landscape makeover will cover the entire 10.7-kilometer stretch of riverfront land, from Sentul to Seputch. It is the brainchild of KL City Hall’s Physical Planning Department.
– THAILAND –
Meanwhile in Bangkok, Thailand, the Chao Phraya that runs through it is about to see a new landmark take shape. Nonetheless it is not clear which direction the new project is taking while its future is shrouded in ambiguity, not to mention doubts. Originally the plan started out as a concrete road alongside the Chao Phraya before it faced opposition. Then it got changed to a riverside bike trail. Prior to that, opposition groups had raised questions concerning the impacts written in the project’s terms of reference, which envisaged a new route running a seven-kilometer stretch on both sides of the Chao Phraya. Capable of supporting motor vehicle traffic, its width would extend 19.5 meters into river spaces. Opposed by a group called “Friends of the River” and the architectural profession, the Government decided to postpone implementing the project and tasked the King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang and KhonKaen University to do an impact study. The study group had seven months to complete the task.
Indeed the master plan was not only revised. It also incorporated a new architectural feature called “Landmark Chao Phraya.” The proposed piece of architecture was strikingly similar to the Crystal Island, a masterpiece by Sir Norman Foster in Russia. It soon became a hot issue, which left the project vulnerable to heavy attack across the online world. A design consultant said it was a coincidence. Eventually the proposed piece of architecture was withdrawn from the revised master plan.
It came as a surprise that such a big project on the bank of the Chao Phraya was having an issue having to do with form to begin with. This perhaps was an indication of top-down approaches to public space developments. In contrast, a smaller master plan for waterfront developments in Charoenkrung (formerly New Road) area recently won a highly commended award in the World Architecture Festival in Berlin, thanks to its reaching out and collaborating with the community. No doubt there was a stark difference between the two approaches to public space developments.