A proposal to pedestrianize the urban core
Singapore has an immensely beautiful urban core, consisting of a mix of handsome colonial masterpieces and imposing modern skyscrapers. However, the urban core is also greatly fragmented due to vehicular traffic, making it extremely inaccessible on foot.
As a result, the urban core is connected by a series of underpasses and MRT stations. Many gems such as Empress Place and Princess Elizabeth Walk are also hidden despite being so close to the main thoroughfare. Therefore, this post will look at possible design changes that will make the urban core more pedestrian friendly, and create more public spaces for enjoyment.
Before the massive developments of Marina Bay in the last decade, the Singapore River/ Boat Quay area used to be the heart of all the tourist activity. Esplanade Park and Queen Elizabeth Walk used to face the see, and throughout the day, visitors will be milling around on the promenade to enjoy the sea breeze. Empress Place was a stately location that housed the various government offices, while the Merlion was perched on his pedestal next to the Fullerton boathouse.
Circa 1958 – Empress Place: Heart of all Activity
However, all that changed with the land reclamations that started in the 1970s. Esplanade Park no longer faces the sea, instead, it faces the busy, 8 lane Esplanade Drive, the Esplanade Theaters, and the Esplanade Bridge. Gone were the crowds, and Esplanade Park became a quite, almost forgotten spot. The construction of the Esplanade Bridge also obstructed the view of the Merlion, and it had to be moved to its present spot in 2002.
Empress Place became isolated from the main visitor thoroughfare due to the increase vehicular traffic on Esplanade Drive, which blocked pedestrian access to the green lawn before the Asian Civilizations Museum and Victoria Theater. The only way for visitors to access Empress Place became from Raffles Place MRT.
The promenade in front of the UOB building used to be a popular spot for visitors to have a view of the Boat Quay area, but it has decreased in popularity due to the construction of Marina Bay, which drew tourists away from the Singapore River section. Boat Quay has also been decreasing in popularity, as it became notorious for the expensive “touristy” restaurants. Many restaurants in the area do not even have clearly labeled prices. Locals generally avoid the Boat Quay area.
The Esplanade Bridge, constructed in 1997, spans the mouth of the Singapore River, between the Merlion Park and the Esplanade Theater. However, this visually heavy bridge also forms a physical barrier between Marina Bay and Singapore River, cutting off the visual continuity between these two key areas in Singapore’s urban core. The heavy arches of this bridge destroyed the sightlines from the Singapore River to the Marina Bay. Prior to its construction, one could see Marina South when standing on the banks of the Singapore River, thus visually connecting these two areas, and bringing visitors from area on to the other. However, current visitor traffic is centered on Marina Bay, and we rarely see visitors crossing under the Esplanade Bridge on either banks of the river to get to the Singapore River/ Boat Quay area.
Esplanade Bridge – Visually Oppressive
Thus, this author proposes the tunnelization of Esplanade Drive, so as to pedestrianize the entire section and provide visual continuity from Singapore River to Marina Bay. By brining Esplanade Drive underground, this will remove the physical barrier between Esplanade Theaters and Esplanade Park, thus encouraging visitors in the Marina Bay area to walk into the Singapore River section. Esplanade Park will once again face the open Bay area, and the views of Marina Bay Sands from the promenade should be spectacular.
Fullerton Road will also be brought underground, hence creating a substantial public green space in Empress Place that spans from the Esplanade Park to the Asian Civilizations Museum. Coupled with the increased visitor numbers from the National Art Gallery, Empress Place complex will be revitalized.
St Andrew’s road will be made two-way so that Connaught Drive can be pedestrianized. This will join up the Padang with the Esplanade Park, thus creating a physical continuity from the Esplanade Theaters, through Esplanade Park, to the Padang.
View of tunnel beneath Singapore River
The area between Fullerton Hotel, One Fullerton and the Merlion Park is now a heavy 8-lane road, which intersects with Fullerton Road, thus creating a physical barrier for visitors to walk between the areas. By removing Esplanade Road and Fullerton Road, this area will be freed up, and visitors will be able to walk on the historic Anderson Bridge to get from Fullerton to Empress Place.
A pedestrian bridge, similar to the Double Helix Bridge on the other side of the Marina Bay, will be built on the spot of the Esplanade Bridge. This bridge will be visually minimal, so as not to disrupt the visual continuity from Marina Bay to Esplanade park.
The economic benefits from this project will be huge, as we will see the revitalization of the entire Esplanade – Padang – Empress Place – Fullerton – Singapore River area. Businesses along the entire stretch will benefit from the increased pedestrian traffic. Furthermore, the pedestrianization of Esplanade Road and Fullerton Road will free up approximately 44,000 sq meters of road space, bringing the total public pedestrian green space in the area to 105,417 square meters, which is almost 2.5 times the size of the Padang.
The Esplanade – Padang – Empress Place – Fullerton – Singapore River area will become historic heart of the urban core. With the renovation of the Old Supreme Courts, the City Hall, and the Victoria Theater, as well as the existing Arts House (Old Parliament House), Asian Civilizations Museum, and the Fullerton Heritage (Fullerton Hotel, The Boathouse, One Fullerton) this area at the traditional mouth of the Singapore River will be the cultural epicenter.
A Artistic Rendering by URA – URA’s plan for Empress Place is similar, but less ambitious than the one presented above