The revamped Civic District presents the heartbeat of Singapore’s history, architecture and culture.
BY MELANIE LEE
Published on 16 February 2016
BY MELANIE LEE
One of the lasting hallmarks of last year’s SG50 celebrations is a more vibrant Civic District, designed for people to appreciate Singapore’s history, architecture and culture. After all, the precinct is the epicentre of this country’s modern beginnings, and it is here you’ll find government buildings, museums, performance venues, parks, art installations and of course, the iconic Singapore River.
Given that the last Master Plan for the Civic District was developed in the 1980s, this area had been long due for a revamp. Last February, a visioning workshop by the National Arts Council (NAC) and the National Parks Board was organised for the precinct stakeholders from both public and private sectors. From these discussions, the Civic District was envisioned to be a place of history, heritage, arts and culture; a place that strikes balance between solemnness and vibrancy; and a green environment providing respite from the hustle and bustle of the financial and retail belts surrounding the Civic District.
Plans were soon underway to spruce up the Civic District in time for Singapore’s 50th birthday. A total of S$740 million was set aside for this exercise. In June 2015, NAC also appointed an agency to rebrand the Civic District so that it would have a more coherent visual identity with a logo, lamp-post banners and digital screens.
Lawrence Wong, who was then the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, said in Parliament in response to this ambitious budget, “It’s an important investment in our heritage, to remind us of the common history that unites us as nation.”
One of the main strategies to make the Civic District come alive is to create more pedestrian areas and green spaces so this area becomes a walkable park. In fact, the Urban Redevelopment Authority is planning to launch a monthly “car-free Sunday” in some parts of the Civic District from February 28 onwards so that there will be more opportunities for Singaporeans to go cycling, jogging and walking around the city.
Beginning last December, the roads around the Padang, Asian Civilisations Museum, Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, National Gallery Singapore, Empress Place and Esplanade Park were pedestrianised and linked together. A new Empress Place lawn was built in front of the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, with eight mature rain trees being transplanted there to frame and shade this new outdoor venue. Phone-charging benches and night lighting were also added to enhance visitor experience.
Even strolling along the Singapore River has become a much more reflective experience. Waterfront steps have been built so people can stop for a break and admire the view, while a series of stone and steel sculptures, reinterpreting national symbols by local artists Han Sai Por and Kum Chee Kiong, have been installed to bring art closer to Singaporeans.
Currently, Esplanade Park is being spruced up with a new children’s playground. The park has also been adorned with five transplanted angsana trees as a way to recreate a spot popular with young lovebirds during the 1960s to 1980s dubbed gor zhang chiu kar, which means “under the five trees” in Hokkien. The original trees were cut down in the 1990s due to a fungal disease outbreak.
This attention to detail shows the level of commitment involved in making the Civic District a more engaging precinct for Singaporeans and tourists. Wrote the then- Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan on his blog, “We are putting a lot of thought and passion into the rejuvenation of the Civic District. We want an integrated art, culture and lifestyle precinct set in a lush, green environment.”
LET LOVE GROW Five angsana trees were transplanted to Esplanade Park to recreate a romantic spot popular in the 1960s. PHOTOS Urban Redevelopment Authority
GO WITH THE FLOW The stepped plazas along the edge of the Singapore River allow visitors to stop and enjoy waterfront views.
While Civic District developments are expected to be completed only by the end of the year, there’s still plenty to discover (or re-discover) about this area. The best way to get started is to embark on the Jubilee Walk trail, an 8km route that showcases past, present and future elements of Singapore. It starts at the National Museum of Singapore and ends at the Marina Barrage, covering over 20 important spots such as Fort Canning Park, Parliament House and Helix Bridge.
When walking along the Jubilee Walk trail, stay on track by looking out for gold SG50 markers lining the pavement. There are also signs providing information on the significance of each landmark you pass. For more details, download the trail guide map and booklet from the National Heritage Board website (www.nhb.gov.sg). The tech-savvy can install the free Time Walk App (created by Google as a present for Singapore’s 50th birthday), which allows users to point their smartphone cameras towards certain Civic District landmarks to pull up information, archival images and animations for an interactive history lesson.
As more Singaporeans become better acquainted and more attached to this revitalised Civic District, it is our hope that this precinct will be the heart of where the Singapore soul continues to flourish.