Dec. 28 (NBD) -- Famous urban planning theorist Lewis Mumford once said, "The great city is the best organ of memory man has yet created."
Throughout its rise and fall, a city records the trajectory of a nation's development. It is also a complex organic entity with distinctive features. At the same time, because of its irreversible nature, it should be "cured" as soon as possible if it "gets sick".
Liu Thai Ker, who was known as Singapore's "master planner" and once highly praised by BBC for the public housing project he initiated, told NBD in an exclusive interview that all "urban diseases" could be "cured" with proper planning.
What's urban planning
NBD: In your opinion, what's the definition of urban planning?
Liu Thai Ker: Urban planning contains everything ranging from space and economy to transportation, and is a solution for complex matters. Simply put, a planning scheme for either mega cities or satellite towns should transform moving words and data into reasonable spatial layout and then a blueprint, in which every line and every color makes sense.
It is not mysterious, but takes hard work.
NBD: You had worked at both Singapore's Housing and Development Board and Urban Redevelopment Authority. During that period, the country experienced the process from growing out of nothing to working on improvements. Could you describe the change in concepts?
Liu Thai Ker: The Housing and Development Board drafted a plan for medium-scale development, while the Urban Redevelopment Authority combined all the experience accumulated in the past to make a 100-year master plan for 1991-2091, which still remains great as Singapore is a country with a small land area but a large population.
In my view, every city should come up with a long-term master plan. Just like a book writer, you should have an overall conception and always know what to write next when finishing the current chapter. A short-term plan cannot keep up with a city's growth.
Many Chinese cities are embracing this concept of far-sighted planning. For cities with a population of 7-8 million, such as Xi'an, Fuzhou, and Kunming, they should formulate a master plan for the next 50 to 60 years based on a estimated population of 12 million.
Fully understanding citizens' basic needs is an innovation
NBD: How to verify the rationality of a city's master plan? And how to implement the plan thoroughly?
Liu Thai Ker: In Singapore, the planning scheme is strictly protected by law and can't be altered at random, and will be rigidly enforced. Meanwhile, opinions from developers and other government agencies will be solicited and taken into consideration.
It is absolutely critical to thoroughly implement the blueprint. While encouraging cities to draft long-term master plans, I, personally, think it is of greater importance to work out proper plans.
Urban planning should first give priority to the current situation. Master planners need to transform the way of thinking and get a better understanding of the basic needs of urban residents, rather than simply pursuing innovation, so as to address "urban diseases" appropriately.
NBD: It was pointed out at the Central Urban Work Conference convened by Chinese government that people are the core of a city.
Liu Thai Ker: Yeah, people foremost. In fact, becoming fully aware of citizens' basic needs in daily life is a way to pursue innovation and follow the pattern of urban development.
NBD: How can master plan reflect a city's inclusiveness?
Liu Thai Ker: You cannot even find a sign of shanty town in Singapore, which on one hand should be attributed to the public housing project, and on the other hand, was due to the country's policy that allow people from all walks of life to blend in.
When building satellite towns, we only use 80 percent of the land, and the rest will be sold to commercial real estate developers. In such a way, we guarantee the high integration of groups of different incomes.
To realize the self-sufficiency of satellite towns, there must be an appropriate plan, and the development should accord with the rules of business operation.
Master planners must clearly understand the definitions of planning-related notions, including cities, satellite towns, and community with satellite towns.
Curing 'urban diseases' is a must-do to become global cities
NBD: Our cities undoubtedly encounter a series of problems like disordered expansion during the development. The current situation even aggravates the "urban diseases."
Liu Thai Ker: Apart from Singapore, China is the most suitable country to carry out master planning, enjoying an advantage over America and European countries. It has everything needed for planning. What it needs to do now is working out a proper master plan and put it under law-based governance.
NBD: How could cities map out great master plans?
Liu Thai Ker: First, go for competent professionals, and second, respect their professional opinions.
Governments need to listen to different parties to bring substantial benefits to citizens. A favorable environment will give professionals enough freedom to explore and act out.
NBD: Many cities are on track to build themselves global cities. How could they achieve their goal through master planning? What kind of architecture should global cities establish?
Liu Thai Ker: Goals like global cities and livable cities are great. A good city is one that wins the hearts of its citizens. Master planning is to provide varied options to all social groups.
Each planning scheme should be designed to cure "urban diseases" to build a global city.
There is no universally applicable concept for master planning. Anyhow, the master plan must be developed to bring tangible benefits to the city.