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  Business Times 8 Mar 07
Singapore beckons the water way
Republic is turning its network of reservoirs and rainwater canals into areas for water sports, walking and cycling

(SINGAPORE) WATER. For years, Singapore has taken a utilitarian view of it. Great for shipping, good for rinsing semiconductors. But for fun? No way. Now all that is changing.

As manufacturing jobs seep away to low-cost China, Singapore realises it needs to create an appealing cityscape in order to attract foreigners - as tourists, bankers and scientists who can drive its economic overhaul.

In the past few years, the Singapore River quays - long dominated by shophouses and derelict warehouses - have been transformed into one long entertainment strip, from Boat Quay at the river mouth all the way to newly developed Robertson Quay.

Last year, Clarke Quay and its bars, clubs and restaurants got a makeover, the traditional shophouses painted in pastel colours and terraces covered by huge lily pad-shaped canopies blowing cool air to provide relief from the tropical heat. 'It's like Barcelona, Amsterdam or Rome, but with spring weather and an Asian flavour,' said Gerald Molles, a Frenchman who has lived in Singapore for three years, referring to the dining and entertainment experience along the Singapore River.

The transformation continues to move upstream, not only with bakeries and bars, but also a stretch of new luxury riverside housing projects now under construction. 'They are developing condos all along the waterfront, along the river, or facing the sea. People want an apartment with a water view,' said Bee Bee Tan, a property agent.

Cityfront lake

The government said last month it wants to move beyond upgrading its river quays, and plans to turn its network of water reservoirs and rainwater canals into public areas for water sports, walking and cycling.

'In the past, we protected our water resources by keeping people away from them. Now, we will bring people closer to water so that they will enjoy and cherish it more,' Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

A new dam across Marina Bay will cut the river off from the sea, creating a cityfront lake for water sports. The reservoir will be ready for use by 2009, along with a US$3.2 billion casino and a 170 metre high ferris wheel.

Singapore also plans to redevelop its eastern coastline, one of the few places where residents can actually get to the sea. With its man-made beaches and the many tankers and other ships anchored in front, the east coast is a far cry from, say, Phuket, Thailand, but the 20-km long East Coast Park has become a popular spot for cycling, roller blading and barbecuing.

While nobody is calling Singapore the Venice of the East, it is one of the few cities in Asia to turn to the water. Unlike Paris, London and a string of smaller European cities which have invested millions of dollars to line their river quays with boardwalks, cafes and art venues, most of Asia sees little use for the Western concept of a promenade by the water.

Bangkok's magnificent Chao Phraya river is lined with hotels, temples and restaurants, and used by thousands of commuters every day. But don't go looking for a boardwalk.

Hong Kong is known for shrinking its famous harbour through land reclamation, and while Tokyo has the waterfront Odaiba complex in Tokyo Bay, the city faces away from its waterways, with many of its river banks covered in concrete.

Korea's capital Seoul has managed to revitalise its waterways. Former mayor and current presidential hopeful Lee Myung-bak cleaned up the Chonggyechon stream in 2003, after the 10-km long river disappeared under concrete and an overhead highway during the city's rapid development. The US$350 million cleanup has drawn some 40 million visitors to the stream in about two years, according to media reports. - Reuters

Related articles on Singapore: water issues and the Putting a price on nature in Singapore
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