The Rehabilitation of Ground Zero and the New Downtown: An Essay on the reconstruction of the World Trade Centre and the development of the New Downtown in Marina Bay

23 08 2007

In an earlier post I’ve mentioned the diametric differences between Singapore and New York, City of Cities. Not that I’m particularly enamoured with NY—its shortcomings are well-known, and in instances almost debilitating for the residents—but it serves as an apt comparison. Written for a past module on urban design, it thought I’d share it, rather than horde it to myself.

The catastrophic destruction of the World Trade Centre has left Lower Manhattan with an urban scenario that has not been seen in many years. Famously chaotic, the lazier faire development of New York City had been an urban planning nightmare. There is more in the way of zoning as opposed to specific and strategic planning of the urbanscape, and as Rem Koolhaas puts it there is a Culture of Congestion[1] in the Big Apple. Yet, in the wake of the massive destruction at Ground Zero, a worldwide design competition was held and the resulting urban proposals for the site were astounding. With all the big names from the international architecture fraternity somehow involved in offering schemes for improving the urban condition of Lower Manhattan, it is little wonder that the New York State is undertaking its largest urban renewal project in decades[2]. A memorial, a new transit station, 7 blocks of skyscrapers and a new tower that will more than double the original land area[3] in terms of commercial usage.

Yet, urban renewal at this scale is no stranger to a city like Singapore, where the Urban Renewal Authority is granted a heavy hand in acquiring property and doling out land leases[4]. Entire precincts are erased in the name of urban renewal and the modernisation of the city, and of what little are left, stringent regulations govern their usage. But before this statement is judged as an overtly harsh critique of what essentially is the urban reality in Singapore, it can be tempered with parallels being drawn with New York. While New York grew under the strength of its commerce, Singapore grew under the strength of its government. In both cities, very little of history remains, and like Singapore, places where there are regulations pertaining to historical buildings like those along Manhattan’s 5th Avenue, the rules are just as stringent as in Singapore. With the development of the New Downtown at the Marina Bay in Singapore, a new and unique opportunity is presented for us to examine the urban design and planning of the entire district, and whether it takes a different approach as the utopian Modernism that has very much exemplified the current Central Business District. Will it take a post-urbanist or zeitgeistic stance and try to introduce the notion of bayside city living as touted in URA’s mantra of Live, Work, Play?

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