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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

S’pore urban planners building reputations abroad

SINGAPORE: He started as an urban planner with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 1991. But Leow Kim Guan, 49, had designs on more than Singapore. He now has his own booming company, building whole cities in China.

Leow, who set up SCP Consultants as a one-man company in 2004, now has 40 employees in its Singapore office and 230 in China, and has notched up 307 urban-planning projects.

He enthuses: “There are many developing countries looking to have properly planned cities or towns. The market for urban planners is so big.”

His is one of a number of Singaporean companies making their mark building cities abroad. Foreign governments and companies from South America to Russia, on the lookout for skilled urban planners, are beating a path to their doors.

It turns out that modern Singapore, with its 46 years of building a gleaming, efficient and eminently liveable city-state, with industrial and business parks and carefully planned suburban neighbourhoods, has been an ideal environment for urban planners to take that know-how and vision to the world.

Some urban planners, such as Leow, started out in their own backyard in Singapore working for government agencies such as the URA and Housing Board, planning suburban neighbourhoods. Others began in the planning units of private companies whose main business was in a related field.

Now, their achievements are being celebrated in an exhibition at the URA Centre in Maxwell Road until June 1.

Images and photographic panels of overseas projects by six local urban planning companies, including SCP Consultants, DP Architects and Jurong Consultants, are on display.

Djoko Prihanto, senior vice-president at Surbana Urban Planning Group, also one of the six companies, said having the Singapore stamp gave local companies an advantage on the international playing field.

He said: “Companies and governments who have come here see for themselves how the city is planned. They have strong confidence that we can pull it off successfully.”

Nina Yang, an executive director at CPG Consultants and the master planner for the eastern catchment of Singapore and the media park in one-north, said Singapore was a “textbook example” for other countries to see how their cities or towns could look like.

“For most of the planning work that we do overseas, Singapore offers wonderful built examples for study.”

She added that this made for a powerful selling tool that helped clients make informed decisions.

And with five billion people expected to live in cities by 2030, the need for urban planners particularly those with the coveted Singapore “branding” can only increase.

With the business of designing cities hitting new heights, Leow, for one, was hoping to expand his company.

The snag? He is having trouble finding Singaporean planners to join his team. “I want my planners to be familiar with Singapore's practices. But the planners' pool here is already so small that even if I want to expand, I may not be able to find the right person.”

Even a successful city has its limits, it seems.

By The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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