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5 Things to Learn from Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park

I love Urban Rejuvenation projects, they give the juice of creative and well being more significantly than the green building industry, simply because you need a well-integrated community to work things out, and previously I have mentioned before that Green Buildings only, truly perform when there is social integration or well-being in placed. Previously I wrote on 5 reasons on praising New York High Line, but I was never in New York to observe that urban rejuvenation masterpiece that has won NY in winning the LeeKuanYew World City Prize 2012.

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But I am totally thrilled to pen this down when the experience I had with the park redefined my understanding and expectations of how much a park can offer. I took a weekend down to Singapore as usual, to wander around observing the new developments. Accompanied by a Brompton, I spent the 2 days cycling around the CBD, Kallang and Bishan area, one of the highlights is the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park, in which I spent half day strolling around.

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The Bishan – Ang Mo Kio Park, as the name has suggested, is located between Bishan and Ang Mo Kio and it is along the perimeter of Sungai Kallang River. At 62 hectares, it is one of the largest popular parks in Singapore. The park was constructed in 1988, but during October of 2009, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the uplifting works of the park, which was initiated by PUB Public Utility Board and NParks National Parks.  The idea is to transform the park and concrete canal then into an integrated community shared space.

Atelier Dreseitl was engaged as the designer and CH2M Hill came in as the engineer.  This park is an exciting achievement for many, because it’s the pilot project for soil bioengineering in a public park and the stepping stone for many framework which will be described later. It is an idealised micro-environment, deliberately employing viewpoints that gaze over romantic vistas created by the contours of the landforms, the existing treescape, the banks of reeds and grasses, the placement of rock formations and most overtly by the course of the river itself. It is a pastoral landscape and its ‘back to nature’ intentions have been reinforced by nature itself, as the park has been quickly colonised by wildlife and wildflowers. Here’s a time lapse video.

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Before and After. Most of the landscape seems untouched.

So what is really fascinating about this park? Is it only because it is a successful transformation program or that is just the stepping stone for other greater things? Is it because of its numerous awards such as the Landscape of The Year by World  Architecture Festival 2012?  Coming from the point of a Malaysian knowing how parks are designed, used and maintained in Malaysia, there are much more to learn from here besides the design aspect of it that made it a great teacher. These are the 5 things i identified from Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park.

5 THINGS TO LEARN FROM BISHAN – ANG MO KIO PARK

1) THE HARDWARE – SPATIAL PLANNING

The first experience i concluded after a half day strolling around the park is the spatial planning design. It has a very good geographical expression which respects functionality of spaces. Both forms and functions seems coincide together well enough to suggest different activities for different age groups. It’s interesting to note how the massing of the landscape gives each area of this park a different experience. As you may see from the brochure from NParks below, there are actually 2 parks in Bishan – Ang Mo Kio park with a main road separating them in between. One of them is River Plains, and another is Pond Gardens, you would realize that each point on the map will offer you a different environment as there is a different mixture of landscape and waterscape zones throughout the 62 hectares.

River Plains_Bishan Park_LRes_(1) Pond Gardens_Bishan Park_LRes_(1)Here is another image from NPark showing the plan view. Interestingly you will notice the shape of the park itself offers a different angle of sight throughout the park. Also to add on, i notice that the elevation plays a dramatic role in the river plains section where there is a larger empty void of turf. The emphasis of design for pond gardens focuses more on the ponds where the biofiltration feature is located too.AerialMapTo further illustrate on the horizontal spatial planning,  these images from Atelier Dreisietl explains further. The before and after image shows there are more interaction spaces between the softscape and waterscape when the concrete drainage channel is taken away and being replaced by the bioengineered river. People are no longer needed to face the river barrier but is invited to step into the clean filtered water during non or low rain season.

BishanPark3 This image also shows that instead of having a straight drainage channel, the efficiency of space interaction with waterscape increases when you introduce them into further into the plains or just bring them around. BishanPark2

To take on the spatial planning aspect into detail, this is an example of the ground level images. Being one of the largest parks, this park also invites in activities such as cycling. With respect to the zoning of cycling and pedestrian, note the different in finishes texture of the images below.

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As a cyclist, my preference would definitely to continue on the flat finishes route instead of the tiled surface, due to the simple reason of avoiding uneven surface when you cycle. This is practical as there is pedestrian who might want to be in a “safe zone” without cyclist speeding through them. Meanwhile, the >1.8 meters width of the pathway is definitely sufficient for two flow traffic, and in most area, they are actually very generous to the users, usually around 3 meters.

Then next, at the river plains we have Dog Run. As the name has suggested itself, a place for dogs to run, freely. It’s quite a refreshing sighting actually to see owners bringing their dogs in and unleashing the dogs to their ‘freedom’, of course in an enclosed fencing area. Signage and water amenity are provided too.

dogrun

Following up on the spatial planning, the picture above was in River Plains, the image below is taken from the lotus garden near the north end of pond gardens. As seen here, it is largely dense and offers more privacy due to elevation setting. Also, benches are sufficient all around both the parks.

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As we could see that the lotus garden perhaps would be a hang out spot for the elderly, then beside we have something for the young. There are 3 playgrounds around this park, namely Bubble playground, Adventure playground and Water playground. This is adventure playground, where they are not your average plastic prefab playground. It’s quite interesting to note the materials used in this playground and suspect if they are 100% reused from the left over uplifting works from the park. As for the vision security planning for a kids park, of course, the area is widely opened.

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Then the main feature of the pond gardens is situated here, the cleansing biotope which cleans water from the adjacent pond and the river. They consist of carefully selected plants in a filter medium to cleanse the water by filtering pollutants and absorbing nutrients. Another interesting note about space planning besides massing is the detail and coloring of the environment. In here, we see how the interesting arrangement of plants capture the detail of the biofiltration system, it’s a different user experience as they transit into this zone and walk on the wood plank bridges.

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Then beside this is located the new water playground which was designed specially for users to interact with water. The water for this playground is supplied by cleansed pond water that came from the biofiltration mentioned and also undergone an ultraviolet UV treatment to eliminate harmful biological contaminants. Here, we see a different environment with hardscape and water elements. It is a built environment that offers kids imagination that they can think of with the various organic shape structures in this area.

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This is actually the first public water playground I have ever seen, it is different from the water park in KLCC public park, the reason being is that it is very educational. Note on the design aspects that invite children to experiment water physic. The entire water playground is designed to fall to an edge, where water can be stopped at various exit points through various spring assisted gates, that children can push it to stop the water. The best of all is that the water is assured to be clean, i have seen children really enjoying the experience, it makes a great family outing!

Bishan to blogOn the amenity level, here’s an example of the restrooms with a vending machine and shower rooms.
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With the pictures as illustration above, i think that the spatial design in this park is well designed to enhance the diversity in experience as you walk through the park, as opposed to the conventional playground/park we find in Malaysia that comes with same prefab playground sets. That’s for the Hardware. If you would like to view the full collection of pictures, kindly view my photo collection HERE.

2) THE SOFTWARES – THE ACTIVITIES

While Form is important, function is as equivalent significant to ensure a public place is made to be a space for everyone. This mode of catalyst for such effort can be seen via social media or physical events itself. As Singapore has a high penetration rate >90%  for smartphone owners, NParks and PUB have been working their ways via social media and smartphone app. Perhaps it’s quite a frequent place to check in and get rewarded eh? Another interesting finding is to see the pledge to care board where it listed up all the organizations/schools pledge to care for the river. I find that as a motivating finding that ensures one that there are communities who take this park as part of them.

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Also i spotted this “Events” board around the park. The upcoming events/activities will be posted up from time to time. More illustration from the picture below. However i am not really sure if the app and social media approaches are returning the investment though, but it is an appropriate strategy to reach out to the public.

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NParks mobile parks app at publicity.

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3) MORE THAN A PARK – BIOFILTRATION, PCN , EDUCATION-

So the question all comes down to, what is a Park? If you are going to look from the current practice in Malaysia, the current guidelines for Malaysia’s park are still around the topic of Aesthetics, Security, and Neighbourhood locality identity, overall it is still largely in the talks of Forms rather than Functionality.The SIZE of a PARK matters. With the typical size of 3 acres or less, the Neighbourhood parks in Malaysia can see a significant disadvantage when it comes to functionality varieties. I would prefer a high-density Neighbourhood with a larger park, illustrations as below.

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This is because then the dedication to the single large park will be more intensified and more commitment and functionality can be created, New York Central Park is already a good example. Say for example, in this case, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park is surrounded by high-rise HDB flats, and having a space of almost 150 hectares, here are what made it different.

A) Soil Bioengineering – One unique feature of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park again is that it is an integrated waterscape park. Rather than using the concrete canal design system, this bioengineering technique, which is a combination of vegetation, natural materials, and civil engineering techniques) to stabilize the river banks and prevent erosion is the first in Singapore.  There are seven techniques deployed with selective species of plants in this park.

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Another remarkable effort by Nparks is to have these technical explanations laid out in the park itself, below are some photos I have taken from the site.
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B) Cleansing Biotope- Well if you remember back the concept of filtering water through a layer of sands and pebbles, this can be illustrated almost like it. Cleansing biotopes are the natural water treatment concept that consist of carefully selected plants which helps to cleanse the water by absorbing the nutrients, while the different soil layers act as the filter medium. As you can see from the site pictures below, various plants are used for its different absorbing properties.

Biofiltration

I am not too sure of the landscape species details, though. But allow me to extract an explanatory from wiki:

Theoretically, wastewater treatment within a constructed wetland occurs as it passes through the wetland medium and the plant rhizosphere. A thin film around each root hair isaerobic due to the leakage of oxygen from the rhizomesroots, and rootlets.Aerobic and anaerobic micro-organisms facilitate decomposition of organic matter. Microbial nitrification and subsequent denitrification releases nitrogenas gas to the atmospherePhosphorus is coprecipitated with ironaluminium, and calcium compounds located in the root-bed mediumSuspended solids filter out as they settle in the water column in surface flow wetlands or are physically filtered out by the medium within subsurface flow wetland cells. Harmful bacteria and viruses are reduced by filtration and adsorption by biofilmson the rock media in subsurface flow and vertical flow systems.

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Among the significant contaminants removed are Nitrogen, organic nitrogen, and ammonia, things that benefit the plant growth but not to fresh water biodiversity population, for more info, please read the extremely long detailed explanatory HERE. So there you have, the cleansing biotope located at upstream filters the water coming from Kallang River.

Here is another illustration from Wiki on how it may work.

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C) Natural Retention Floodplain – One important aspect when it comes to Urban design is storm water management. Assuming in the case of heavy down pour in an urban area like Singapore, the major hardscape cover will result in low ground penetration for water, thus inducing a lot of surfaces run off and proper drainage system is needed to prevent flooding.

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The riverbank acts as a retention basin during heavy rain, as it is capable of holding a significantly larger amount of water as the improvised design has enabled a larger volume of water to be held compared to the old concrete canal. Below is a video to illustrate the scenario of heavy down pour.

But bear in mind that retention basin is significantly different compared to detention basin or infiltration basin. Detention functions as a store for storm water after a storm and slowly release it at a controlled rate to prevent flooding at the down stream. While infiltration basin is designed to direct storm water to groundwater through permeable soils.

And saying so, you would think that the flood plain is a risky place to be during heavy down pour, that is why you have warning /safety features as such.

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D) Park Connector Network- PCN – Another great initiative by Nparks is also reflected. The story of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park is more than the park itself, it is part of the connector network initiated by Nparks. NParks is responsible for the management of over 300 parks and the streetscape. There are all different hierarchy and diversity of parks, the PCN serves as a network that connects these green spaces together.  This is a snapshot taken from one of the boards in Bishan park.

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The Nparks first proposed Park Connector Network (PCN) in 1992 was designated as recreation options for Singaporeans. 300km of park connectors were targeted to be developed in 30 years time. The park connectors were initially planned to abut the drainage reserves, water bodies connecting the national, regional and local parks, but eventually, the PCN was routed along other places due to land availability. Then the coastal area is also linked together and all these provided great access to recreational spots for Singaporeans. Further details can be read from this journal.

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Above is an illustration of the PCN, and below is a YouTube video recording of the cycling experience on the PCN. I have personally tried it myself, and I would say it’s a satisfying experience (but I cycle mostly off the PCN as I realize PCN is planned as a recreational path rather than a routine commuter route for bicycle)

E) Education Outreach – As the different parks become a public shared space, there is indeed a good outreach program executed to allow the users to understand their common spaces better. I personally think this is crucial as it will draw the users or surrounding neighborhood closer to the shared space and being more responsible towards it. I acknowledged this is successful because during my visit there was actually local residents cleaning up the dried leafs that are blocked by drain grills!

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Some of the information boards at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park. There are various on going framework and policies being displayed here as well in the park. besides that then you have biodiversity information and some truly educational experimental project such as the solar panels floating on the pond! Though I personally think that Nparks can do even more by labeling all the plant species names around the parks, since they already have a comprehensive biodiversity database at HERE.

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4) A CRUCIAL PHYSICAL LANDMARK FOR DIFFERENT FRAMEWORKS

If we are to look into the bigger picture, more than the park itself, the physical feature and community that revolves around it, this park indeed has been a pilot project for various national framework. It is pretty much the same as the case of Malaysia’s national physical plan with the idea of central forest spine. Among of the frameworks that i can identify, not limited to the following but are:

A) ABC Water Projects – There are 20 successful ABC Waters projects around the island to date. Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park is one of the earliest project as a stepping stone in this framework. In the next 10 to 15 years, over 100 ABC Waters proposals have been identified for implementation. These are guided by an island-wide ABC Waters Master Plan unveiled in 2007. The main objective of such framework is to develop the water bodies beyond their functional use as resources for water collection, storage and drainage into vibrant, clean and aesthetically pleasing lifestyle attractions where recreational and communal bonding activities can take place.

ABC stands Active Beauty and Clean, developed by PUB, the ABC Waters Design Guidelines provide a reference to developers and industry professionals on how to implement environmentally sustainable green features or ABC Waters design features in their developments. Following is the guideline which you could scroll through for a look.

Click HERE to read more about ABC Water Guidelines

B) City In A Garden CIAG – The vision of becoming a city in a garden.

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Over the decades, Singapore has increased the greenery cover as seen from the illustration above. The previous vision, Garden City, was then eventually change into City In a Garden. Under the umbrella of MND Ministry of National Development, NPark has several key areas under this program, a total budget of $563 million has been allocated to Nparks in 2011 for this:

  • Gardens by the Bay which consists of 3 landmark waterfront gardens in Marina Bay. A budget of $344 million is allocated just for this single state of the art project. A video to illustrate:
  • The Park connectors as a network of green corridors that link up major parks, nature sites and bringing green connectivity.
  • Conservation Measures – Conserving the last and only extensive pieces of Singapore’s primary and mature secondary forests, Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature Reserves. This 3206 hectares forest reserve is one of the few primary forests in the heart of a city. The 130 hectares Sungai Buloh Wetland Reserve, which is Singapore’s first ASEAN heritage park, is also observed under NParks to ensure the biodiversity of these nature areas is conserved.
  • Streetscape Greenery Master Plan SGMP, a blueprint to enhance and revitalize the garden city intensification of streetscapes to create unique identities of clusters of roads at strategic locations.
  • Skyrise Greenery an approach with incentive scheme available that NParks will fund up to 50% of installation costs of green roofs and vertical greenery. This is to encourage the installation of skyrise greenery on existing buildings across Singapore. There is also annual award to recognize successful projects.
  • Promoting Community Ownership- NParks works closely with the 3Ps, Public, Private and People sectors to inculcate community passion for and ownership to assist the vision of CIAG. These programs include Community in Bloom, Plant-A-Tree,o Adopt-A-Park,Garden City Fund, and other outreach activities partnerships with volunteers and industry partners.
  • Enhancing the Landscape Industry- Speaking of all the above efforts, one is to make sure the industry is mature to upkeep these efforts. NParks, through close partnership with the industry, has also initiated a range of programmes to raise skill standards of the industry. The Landscape Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) is a joint initiative by NParks, Workforce Development Agency, and the Singapore Landscape Industry Council.

 Click HERE to read more about “From Garden City to City in a Garden”

C) The Singapore Green Plan 2012 & Sustainable Singapore 2030 – The first Singapore Green Plan was issued in 1992, while there are several revisions followed up after that, the majority of the SGP2012 targets are met. Considering the major changes across international and domestic contexts,the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint was unveiled in April 2009 which will serve as a guide for Singapore’s sustainable development strategies for the next two decades until 2030.

Singapore Master Plan Land Usage
Singapore Master Plan Land Usage

There are also updates made on the 6 different action areas (click on them) The following is the SGP2012 itself.

Click HERE to read more about Singapore Green Plan 2012.

The Sustainable Singapore Blueprint was launched by the IMCSD Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development in April 2009. This is the summary of the existing SGP2012 targets and the new targets under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint.

Download (PDF, 56KB)

D) Singapore National Biodiversity and Action Plan – The Singapore plan on biodiversity is launched in 2009. Primarily on “Conserving Our Biodiversity”, it is also a plan that fulfills Singapore’s regional and international commitments, primarily the Convention on Biological Diversity. It laid out several strategies and actions on all aspects which you can read more below. Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park is one of the crucial physical feature for this framework as it contributes significant data to the biodiversity database.

Download (PDF, 618KB)

Click HERE to read more about Singapore’s 4th National Report to the convention on Biological Diversity.

 5) GOVERNMENTAL/POLITICAL WILL/INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT

After looking into the various framework to see that how Bishan Ang Mo Kio park plays a crucial benchmark in achieving the targets needed, what is important next is to see what made all these and Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park possible. Frameworks do not just appear without a reference case or numbers, all these are reinforced by institutional research centers from both public and private sectors, and well executed by the respected ministries. If we are to look from the position of MND Ministry of National Development, they have the relevant key statutory boards to cover the needed scope of work to realize all these mention frameworks.

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While it’s pretty straight forward in Singapore to have a single level government to govern such issue, things are relatively different in Malaysia where we have federal, state, and local level of governments and thus framework and execution are often confused and not aligned due to the lack of political will. Besides, what I realize is that information of these statutory boards websites are updated and is user-friendly. Take for example NParks.

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While Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park serves as a physical connector to the users, the websites are well maintained to facilitate user experience in getting closer to the park.
List of parks

Well, i am not a Singaporean to evaluate these matters of efficient governance over the mentioned framework but it seems well to me. Another key recipe for such success is the amount of research database and effort that are spurred by different institutions. Among some of them are:

  • CUGE Center for Urban Greenery and Ecology – a branch under NParks that engages research on the greening and ecology of cities. The range of research covers from planning, design and management in cities. With these research on urban greenery, urban studies, and urban ecology, thus different publications such as CITYGREEN and CUGE very own standards could help to assist both the public and private.
  • National Biodiversity Centre – NBC which is set up by NParks in 2006, manages all the available information and data on biodiversity in Singapore. Having relevant, complete and up to date information is crucial for many decision-making processes that take biodiversity into consideration.

Well, it is quite interesting to study from the organization chart of NParks to note the extensive responsibilities of NParks here.

Download (PDF, 37KB)

And also to credit them for supplying much of the information needed for this long-winded blog post, here I attach their corporate video.

While the above 5 things are mere what I have experienced and learned through the half day ride at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. I am sure you have other opinions, especially if you are a Singaporean on all these matters, be it the park alone, or the framework or the governance over these matters, your opinions are surely welcome and I would love to hear more from you!

As for now, this park will serve me as a benchmark guideline when it comes to public park planning. It is once said that the physical development of a city tells the story of itself a lot, and I believe this park has indeed shared the story with me, if not I would not be taking my time to look through the various Singapore’s frameworks!

More PDF of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park I came across:

#Credits to NParks and Google for the tons of information easily available for anyone to understand and study. The fact of the ease of getting these materials already speaks for itself. #The post above is written by a Malaysian, thus any inconvenient differ in view is regretted by the author.

In the return, please feel free to use my photos HERE in FB for your any of your usage, would appreciate if you can share to me your publication/articles in the event of published! Thanks.

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