Urban River Restoration Transforms Singapore Park

© Atelier Dreiseitl. An aerial view of Bishan Park.

One of Singapore's most popular parks has been transformed into a dynamic natural ecosystem with the restoration of 2.7 kilometers of the Kallang River that had previously been forced into a concrete drainage channel, creating new recreation opportunities while helping protect the city from flooding.

The three-year, $60-million makeover of Bishan Park was officially completed last weekend, when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reopened the 62-hectare space to the public. (A local resident's time-lapse video of the project captures the change from 2009 to 2012.)


Friends of Kallang River at Bishan Park video via YouTube.

"It's so nice to be able to get so close to nature, and I don't feel like I'm in Singapore anymore," one visitor told the local newspaper TODAY.

'Recycle Hill'
The concrete from the old canal has been repurposed into a lookout point, dubbed "Recycle Hill," while new river crossings and bridges connect neighborhoods that were previously separated, according to architects Atelier Dreiseitl. Around the winding river itself, reed beds, nectar-producing flowers, and other lush flora are drawing wildlife to the heart of the city.

© Atelier Dreiseitl. Bishan Park before, with the Kallang River channelized.

Sixty-six species of wildflowers, 59 species of birds, and 22 species of dragonfly have already been identified in Bishan Park, part of a 30 percent increase in biodiversity, Atelier Dreiseitl says.

Flood Safety And Natural Water Purification
Other plants in the park, chosen for their natural cleansing properties, maintain water quality in the river and ponds without the use of chemicals. Soil bioengineering techniques that combine plant material with traditional engineering help retain soil on the river's banks, which are designed to be able to overflow safely in times of heavy rainfall. The river can handle 40 percent more water than the old canal, but a monitoring and warning system is still in place to tell visitors when they should stay away from its edge.

According to a study released late last year by the University of Sheffield in England, urban rivers also help reduce the heat-island effect, cooling an area well beyond their banks.

© Atelier Dreiseitl. Bishan Park after, with the Kallang River flowing freely.

Spaces for traditional recreational activities, including practicing tai chi and walking a "foot reflexology path," have been preserved in the redesigned park, which includes a water playground and a community garden.

Really? A McDonalds?
But though the revamped Bishan Park is overall wilder, more natural, and more open than its previous incarnation, it has also in some ways become more commercialized, with a spa, two health centers, an outdoor performance area, and new restaurants -- including a McDonalds. According to TODAY, litter from the food outlets is already a problem.

It's unclear which of these amenities were requested by park visitors, but Prime Minister Lee has promised an unprecedented level of public consultation in "co-creating" three new "destination parks" following the Bishan model, in different parts of the country.

Tags: Cities | Singapore | Urban Life | Urban Planning

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