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Shaping a sustainable city

A few months before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) scholar Tan Jun Han had visited New Orleans in the United States.

After experiencing first-hand the charm of the “Big Easy”, and then witnessing its devastation struck a chord with the young urban planner who had just completed his degree in planning and development at the University of Southern California.

He realised then that “it was vital to incorporate physical and social resiliency into city plans so that communities can bounce back from setbacks”.

It is with this mindset that he began his career as a planner in URA working on the physical planning of Singapore’s North region.

Adapting new innovations

Mr Tan, 36, recognised early on that “Singapore’s development was in part a result of the vision and hard work of a pioneering generation of urban planners and architects”.

While contemplating which scholarship to choose, he knew he wanted to make a difference to Singapore’s cityscape. Thus, he felt the URA scholarship would give him the best opportunity to do so.

In the course of his work, he has contributed many ideas and case studies he gleaned from his undergraduate studies and experience living overseas.

“There is much creativity in how cities in the United States design their urban infrastructure and streets, making living and commuting pleasant for their residents,” he says, commending their innovation in policy, planning and design.

Applying this to Singapore, he says: “Having a spirit of innovation and a think-out-of-the-box mentality can help develop better solutions to increasingly complicated issues that confront urban living.”

Pride and joy

Prior to his secondment to the Ministry of National Development (MND) in 2015, as director (planning policies) he led a team of planners to formulate land use policies to guide the planning of major public infrastructure such as the airport, parks, hospitals and other community facilities.

One of the most memorable projects he worked on was the relocation of the Paya Lebar Airbase, which freed up around 800ha of land for new homes and employment centres.

Another project he fondly remembers is conceptualising a round-island jogging and cycling route that circumnavigates the whole of mainland Singapore.

The 150km Round Island Route concept was showcased as part of URA’s Leisure Plan in 2008 and the construction of its first phase commenced last year.

While he is no longer working on that project, it is gratifying for him to see his colleagues turning their initial concepts into reality.

As MND’s deputy director of strategic planning, he now works on policies that guide Singapore’s infrastructure development, and charts the blueprint for sustainable development in Singapore.

A significant portion of his work involves engaging community groups, civil society and members of the public. For instance, he seeks views on how to improve the physical environment for the elderly.

He enjoys the relationships, rapport and trust that he and his team have established with the community and civil society over time.

“Such conversations provide useful insight on community sentiments, and a deeper appreciation of the issues,” he says. “It allows for refinement of plans and policy ideas to better serve the needs of the community before they are rolled out.”

Having worked in URA for more than a decade now, he has been exposed to an interesting range of work areas — from policy to planning to public consultation.

“The work we do at URA is very meaningful,” he says. “URA offers its officers the opportunity to make a difference to the physical environment of Singapore, and to bring in the voices of the community to help shape the way we live, work and play.”