Tiny Singapore is innovating in the way land is being utilised by going deep down to overcome its space constraints.
The Singapore miracle is one that is well-documented. Despite lacking in natural resources, this little red dot has defied expectations to emerge as an economic powerhouse.
This year’s International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranking, for instance, places the Lion City in fourth position behind Qatar, Luxembourg and Macau as the world’s wealthiest country with a GDP per capita of US$87,082.
Measuring only 719.1 sq km and with a population of 5.6 million, the city state is also among the most densely populated country in the world. The World Bank 2016’s data puts Singapore as having the third highest population density in the world with 7,909 people per sq km after Macau and Monaco.
Yet despite its geographical constraints, this economic miracle has managed to balance rapid urbanisation while preserving its lush environment.
Often dubbed the Garden City, a recent study by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the World Economic Forum (WEF) puts Singapore in top position well ahead of Sydney and Vancouver with the highest green density at 30 per cent.
However, beneath its well-manicured gardens and glittering skyscrapers lies a secret underground space that not many Singaporeans are aware of.
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DIGGING DEEPER FOR SPACE SOLUTIONS
Fashioned straight out from a sci-fi movie, two underground ‘cities’ lie deep below in the western and northern parts of Singapore.
The first one is called the Jurong Rock Cavern (JRC), located off the main island on Jurong Island. A land reclamation project comprising seven islands, the 32 sq km site is the hub for the petrochemical industry. Some of the oil giants which call it home include Shell, ExxonMobil and DuPont, just to name a few.
Geographical constraints however has made it difficult to reclaim land further for a storage facility. To overcome this, Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) decided to dig deeper for space solutions.
Sited at a depth of 150 m below the ground, the underground facility features the first commercial underground rock cavern facility for storage of liquid hydrocarbons in Southeast Asia. Capable of storing 1.47 million m3 of liquid hydrocarbon, JRC has translated to a savings of approximately 60 hectares of land.
Meanwhile, over on the northern part of the island lies Singapore’s first Underground Ammunition Facility (UAF) for its military use.
Built by the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA), the UAF underground site is massive. With a land area that is equivalent to 400 football fields or half the size of Pasir Ris New Town, this engineering feat has resulted in significant space savings — it requires 90 per cent less land to be sterilised compared to a conventional aboveground storage facility.
Building it though was no easy feat and took almost 12 years to complete. In July 2001, the UAF was finally unveiled.
Featuring innovative safety solutions in case of explosions, fire and security breaches, the safety features have received international endorsement from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Underground Ammunition Facility (UAF). This has set a new safety standard in the country’s construction history.
QUEST FOR MORE LAND
While Singapore is a story of an economic miracle, space constraints remain its inherent challenges in its pursuit for further economic growth.
Since gaining independence in 1965, the city state has been reclaiming land mass by 22 per cent as part of its economic blueprint. Scarcity of land demands longterm planning to ensure every piece of space is fully utilised.
To do this, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has been tasked to come up with a Concept Plan to plan for Singapore’s development in the next 40 to 50 years.
With a White Paper Population policy to accommodate a target population of 10 million by 2030, the government plans to increase this to a further 7 to 8 per cent of its land mass by then.
However, regional political issues and possible transboundary impacts have proven to be challenging for the city-state. In 1997 and 2009, for instance, Malaysia and Indonesia respectively banned the export of sand to Singapore causing the city-state to look for other solutions.
With no hinterland to speak of, Singapore has since 2010 invested heavily in Iskandar Malaysia. That year witnessed the historic signing between the Malaysian and Singapore governments to develop two joint venture projects in Medini.
Temasek Holdings and CapitaLand followed shortly with an ambitious mixed use development project located in Danga A2 island.
To free up more land in Tuas, Singapore is building a freehold industrial park and a mixed-use development in Gerbang Nusajaya.
A joint-venture between Ascendas Group and UEM Sunrise, Nusajaya Tech Park comprises a 519-acre integrated ecofriendly tech park and is expected to have an estimated GDV of RM3.7 billion.
The projects in Iskandar Malaysia, however, comes with its challenges that Singapore has no control of. With land policies coming under the direct purview of the state government, oversupply has been a main issue as developers launched townships after townships offering thousands of residential units.
This, together with the muted property market, had caused CapitaLand to delay its launch at Danga A2 island.
Hence, by going underground, Singapore might have found the perfect solution in its quest for more land but without the regional hurdles it had faced.
Both Jurong Rock Caverns and the Underground Ammunition Facility have proven that the city state could move beyond that towards a full underground metropolis reminiscent of those in sci-fi movies. The engineering feat required to accomplish that has given the city-state the confidence to explore further into the depth of the earth to provide space for its expanding population – proving once again its resilience as it continues to defy all expectations.