Transformation of Orchard Road aims to create world-class street

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 July, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 July, 1999, 12:00am

Pavements that light up as pedestrians walk, Sculptures and sideshows to stimulate the senses and street cafes that conjure culinary delights.

These are just some of the ideas that have been mooted by the public in Singapore to transform Orchard Road into one of the great streets of the world, to rival the glamour and reputation of London's Regent Street, New York's Fifth Avenue or the Champs Elysee in Paris.

'We want to go beyond shopping and stimulate other senses so that the special experience of Orchard Road will make people keep coming back,' Kenneth Liang, creative consultant and director of thematic development at the Singapore Tourism Board, said.

For almost a decade, Singapore's pre-eminence as Southeast Asia's premier shopping hub has been on the decline.

Between 1995 and 1997, retail spending plunged almost 20 per cent and tourism spending by more than 12 per cent.

The subsequent regional financial crisis made matters even worse.

Wealthy housewives and yuppies once flocked to Singapore from neighbouring Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand for weekend shopping sprees to lap up its international brands.

Nowadays, many cannot afford to travel and Indonesia has imposed a punitive exit tax to force its nationals to shop at home.

Besides, these days, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Jakarta have big, plush shopping malls of their own, boasting most of the world's top designer names.

'With greater distribution of brand name products and the rapid development of cities around us, other places are now catching up,' Mr Liang said. 'It is, therefore, important that Orchard Road continues to evolve and improve itself.' Singapore is no longer known for its highly competitive bargains.

Large currency depreciations in neighbouring countries have helped widen the gap.

'Singapore has been becoming expensive and we've been losing our edge as a shopping paradise,' one major retailer recently lamented.

Realising the retail predicament, the Singapore Government called in consultants two years ago to dream up a master plan to give Orchard Road a fresh lease on life.

The resultant draft master plan recently entered a public consultation phase, resulting in a host of wild and wonderful suggestions - including flashing pavement slabs.

Their final version, to be known as The Orchard Road Experience, is expected to be ready to be presented to Cabinet for approval by the end of the year.

Mr Liang said: 'Visually we will focus on landscaping . . . and lighting to provide the correct setting.

'Pedestrian comfort in the tropical heat will be a major problem we will be addressing so that the experience along Orchard Road will be made more pleasant and the visitor can spend a longer time there.' This may include a maze of additional underground and overhead walkways to provide seamless shopping.

The Orchard Road revitalisation scheme is part of a wider Tourism 21 blueprint to develop 11 historical and cultural sites.

These include Chinatown, Little India and Singapore River for the new millennium.

Orchard Road is the second site to be tackled. Chinatown was the first and proved contentious.

Goh Chia Khim, director of property consultants Jones Lang LaSalle, said: 'The Chinatown master plan caused much criticism. It was seen as too artificial.' She said there had been similar public fears Orchard Road could end up going the same way.

'It shouldn't be really 'Disney' and made-up,' said Ms Goh.

'I also don't think we should copy Regent Street. We need our own theme and character that is unique to Singapore.' Mr Liang said: 'Our aim is to benchmark Orchard Road as one of the greatest streets of the world.'