Learning from a master: Expert urban planner Larry Lye Hock Ng shares insights from Singapore

The Jensen PLUS team value the opportunity to enhance our knowledge, skills and understanding of everything urban planning and design, so last month we jumped at the opportunity to sponsor and attend a masterclass with world-class urban designer Larry Lye Hock Ng.

Visiting from Singapore, Larry shared his expert knowledge and experience on the design of sustainable and liveable cities, with a focus on Singapore — a city that has embraced quality design in the face of climate change impacts to foster an urban city that delivers long-term economic, environmental and social benefits to all urban stakeholders.

Joshua Woo, Assistant Urban Designer, was one of two Jensen PLUS team members who attended the masterclass, hosted by Mainstreet SA.

A shared beginning

Like Larry, Joshua hails from Singapore.

“I was born in Singapore but spent a few years living in Brisbane when I was a child, and again relocated to Sydney for university studies,” Joshua reflects.

Joshua Woo participating in discussion at the masterclass

“In 2023, I then moved to Adelaide, joining the Jensen PLUS team as Assistant Urban Designer.”

As Joshua was growing up, unbeknownst to him, his was witnessing firsthand Larry’s vision being brought to life around him.

“Talking to Larry at the masterclass, I actually discovered that Larry had designed the very neighbourhood I grew up in!”

Growing up Joshua developed a keen interest in cities, their evolution and how they worked.

“I spent a lot of time reading about the policies but hearing from someone who made a significant impact in transforming Singapore was eye-opening. It made me really proud to come from Singapore.”

Joshua says that Singapore’s urban environment is significantly different to Australia’s but he never felt as though he missed out on anything, for example the big Aussie backyard.

“Singapore has impressive urban amenities and great open spaces which together create a strong sense of community,” says Joshua.

“And having heard from Larry and drawn on his experiences, I now realise that it was all by design.

“The planners had the foresight and courage to consider the social aspects of residents, who largely live in public housing to ensure that the urban environment fostered physical and mental wellbeing.

Joshua adds that addressing the impacts of climate change is also a top priority for Singapore’ urban design.

“Urban greening and public transport networks are second to none in Singapore — they prioritise health and wellbeing outcomes and foster a sustainable and regenerative approach.”

Applying Larry’s insights to Adelaide

During the masterclass, participants had the opportunity to workshop some local projects with Larry.

“It was interesting to hear his observations and opportunities — particularly about one of the projects I am working on, which is the Henley Beach Road Visioning project,” says Joshua.

“He echoed much of what we unearthed during the investigations phase, noting that Henley Beach Road has great potential.”

More broadly, Larry sees immense potential in Adelaide, providing that people, their needs and aspirations for their community, remain at the heart of planning processes.

“Larry says that good urban design is built on three pillars — Hardware (the infrastructure), software (the policies, partnerships and programs) and heartware (the people who live in and use the spaces).

“As to the future of Adelaide, Larry says we need to be bold, have a clear vision and stick to it — without compromising the heartware.”

Joshua reflects on Larry’s advice to not using a half-hearted approach.

“He said that we must be brave enough to make big changes that at first might seem scary to the community. But with a measured and consistent approach we can overcome these hurdles.

“And pilot projects are a great way to demonstrate to communities that they can be successful and work well.”

Leveraging Adelaide’s potential

Larry sees enormous potential for Adelaide to create more people friendly spaces that foster social engagement and encourage people to enjoy the city’s natural urban environment and climate.

“For example this could be through a people-first approach to street design that allows for more outdoor dining, and better cycling connections throughout our unique parklands to promote active transport,” reflects Joshua.

Joshua says that the masterclass and Larry’s insights sparked some seriously good conversations.

“It was a great forum to have some robust discussions about Adelaide’s opportunities and challenges, and how we can learn from one of the world’s best urban designers to create places and spaces where communities and the natural environment will thrive well into the future.”

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