Singapore’s so-called premier shopping street was a maze of hoardings and detours for several years as a number of new buildings were constructed. Ion Orchard, Knightsbridge, Somerset 313 and Orchard Central have finally been completed. Adding to chaos was the refurbishment of the public sidewalk with new paving, planters and street ornamentation, but this too was completed last year.
Then the floods came in June 2010, following which a decision was made to raise the bitumen road. This involves building new kerbs and reworking parts of the sidewalk where they join the road, e.g. at pedestrian crossings.
I still do not understand how raising the road will help the buildings avoid being flooded. If the road is raised, won’t that mean even more water flowing onto the sidewalk (now lower than the road) and pouring into basements?
Surely the solution is to divert water from upstream of Orchard Road from rushing into the two covered canals that run beneath the sidewalks?
As I mentioned above, the sidewalks on both sides of Orchard Road were only recently repaved. Now they are either being hacked away or covered with bitumen or freshly-poured concrete in order to create a new gradient — upwards to meet the higher bitumen road where it used to be downwards. What a waste of money.
Soon, with luck, the multiple owners of Lucky Plaza will get their act together and agree to re-build the front of their shopping centre. Lucky Plaza has a half-basement open to the sidewalk (as indicated on the right side of my cross-sectional diagram). During the June 2010 flood, water poured into the shops there. More hoardings and detours will result when work starts. More sections of the newly paved sidewalk will be hacked away.
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Meanwhile, people are enjoying the street furniture and other amenities. Or rather, the smokers are enjoying them. For non-smokers like me, the benches are as good as useless. Sitting on any of them means breathing in second-hand smoke while you rest your feet.
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Orchard Road is slowly losing its allure. The ever more frequent and desperate reconstruction (I believe Wisma Atria is next) is supposed to help it stay ahead of the competition from other shopping districts, including suburban ones, but I wonder if the problem is that of “hardware”. I suspect the retail mix is not compelling enough. Suburban shopping malls now sell just about everything you used to be able to find only on Orchard Road; there is little reason for the average Singaporean to go all the way there to shop.
In response, certain shopping malls on Orchard Road have pushed themselves upmarket with shopfronts screaming haute couture. The strategy may be working, attracting high-end tourists — though I have no way of knowing for sure. What I do know is that it gives Singaporeans even less reason to go there, only to be reminded how unaffordable things are.
One exception appears to be the shopping mall known as Orchard Central. It seems to be attempting a different tack, positioning itself as a mall for the cutting-edge, young and funky. Unfortunately, it’s looking like a bit of a disaster with the mall mostly deserted. There doesn’t seem to be any market here for the funky; Singaporeans are copycats rather than confident of their own originality and personality. Nor are there inventive entrepreneurs with the creativity to offer unique products or services. The result: tiny shops offering the tacky and tawdry, repelling even the few customers who come by.
I am surprised more of Orchard Central’s tenants have not gone out of business. Maybe it’s just a matter of time.
The big mystery is why Orchard Central did not create a direct access from Somerset metro station to itself. Its neighbour Somerset 313 did, and is now enjoying the traffic that comes through. It’s not as if the metro station is far from Orchard Central. Look at this map which can be found on the wall of the metro station itself and you’ll see that a short tunnel (which I’ve drawn in blue) should have done the trick.
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Despite Singapore receiving 11.6 million tourists in 2010 (a 20 percent increase over 2009), Orchard Road shops do not look particularly busy. Partly, it’s because the tourists don’t stay very long in Singapore. We recorded only 45.6 million days, making an average of 3.93 days per visitor.
Moreover, considering that the three largest sources for visitors are Indonesia (2.305 million), China (1.171 million) and Malaysia (1.037 million), I half suspect they are mostly spending their time at the casinos. If they do any shopping, it may well be within the integrated resorts.
Our Tourism Board may boast that tourists spent about S$18.8 billion last year, but that works out to only $1,621 per head, of $412 per person per day, inclusive of accommodation costs. I wonder what proportion of that Orchard Road manages to snag.