Orchard Road’s a mess again

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

15 Responses to “Orchard Road’s a mess again”

  1. 1 blacktryst 26 March 2011 at 13:09

    Wow so many new developments in Singapore. I have not been back to the country for a few years. Much have changed. I wonder why do they even try building Somerset 313 or Orchard Central though. They simply do not attract much foot traffic from the normal Orchard Road crowd in the first place to be viable or profitable places for shopping malls. Even Heeren and Cathay Cineleisure Orchard were never crowded with enough shoppers. The only traffic the Somerset shopping malls can attract in significant numbers are office and government workers from neighbouring buildings but they can only attract them after office hours.
    As for the non-existence of a tunnel connecting Somerset Station to Orchard Central, I suspect it is because of technical problems. The public maps will not show it but I suspect the engineers and architect maps will show that the other `side`of the underground Somerset station houses the machinery, equipment for running the station and especially the ventilation systems. Hence it will be very expensive or impossible to construct a passageway from the shopping mall leading to the station.

    • 2 yawningbread 28 March 2011 at 11:41

      I happened to be in Somerset station again yesterday, and took another look at the other end of the station — the end that does not have an exit. There seems to be provision for a tunnel, except that it points towards the lot on which construction is currently in progress (where Phoenix Hotel used to stand). My guess is that eventually there will be a tunnel from that end linking to the new ex-Phoenix shopping centre, and then this new building will connect to Orchard Central. This would be in addition to the through-connection from Somerset 313 to new building to Orchard Central.
      However, given the present status of construction, it looks like a very long time yet before the new building will be ready, and for the new tunnel to be opened up. Orchard Central tenants have a long wait. . . .

  2. 3 anon 26 March 2011 at 14:27


    Let us all hope that the govt ministry in charge has the intelligence to foresee what you have mentioned about the ‘raising’ of Orchard Road.

    You see the Orchard /Scotts/Paterson Roads junction (and all similar locations elsewhere) have the physical geography of a depression or basin (see this blog: http://thetwophilo.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/the-great-singapore-flood-a-case-of-ponding/). The only way to prevent/avoid flooding is really to raise such depressions to the same level as the surrounding area.

    The water from a heavy storm would then not be able to collect or pond as is the case now. But of course it will have to flow somewhere. You are right it will flow anywhere and everywhere unless provision is also concurrently built to channel it away, and FAST ENOUGH, or it will flow into the malls, shops, sidewalks and buildings in the area. Water will always finds its on level, as we in our secondary school science!

    So the govt agencies collectively in charge must design a complete drainage system for the area and not expect to solve the problem by merely raising the road. I can think of making the existing canals much deeper, deeper roadside drains to channel/clear the rain water as it falls, even the use of pumps to discharge the heavy flow of water into drainage systems away from vulnerable spots. Let’s wait and see, whether our highly paid civil servants are really as good as they have been publicly lauded to be.

  3. 4 namioiman 26 March 2011 at 16:33

    That was a question I posed to one of the tenants while shopping on the upper floors of Orchard Central a year back. It seemed that the tenants were told a basement walkway that would directly connect Orchard Central to 313 would be constructed when signing the lease. The owner herself seemed to be at a loss to why the walkway did not appear as promised and was hoping that the situation would improve when the external construction between 313 and Central ends.

  4. 5 Anderson 26 March 2011 at 17:36

    “I still do not understand how raising the road will help the buildings avoid being flooded.”

    you need to understand that raising the road is raising the salary and perk of million-dollars minister, and that is all PAP want you to understand with no question ask. Period.

  5. 6 jax 26 March 2011 at 20:45

    re who shops at orchard. a good question. the uninformed and those with deep pockets, i guess. i find the prices there far higher than i would like to pay. i get the same fashionable goods in the heartlands for much less and, often, before they hit the orchard rd shops. the john little sales at the expo have also produced several price gems.

    in the march 25 newspapers, i saw advertised, by an orchard road shop, a pair of harem pants for $139.90. i have a pair exactly like those in a different colour. i bought mine 4 months ago for $10 near the marine parade market. admittedly, they were on sale. the original price was $45. but the PRC woman running the stall was clearing her stock prior to closing down. pity her venture there failed. her clothes, all the very latest from HK and china, included prada over-runs for $110. that is expensive for a market area.

  6. 7 vanessa 27 March 2011 at 00:47

    “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.”


    • 8 yawningbread 27 March 2011 at 01:07

      Yes really. Just one example: Look at heterosexual Singaporean women under 30. Virtually all of them keep shoulder-length hair. No one seems to be able to think for herself and come up with a different look. Singaporeans are depressing conformists.

      • 9 vanessa 27 March 2011 at 01:21

        Hmm.. “women under 30” seemed like a rather arbitrary number to an arbitrary sex. Same goes for singaporean men “under 30” also mah–it’s either Paul-two-hill style or just short hair. Besides, perhaps it is more of an issue of practicality than conforming? (heat being the number 1 reason for short hair).

        Furthermore, to counter your point on inventive entrepreneurs–I believe there are enterprising individuals out there making a change. Check out Mother and Child Project, Big is Gorgeous, Post Museum, give.sg, joan bowen cafe etc etc. Unfortunately, they arent making as much money as Zara or Topshop…

        In any case, I think it was a rather huge generalization you made. If you’re going to take the average person as a benchmark for originality, I think you’re going to find the same in many other countries too. (Look at oxford street in london…) While I personally dislike the korean fashion trend taking over Singapore, I think there are creative individuals amongst the masses.

      • 10 mackinder 27 March 2011 at 03:00

        I think it’s unfair to tar them with one single fashion disaster brush. Not every one of them is a cookie-cutter.

  7. 11 Anon 27 March 2011 at 10:54

    You may have more (infrastructure stories) to write after Singapore completes its feasibility study on setting up a nuclear plant in Singapore.


    Fukushima’s evacuation radius is 20km.
    Which implies an evacuation area of 3.142x20x20 = 1,257sqkm
    But Singapore’s total land area is only 712sqkm


    So come on already. Do we still need to do the feasibility study?

  8. 13 patriot 27 March 2011 at 16:25

    Let there be another heavy downpour on a high tide day and see if raising the road will not lead to worse flooding.


  9. 14 e 28 March 2011 at 05:55

    It seems to me that the change in road level will help to contain the spread of floodwaters from one area to another while still allowing vehicular traffic to function normally (for longer). This would be important if rescue or repair equipment needs to be brought in.

  10. 15 T 29 March 2011 at 11:37

    /// Anon 27 March 2011 at 10:54

    Fukushima’s evacuation radius is 20km.
    Which implies an evacuation area of 3.142x20x20 = 1,257sqkm
    But Singapore’s total land area is only 712sqkm. ///

    Anon @10:45 – what you said will be true only if the nuclear plant is located dead centre of Singapore island. Singapore measures 41.8km (26 miles) from west to east. Even if located dead centre, there will be 0.9km in Tuas and 0.9km in Changi that will be outside the evacuation zone.

    One possibility is to locate the plant either in Tuas or Changi. Then more than half the island will be outside the evacuation zone. Or, locate in one of the southern islands. Better yet, locate the plant in Pedra Branca (provided Malaysia and Indonesia do not object violently).

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