SINGAPORE – A HIGH-DENSITY CITY WITH SPORTING CHARACTERS
Chapter 7: Urban running cultivation
In Singapore rapidly changing attitudes towards living a healthier and more balanced life have over the years spurred sports participation growth – with almost 40% of Singapore residents engaging in physical and sporting activities at least twice a week, according to the latest Sport Singapore figures. In particular, running, which is one of the least capital-intensive sporting activities, has become deeply ingrained in Singapore’s city life, making it the most popular form of physical exercise; 14% of Singapore residents are reported to be participating in running at least once a week (walking is leading the top activities ranking with 15%).
The ascendancy of the urban running culture can be witnessed almost every weekend: large numbers of running events take place in various parts of the city, squeezing in up to 6 events on a single weekend (the number of running events surged by more than 80% between 2012 and 2015, totalling 109 events in 2015). For running enthusiasts and weekend sporting warriors there is a wide range of distances to choose from, albeit 5 and 10km races appear to be the most popular options. The event participants, or rather customers, have to pay a fee that typically ranges from about S$15 to up to S$200 – depending on the location of the event, selected running distance, exclusivity image of the key sponsor and fee-package category (which may include racing fees, event t-shirt, after-race dinner and party).
Over the past few years the number of running events in Singapore has skyrocketed.
Thanks to the panoramic views of the Marina Bay Sands and the financial district the Marina Bay waterfront has been transformed into a popular location for running events.
In Singapore running contests attract participants across the entire socio-economic spectrum, demonstrating a general interest of the population in competition, social gathering and standardized testing of personal achievements. Furthermore, the commercialisation of wearable, real-time activity trackers – which are perfectly suitable for monitoring aerobic exercises and cyclic movements – has only accelerated the gradual shift towards this competitive and standardized individual sports activity. The craze around these running events also gives the impression that in Singapore there is some level of prestige and status attached to running, embodying the admirable traits of individuality, physical health and resilience.
Some local residents use their local track and field stadiums in the nearby HDB-public housing estates – for instance, in the Bedok sports complex – to get fit for the upcoming running events on weekends.
With little sun exposure and air temperatures of less than 30°C the early evening is the most suitable time of the day to go for a run in one of the nearby large city parks, such as the Bedok Reservoir Park (for more information on climate conditions in Singapore, please read ‘ “No choice” – Sporting in tropical climate’).
Although much of the recreational running activity is concentrated around city parks, in stadiums and along park connectors, an impressive running movement has been steadily growing in popularity in one of the city’s key locations: Marina Bay, a reclaimed bay area in the southern-central region that attracts large numbers of tourists, is probably the most vivid location in which the pervasiveness of Singapore’s running culture can be experienced. At dusk large crowds of devoted runners dressed in fashionable athletic clothing and trainers pour into the bay’s promenades. The development of the iconic Marina Bay Sands complex, the creation of the futuristic-looking Gardens by the Bay and the expansion of the Financial Business District in the West Bay area have recently led to greater popularity of after-work running (with an activity peak between 6.30 and 7.30pm), turning this panoramic bay area into a local running hub for knowledge and finance workers.
To some surprise, this waterfront-running culture has emerged despite – not because of – the bay’s design. In fact, Marina Bay itself was designed as a pedestrian-friendly promenade where tourists and shoppers were supposed to stroll at snail’s pace and take photos of the iconic high-rise architecture surrounding the bay; for this reason, much of the commercial areas encircling the Marina Bay lack any designated running trails. Yet the absence of running infrastructure has not stopped a critical mass of avid joggers from wanting to utilize this suitable and visually stimulating waterfront space for their running sessions; in other words, Marina Bay has, rather unexpectedly, been transformed into an after-work running hub – a typical example of a collaborative, resident-led approach.
Twilight running euphoria at Marina Bay. For many Singapore residents who work in the financial districts after-work waterfront running has become a lifestyle choice.
Popular Marina Bay running routes integrated into the Singapore City Model. Most waterfront joggers favour return running routes via a loop option at the Marina Barrage, located in the southern part of the Marina Bay.
Marina Bay’s most popular running course starts along the Marina Boulevard, bypasses the luxurious shopping complex at the Marina Bay Sands and the ArtScience Museum, and continues all the way to Marina Barrage. With its panoramic skyline this 5km loop has become the route of choice for workers starting their run in the financial district (see illustration above).
The other popular running route starts near Boat Quay, crosses the Singapore River via the Cavenagh Bridge, continues along the Esplanade Park and bypasses the Esplanade–Theatres on the bay and The Float@Marina Bay, and eventually crosses the bay to the Marina South peninsula via the Helix bridge. From here, the joggers can choose between running either to Marina Barrage or to the financial district. Local joggers largely shun the area around Merlion Park, located in the northern part of the bay, as this part is overrun by legions of tourists wanting to pose for pictures in front of the 8.6m high Merlion statue (15 million international tourists visited Singapore in 2014).
The financial centre is the starting point for most after-work running enthusiasts.
The Helix Bridge connects the western and the eastern areas of the Marina Bay, providing joggers with more running options.
The loop on top of the Marina Barrage complex is the most popular destination for CBD-joggers, before running back towards the financial centre district.
While the most popular waterfront running courses are located along the Marina Bay, the renowned Gardens by the Bay area remains largely ignored by joggers. This comes as a surprise. Despite being relentlessly publicized as Singapore’s premier outdoor recreation space and a national icon, the network of trails zigzagging this pompous garden has clearly failed to electrify the local running community. It is evident that joggers do not consider this garden to be a suitable location, as its layout tends to disrupt the runners’ flow. And the very fact that no outdoor gym equipment is visible throughout this large green space – a typically common feature of other local city parks in Singapore – gives the impression that, by design, this garden is not supposed to attract too many sporty visitors.
Besides, the access to the Gardens by the Bay from its west side (near the financial district) is extremely inconvenient, leaving this entire area of the garden to look somewhat deserted. It remains to be seen whether the upcoming urban developments of the currently empty land areas in Marina South will eventually be able to populate the southern and western parts of the garden.
Urban running in the world-famous Gardens By The Bay is not popular with local joggers.
As running at moderate pace quickly increases perspiration levels (and especially in Singapore’s muggy heat), managing personal hygiene after a run is a critical aspect of Marina Bay’s running culture. Many companies located in the financial district offer their employees shower facilities. And some joggers also have a membership in one of the nearby health and fitness clubs. In this way, they can combine a workout in the gym with a waterfront run and enjoy a refreshing shower thereafter. Other joggers, who do not have the luxury of accessing shower facilities, do not mind using the highly popular and cheaply available wet tissues after a sweaty run, before getting dressed and making their way back home (or having a meal with their work colleagues).
Singapore’s waterfront-running culture along the Marina Bay is an emerging social phenomenon, which provides a revealing snapshot of its society as well as its sporting lifestyle. On weekdays the fitness- and brand-centric traits of Singapore’s society are put on full display, establishing Marina Bay as the top-tier ‘see & be seen’ location for running enthusiasts, sportswear fashionistas and body image zealots.
Ambitious CBD-joggers can cross the Marina Bay via the Marina Barrage, which connects the financial centre with the eastern districts via the highly popular 10-km East Coast Park running trail.
And as it stands, this upward popularity trend towards waterfront running is here to stay. As a result of the ever-growing global clout of the finance industry and the knowledge economy, more jobs will continue to be clustered around the Marina Bay. At the same time, more high-rise luxury apartment blocks for the HNWIs – the high-net-worth individuals – are planned near the Bayfront Avenue, potentially increasing the number of running enthusiasts even further.
It somewhat comes as a surprise that, as yet, this thriving social phenomenon of Singapore’s running culture has failed to be addressed at the numerous international forums on city living that take place in Singapore on regular basis. Although it is understandable that Singapore’s full attention is set on developing a ‘Smart City’ (which largely aims at improving the efficiency of city living by integrating information technology), its urban sporting culture, and in particular its running culture, deserves to be more appreciated and incorporated into its future city-living strategy (for more information, please read ‘Towards creating a distinctive sporting lifestyle city identity’).
This report was first published in July 2016; updated in February 2017.
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