The waterfronts of various asian contemporary cities are gaining increased relevance to the economic development of these cites and are often seen as tools in globalisation processes and tourism development. The vitality and visibility of these waterfront areas and the quality of its urban spaces have become key aspects of the competitive positioning of asian cities in the global arena.

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A Spectacular multimedia display, ‘A Symphony of Light’, created with a combination of coloured lights, laser beams and searchlights synchronised with music and narration, including more than 40 buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbour.

Throughout the history of Hong Kong, the city’s waterfront has been constantly changing with several phases of land reclamation from Victoria Harbour bringing Hong Kong and Kowloon closer and closer together. After 150 years of reclamation, Hong Kong decided to stop and develop the final Central Waterfront of Hong Kong. This waterfront is envisioned to be the front-door to Asia’s World City and holds the important role of defining the city to both visitors and locals. Instead of building high on the additional landfill, Hong Kong intends to create a world-class park at the heart of the city. It is an opportunity to redevelop the natural, aesthetic and economic value of the city’s harbour and bring people back to the waterfront.

[Taken from: Chensiyuan, Wikipedia]

The vision for Singapore’s Marina Bay, developed entirely on reclaimed land, is to create a vibrant world-class international recreation centre. A high-quality live-work-play environment that would capture and define the essence of Singapore as a global city. Planned for a mix of commercial, residential, hotel and entertainment uses, the waterfront is ensured around-the-clock vibrancy and quality urban space. Part of the concept is a continuous waterfront promenade that includes a cultural loop. It also boasts new iconic structures by star-architects that visibly change the image of the waterfront. Marina Bay while distinct from the old city, fills in on the recreational and leisure aspect of the city center.

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Minato Mirai 21 District (MM21), Yokohama, similar to Marina Bay, is a new waterfront created out of land reclamation initiatives which presents an opportunity to map aspirations of the city on a clean-slate. Located at the center of Yokohama city and within 30km of the metropolitan center of tokyo, the project was envisioned to promote Yokohama as a business and leisure waterfront destination, as well as revive its proud tradition as ‘Japan’s historic gateway to the world’. Scaling of buildings with height and setbacks control was carried out to fulfill the desire for grand vistas and to create a distinct skyline. New indoor and outdoor forms of public spaces were introduced, with historic objects as focal points. MM21 as an addition to the old city, plays a complementary role in the identity of the city, representing the new commercial and corporate identity of  Yokohama city.

While many of the waterfronts in the west underwent post-industrial changes in the 70s and 80s or earlier, most Asian waterfronts generally began such development in the 90s. With these developments envisioned to be ‘gateways’ defining the city, a great deal of emphasis in these developments are place on global positioning and economic development. As in the development of Hong Kong Victoria Harbour, Singapore Marina Bay and Tokyo Yokohama MM21, the developments tend towards more commercialised functions. These projects also involved some form of public-private partnership. In the case of MM21, the development corporation between public and private was the driving  force and regulatory body for its planning and implementation. For Marina Bay, although the development planning was done by the government, private developers were able to propose development ideas on “white” sites – sites that are not assigned usage or density.

The success of these waterfront developments depend on the driving forces in the transformation of these spaces. The various roles undertaken by the government (policy changes governing land-use), private developers (public-private partnerships) and the community become increasingly important in these developments.  In many ways, these projects play a critical role in the global positioning of these cities, due to their high visibility and urban quality. However, these developments, with their global aspirations and orientation might sometimes vary from the concepts of urban locales. Another issue would be their accessibility in terms of affordability or the activities that appeal to local populations. As such, it remains to be seen how well these new projects, which tend to be planned along different scales and with urban visions from the existing urban fabric are integrated with the old city as well as the lifestyle of the people.