“Orchard Road is ‘kind of boring’”, ran a recent Straits Times headline.
And for once, they hit the nail on the head sans sugar coating.
The main reason for Orchard Road’s fall from glory, at least amongst the local population, is the fact that the formerly bustling shopping belt now offers the same products that people can buy online or in suburban malls like Westgate, or expensive crap that nobody can afford.
And turning the Orchard stretch into a pedestrian street and hiring a few token buskers is not going to make it any less yawn-inducing.
The real problem is that there’s nothing interesting to do there that you can’t do anywhere else. Add to that the less than dynamic atmosphere, and you can see why everyone’s flocking to Tiong Bahru or Marina Bay.
So what can be done? Not much, perhaps, but here are some suggestions that might encourage people to come back to Orchard Road.
Promote the use of rooftop and outdoor spaces
Gone are the days when Singaporeans wanted nothing more than to hide in air-conditioned spaces. These days, people are flocking to Jalan Besar, Tiong Bahru, Haji Lane, Amoy Street and Marina Bay to hang out at rooftop bars or on al fresco terraces.
The trouble with Orchard Road is that you’re pretty much forced to remain bathed in the artificial light of malls. Even tourists who aren’t fans of malls and sub-zero air con temperatures have nowhere to go.
Promoting and increasing the number of accessible rooftops and outdoor spaces might help to make Orchard Road more palatable for those who don’t like being stuck indoors.
Right now, Orchard Central has a rooftop garden that’s popular with couples, while ION Sky used to get incredibly packed with students until they decided to restrict opening hours to 3 to 6pm.
But most of the other malls either restrict access to their rooftop gardens, or don’t make adequate use of their roof space. And of course after the tragic accident at Orchard Central, more caution needs to be exercised, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be utilised.
Rooftop bars and eateries have proven extremely popular with Singapore residents, so malls might want to consider leasing some of their roof space to F&B establishments, or even allowing businesses to organise events like parties or yoga sessions.
Outdoor spaces are also similarly under-utilised, which defeats the purpose of all that pedestrian street nonsense. Malls could do more to provide attractive outdoor seating and interesting amenities (Plaza Singapura has done a decent job)–just look at that big void outside Ngee Ann City, for instance.
Court tenants who run classes or events
Singaporeans no longer want to spend money on Orchard Road because, let’s face it, you don’t need to go all the way there to get a shirt from Uniqlo.
Heck, you don’t even need to go all the way there to buy a handbag from Louis Vuitton—there’s a huge boutique at Marina Bay, and Singaporeans travel so often that many just buy that branded stuff in Europe where it’s cheaper.
But what might get Singaporeans to travel to Orchard are hobby classes that are hard to find elsewhere, or one-time-only events.
For instance, Arteastiq’s art jams have proven to be very popular, in part because they’re one of the few tea rooms in the city area organising art jams. Yoga studio Yoga Movement has also set up a popular branch at Orchard 22.
Classes and workshops are unaffected by the disruption brought by online shopping, and also encourage repeat visits. This is something malls should consider when deciding on their tenant mix.
Hold festivals and street parties that people actually want to turn up for
Turning Orchard Road into a pedestrian street and expecting people to flock there every weekend to see lacklustre buskers is delusional at best.
Sure, you can close off the streets and try to lure people with whatever lousy quasi-entertainment you can get at a low price. But people will only come if there is an event they’re interested in.
Look at the crowds that flooded Artbox, and even the ill-fated Café Fest. Block parties are the latest craze, and have seen people attending in droves.
And as such sought-after events are never held on Orchard Road, probably due to the cost of organising them there, people are going to continue spending their weekends and weeknights elsewhere.
Is any way to lure people back to Orchard Road? Share your suggestions in the comments!