Feature Place


SG Heart Map Team

Through its formation to its transformation, the unceasing ebb and flow of the Singapore River symbolises the nation’s heartbeat.

With its sparkling clean waters reflecting the brightly-lit shop houses and towering skyscrapers, it is hard to imagine what the Singapore River was like just decades ago. Choked with bumboats and sampans carrying goods and serving as water taxis, it was a busy marketplace for trade, and served as a means of transportation for commerce activities up to the 1960s. It was also a source of livelihood and ‘home’ for the Chinese and Indian migrants who squatted there to work as labourers and boatmen.

The flurry of activities caused severe pollution. The Singapore River was a convenient dumping ground for all manner of waste and effluence. One could smell the dark and dank river long before you saw it.

In the late 1970s, the tide began to change as Singapore sought to redefine new ways of being competitive in the global economy. With the urban renewal, the river underwent a clean-up which took about 10 years. Food stalls and other commercial river operations by its banks were relocated, rubbish and debris removed, and the river wall reconstructed and strengthened – transforming the Singapore River into its present modern incarnation. The river was clean enough so much so that a mass swim was organised in 1984.


Today, as it courses through the heart of the city along Clarke Quay, Boat Quay and Robertson Quay, the Singapore River brings a new wave of excitement with activities organised on and around it.

During the day, river cruises bring locals and tourists on a heritage journey as they explore the rich history behind each of the landmarks located along the river. These landmarks include the Raffles landing site, featuring a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, and conserved shop houses and warehouses once dedicated to trade and maritime commerce. Come dusk, the banks of the Singapore River come to life as a focal point of leisure and entertainment. Bright lights, music, and the string of pubs and restaurants along its sides draw regular crowds that gather for a good time.


Public amenities and urban programmes involving urban redesign have also been tailored for the focal areas of the Downtown Core surrounding the Singapore River. New engineering and building technologies, which allow for a mixed usage of the urban environment, have given rise to a cluster of cultural and commerce hubs around the Singapore River.

These developments offer opportunities for water transportation to serve as an alternative commuting mode. Since January 2013, these services connect 25 boat landing points in Singapore River, Marina Bay and Kallang Basin, providing a form of daily transport for commuters in these areas, as well as offering leisure, recreational and entertainment options to visitors.


It is no coincidence that the postcard images of modern skyscrapers coexisting with heritage conservation shop houses have graced publicity efforts promoting Singapore. After all, through its formation to its transformation, the unceasing ebb and flow of the river symbolises Singapore’s heartbeat as the nation remembers the past and embraces the future.

Photo Credits: Urban Redevelopment Authority