Green Infrastructures: What Can Dense Cities Learn from Singapore – the City in a Garden?

Green infrastructures simply refer to building with nature. In other words, this implies integrating plants into the built environment of our urban areas. This can be implemented through several means such as roadside vegetation, street trees/vegetation, urban parks, courtyards, green roofs, green walls, etc. Green infrastructures offer vital environmental, social and economic benefits to address the different challenges of urban areas. Some of these benefits include “cooling of the city (especially as the urban heat island effect grows with climate change); reduced stormwater surges, as rain slows down in the same way that it does in a forest; reduced energy needs in buildings, due to the mantle of insulation from plant life; improved biodiversity; and improved health” (Newman, 2014, p.47).

Given our current global trends of fast-growing human population and rapid urbanization, it is evident today more than ever before, that cities need to adopt innovative ways of introducing nature into the built environment. Singapore, which is also referred to as a “City in a Garden” appears to have succeeded in doing this, and can be used as an inspiration for other cities.

Singapore is an island city-state in South-east Asia, and is one of the world’s leading commercial hubs, with the fourth-biggest financial centre (King, 2014). It has a density of about 7800 inhabitants per square kilometre (National Environment Agency, 2018). This is similar to the average density for cities in South Asia and Subsaharan Africa (8000 inhabitants per square kilometre), but significantly higher than the average density for cities in North America and Europe (1700 and 4000 inhabitants per square kilometre respectively) (OECD, n.d.).

Despite being small (700 km2), dense, and commonly associated with high rise towers, Singapore has succeeded in marrying urban planning and nature throughout its territory, hence its reputation as one of the world’s greenest cities. Singapore possesses about 47 percent green cover, and more than 80 percent of households are within 10-minute walk from a park. As of 2017, Singapore possessed 100 hectares of skyrise greenery (rooftop gardens and green walls), and aims for 200 hectares by 2030. Roof top gardens are a way of life in Singapore. The most famous of its rooftop gardens is the massive SkyPark on top of the Marina Bay Sands complex. Another famous green infrastructure in Singapore is the Gardens by the Bay’s Supertree structures, which reach heights of up to 165 feet (50 meters), and are home to over 1.5 million plants from around the world.

Gardens by the Bay’s Supertree structures

How Did Singapore Become the “City in a Garden”?

Singapore has come a long way on its journey to becoming one of the world’s greenest cities. Over 50 years ago, Singapore was a dirty and polluted developing city-state that lacked proper sanitation (Zulkifli, n.d.). Fast forward to today, Singapore has made a rapid transition from a developing to a highly sustainable developed country in just five decades. Much credit is given to Singapore’s pioneering leadership who had tremendous foresight and chose to prioritize developing a competitive economy, alongside pursuing environmental sustainability and social inclusion (Zulkifli, n.d.).

“I have always believed that a blighted urban jungle of concrete destroys the human spirit. We need the greenery of nature to lift up our spirits.” Mr Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore’s founding Prime Minister)

Following from its independence in 1965, Singapore launched its Garden City programme in 1967 with a vision to make Singapore a highly liveable city filled with greenery (Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, n.d.). This programme was implemented through activities such as tree planting around houses; cleaning up of streets and the heavily polluted Singapore River in the heart of the city; regulating and shifting pollutive industries; enacting new laws against pollution; conserving Nature Reserves and building parks throughout the country (Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, n.d.). As challenges to environmental sustainability have evolved over the years, with pressing issues such as climate change, Singapore has made use of its Sustainable Singapore Blueprint as a framework to enhance its sustainability until 2030. Over these years, three key principles have successfully guided Singapore’s approach towards sustainable development and can be used by other cities seeking to follow Singapore’s example. These principles are:

  • An integrated approach and long-term strategic planning
  • Investment in research and development, and innovative solutions
  • Forging partnerships with stakeholders at every level for the development and implementation of policies

Singapore serves today as a proof that dense cities can effectively integrate green infrastructures in urban planning. Dense cities can regenerate and even create more natural systems, through various means such as exploiting the height of buildings to create a third dimension in an urban ecosystem. These natural systems will increase biodiversity and improve the wellbeing of people in our urban areas, while addressing climate change.

References

King, P. (2014, July). GGBP Case Study Series: Sustainable City Singapore. Retrieved from Green Growth Best Practice: https://www.greengrowthknowledge.org/sites/default/files/downloads/best-practices/GGBP%20Case%20Study%20Series_Singapore_Sustainable%20City%20Singapore.pdf

National Environment Agency. (2018). Progress of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint. Retrieved from https://scic.sg/images/2019/For_Circulation_SSB_SCIC_dialgoue_2018.pdf

Newman, P. (2014). Biophilic urbanism: a case study on Singapore. Australian Planner, 51(1), 47-65. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/07293682.2013.790832

OECD. (n.d.). The changing shape of cities: Density and suburbanisation. Retrieved from https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/252899a3-en/index.html?itemId=/content/component/252899a3-en#:~:text=In%20North%20America%2C%20the%20world,000%20inhabitants%20per%20square%20kilometre.

Sustainable Singapore Blueprint. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.clc.gov.sg/docs/default-source/books/ssbcombined-cover-text.pdf

Zulkifli, M. (n.d.). Towards Singapore’s Sustainability – Key Tenets of Our Approach to Sustainable Development. Retrieved from https://www.cirsd.org/en/horizons/horizons-summer-2019-issue-no-14/towards-singapores-sustainability-key-tenets-of-our-approach-to-sustainable-development

Leslie Fotso
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