Garden of Eden is in Singapore!

As competition for resources increases and urban populations expand, Singapore is embracing sustainable development.

From vertical farms to living buildings, the city is on the cutting edge of environmentally sustainable urban solutions in the world.

Home to over 5.5 million, Singapore had no choice but to adopt high-density development because of its tight land constraints.

“We take steps to ensure our self-sufficiency,” says Yvonne Soh, general manager of the  Singapore Green Buildings Council. “In Singapore, we have a lot of initiatives to promote sustainability.”

As Singapore expands, a novel approach preserves green space. New developments must include plant life, in the form of green roofs, cascading vertical gardens, and verdant walls mandatory since 2008. This has resulted in urban planners literally weaving nature throughout the entire city – visible from across the landscape. Innovative design has created the illusion of space using “green” and “blue” elements. This includes the creation of one of the largest freshwater city reservoirs in the world.

Much of that vision to keep Singapore both sustainable and livable stems from Cheong Koon Hean, the first woman to lead Singapore’s urban development agency (UDA).  With a rising population and finite freshwater resources, some positive action was needed fast, so ministers set up a national water agency, PUB, which became the sole body responsible for the collection, production, distribution, and reclamation of water in the city.

 The Gardens: look east for Eden, Singapore Style

Symbol of Singapore and its efforts to promote green space, these “Supertrees
Symbol of Singapore and its efforts to promote green space, these “Supertrees” belong to a display at the 250-acre Gardens by the Bay. The high-tech structures range from 80 to 160 feet and collect solar energy to power a nightly light show. They have a softer side too: their trunks are vertical gardens, laced with more than 150,000 living plants.

Throughout the city, there are many green buildings such as the CapitaGreen office tower, the Park Royal on Pickering hotel and the Tree House condo near Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

“Singapore is an island about half the size of London which has managed to preserve its cultural—Chinese, Indian, and Malay—and architectural legacy through a heritage conservation program.”

The futuristic ‘Gardens by the Bay’ in central Singapore, is a revolutionary botanical garden spanning over 100 hectares of reclaimed land. It’s  a beautiful asset to the city but may also offer a path to the health and happiness of its citizens.

Transport is another sector that has seen investment recently. On an island of 4.8 million people with limited space.  After a series of smart card innovations, people have been able to use e-Symphony, an IBM-designed payment card that can be used to pay for road tolls, bus travel, taxis, the metro, and even shopping.

Have little ones with you? Take them to the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden, where they’ll learn all about shrubs, plants, and all things green.

Up for a hike? Visit the  MacRitchie Nature Trail & Reservoir Park. Complete the 11-kilometer-long nature trail and don’t miss the Treetop Walk, a 250-meter high suspension bridge that connects two of the park’s highest points.

History buffs can make a beeline for  Fort Canning Park. Conveniently located in the heart of town, this site is home to numerous historical landmarks, such as Fort Gate, a remnant of a fortress that was built in the 19th century.

Singapore in 1965

When Singapore became independent in 1965, it was a city filled with slums, choked with congestion and a lack of jobs with limited land and no natural resources.

Singapore’s version of public housing is unique.

In 50 years, it has built a clean, modern metropolis with a diversified economy and reliable infrastructure and has transformed from a nation of squatters to a nation of homeowners with a 90% home-ownership rate, currently the highest in the world.

For vulnerable families who cannot afford a flat of their own, HDB helps them through its public rental program.

PARKROYAL on Pickering |  © Patrick Bingham / Courtesy of PARKROYAL on Pickering
PARKROYAL on Pickering | © Patrick Bingham / Courtesy of PARKROYAL on Pickering

All these measures combine to make Singapore a smarter city.

“What we have done is to research and try to distill the principles for Singapore’s success in sustainable urban development – we call it a liveability framework,” says Khoo Teng Chye, executive director at the Centre for Liveable Cities based in Singapore.

Back to Eden

The planet simply can’t sustain current levels of resource use and environmental degradation. It has not a choice; cities have to change.

Cities cover just 2% of the Earth’s surface yet consume about 75% of the world’s resources.  By 2050, it is expected that 70% of the world population will live in urban areas.  According to a 2014 study by the United Nations, rural living is in decline on a global scale. Whereas just 30% of the world’s population were urban dwellers in 1950, more than half (54%) are now housed in cities, therefore, it’s clear they are key to tackling climate change and reducing resource use.  

However, quality of life, environmental sustainability, and competitive economics. These are the components that make cities liveable and there  is very strong evidence to show that maintaining a  connection to nature is good for our health;

“People are happiest when they’re most connected to nature,” says Chris Trott, Head of Sustainability at Foster and Partners, who believes setting schemes and legislation in this way can create awareness in the mind of both developers and the public.”
Fredi Devas, producer of the Cities episode of Planet Earth II says.
“Many studies show that hospital beds with a window onto greenery result in their patients recovering faster. Schools have better attendance and companies have better staff retention, if they have vegetation close at hand.”  

Visitors to Singapore are often surprised by how green the island is considering how large a population it crams onto its small landmass.  According to the latest Siemens’ Green City Index for Asia, Singapore is the best-performing city in the region when measured against a range of sustainability criteria.

Singapore stands as a model of sustainability and water management in the region and beyond and is the Eden garden city of the future.  

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