Singapore is known the world over as the Garden City. But this reputation wasn’t forged overnight. Discover the history behind on of the greatest metropolitan transformations of modern times.
The 11th May 1963 was one of the most significant dates in the timeline of Singapore’s relatively short history but if you take a video camera up and down Orchard Road and ask Singaporeans why, it’s likely they won’t know.
This was the day that then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (known informally as LKY) introduced his vision for a ‘garden city’. The ambitious idea was ‘to transform Singapore into a city with abundant lush greenery and a clean environment in order to make life more pleasant for the people’ as well as suggesting that litter-free streets pinpoints Singapore out as a well-organised city that would draw increased numbers of tourists and foreign investment.
Fifty years after Prime Minister Lee planted a mempat tree that signalled the city’s transformation, Singapore’s desire to change from a garden in a city to a city in a garden has been realised in the most spectacular way.
By the end of 1970, 55,000 trees had been planted and a national Tree Planting Day was introduced a year later to encourage students, grassroots leaders and residents to maintain the momentum. In the mid-1970s, the government mandated agencies to set aside space for greenery in the development of housing estates, car parks, roads and other municipal spaces and these initiatives had – and continue to have – a lasting legacy on Singapore’s reputation as the Garden City. In 1974, 158,600 trees were planted and in 2014, that number increased to 1.4 million.
It’s not just the big, expensive initiatives that set Singapore apart. It’s often the little things that have the greatest impact. There are small signs of the care taken by individuals and groups all over the place. Small plantings have been installed to cover up and soften concrete walls and a series of interconnecting bridges and walkways linking green spaces are being created all the time.
Quoting a report by US-based news agency ABC from 2012, ‘The government is going out of its way to ensure the city remains a place where plants and parks live in harmony with the city.’
Today, the commitment to a true Garden City remains as strong as it ever was. On the official National Parks website, the government have identified six key areas towards fulfilling the mission set out by LKY half a century ago:
- Engaging and inspiring communities to co-create a greener Singapore
- Enhancing competencies of our landscape and horticulture industry
- Enriching biodiversity in our urban environment
- Establishing world-class gardens
- Optimising urban spaces for greenery and recreation
- Rejuvenating urban parks and enliven streetscapes
Those six points notwithstanding, there has been an increase in wildlife and other areas have been gazetted as nature reserves and the facts back it up. Not only are municipal areas benefitting from the government’s 50-year old vision, there are now a whole host of green-inspired attractions in Singapore that shouldn’t be missed when you get here.
Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay is a S$1bn project covering 101 hectares of reclaimed land and amongst many other fascinating and jaw-dropping sights are the SuperTrees, sensational vertical gardens with space-age biodomes, conservatories, the Flower Dome, Cloud Forest and an incredible children’s garden.
The Southern Ridges is a 9km long series of connected parks and hills just a few minutes from the city centre where you can see Singapore’s incredible wildlife and fauna from high above the treeline.
You can also take treetop walks at Macritchie Reservoir across a 250 metre long, free-standing suspension bridge for, literally, a bird’s eye view of the forest birds, flying lemurs and long-tailed macaques.
Don’t forget the incredible cycling paths on the tiny island of Pulau Ubin and the brand-new, S$3m ecologically-sustainable park at Coney Island. Here you’ll find 80 species of birds, and almost 160 species of animals. If you come to Coney Island, look out for a single Brahman bull that wanders the island. No-one knows quite how it arrived on the island and as far as the authorities know, no-one has reported a bull missing or stolen so it just walks around keeping himself to himself!
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Singapore Botanic Gardens
One of the ‘must see’ stops on any tour of the Garden City has to be the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It is the only tropical gardens in the world designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there’s so much to do and see, it’s an incredible day out for the entire family.
Over the next decade, there will be more and more increasingly elaborate and ambitious landscape projects that will help to shape the identity of Singapore as LKY wished it to be. The Jewel Changi Airport development is one such project that will, along with the others, create functional, practical, environmentally-aware and above all attractive outdoor space for the residents and guests of Singapore to use every day.