Tending a Garden City: Are only VIP trees protected?

Straits Times 5 Dec 09;

I REFER to the report, ''VIP trees' symbols of commitment to Garden City' (Nov 26), on the tradition of tree planting dating back to 1963 started by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Over the years, political leaders have exhorted us to develop a sense of belonging and pride in the community and care for the environment.

Residents in Marsiling Rise have taken this advice to heart and spent a great deal of time nurturing the trees that grow in our locality. For more than a decade, these residents have nurtured these trees, including starfruit, stunted mango, soursop, chicku, jackfruit, rambutan, moringa, sugarcane and banana. They are home to munias, bulbuls, golden orioles, swifts, sunbirds, koels, jambu parrots, and even woodpeckers.

Many residents, including me, were greatly distressed by Sembawang Town Council's decision to cordon off a large number of these beautiful trees and plants, designated for removal because of 'unauthorised planting on turf'. These mature trees, which are around 10 to 15 years old and include the evergreen neem tree - like the one planted recently by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - have been targeted to be cut down by the town council.

About a month ago, 20 of us residents appealed for only selective culling of those trees that pose a threat to health or property, as an alternative solution to cutting down all the trees.

The town council responded in a generic e-mail inviting us to use the communal garden, allocated to residents 'for in-ground planting' and 'community bonding and for maintaining the aesthetics of the estate'.

This official gardening spot is completely fenced off and under lock and key.

Since then, our repeated appeals have been met with stony silence, despite several attempts to invite the town council to engage with us in person and to understand the personal stories behind the Marsiling Rise trees and why they are of great importance to residents.

How can Singaporeans and residents develop a sense of responsibility and belonging to the nation when our efforts are discouraged in this manner?

More important, the removal of these trees - a rare and educational thicket in the urban jungle - will result in a loss to Singapore's garden city. Every tree plays a valuable role in helping us reduce our energy needs, offsetting our carbon footprint and slowing down global warming.

Do trees have to be planted by VIPs to be sacred?

Dr Praema Raghavan-Gilbert