Park and enjoy - NParks turning Singapore into a green home for all

The National Parks Board is stepping up efforts to turn Singapore into a green home for all
natasha ann zachariah Straits Times 1 Oct 11;

Anew push to tag Singapore a City In A Garden instead of the familiar Garden City, to better link greenery with people's living and working needs, is giving Singaporeans a chance for a new kind of 'grassroots' input.

The green scene is sprouting in a new, more inclusive direction than in the past, with the National Parks Board (NParks) last month asking Singaporeans to give their responses to its website and Facebook page in six areas. These included how to improve parks and greenery and how to encourage biodiversity in the city.

The move is one of several recent government announcements to nurture Singapore's green spaces, including a $12-million fund to boost the landscape industry and help workers gain better skills.

The evolving green scene is a far cry from when Singapore's greening efforts were helmed by the Parks and Recreation Department in the 1970s and 1980s. NParks was formed in 1990 and later merged with the department in 1996.

Back then, during Singapore's first stages of greening, parks consisted of 'instant trees' - those that were already matured, uprooted and replanted here.

Newly planted roadside trees, many of which were not even native to Asia, were planted in rigid lines, with nothing allowed to be planted in between.

Mr Kong Yit San, 55, assistant chief executive officer of NParks' park management and lifestyle cluster, says: 'It was a good way to show off our public spaces but we took it a little extreme. There was a joke that even our trees had to behave and get in line. But the truth was that people were not using our parks then.'

The prime minister at that time, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, believed it important that Singapore distinguish itself from Third World countries, and spearheaded efforts for a clean and greener Singapore.

Building parks and gardens started with the Tree Planting campaign in 1963, while the Garden City programme was launched four years later.

What resulted were thousands of plants of a few species brought here to create instant greenery along the roads and in parks. They were chosen because they were cheap, and grew well in the hot, humid climate here.

Mr Mason Tan, landscape architect and owner of Mace Studio, calls this period 'survival landscaping'.

The 48-year-old, whose company has worked on the Jacob Ballas Children's Garden at the Botanic Gardens and one-north Streetscapes at Vista Xchange, says: 'There was a lot of foresight in setting aside sufficient green spaces. But there was no local ecology. They were super sterile green spaces. They were good to look at but people didn't really interact with them.'

Mr Kong agrees, adding that much of the design for parks then was created to keep people out and was mainly for show.

He cites the example of park connectors, which were initially built for people to walk through. They were bare, with a few benches and street lights. He adds: 'Over the years, we've realised that people use these to do taiji or brisk walk. Now, we've tried to accommodate scenic views on newer connectors and nurture different habitats there.'

The approach to creating green spaces has changed - more noticeably by getting the people who use them to tell NParks what they want.

Mr Kong says: 'Now, we consult people about what they want in a park when we build new ones. This is different from the past when we just built without asking them. Today, with our parks, we want people to own them.'

Currently, NParks manages about 300 parks, with about 220 being community spaces or playgrounds, measuring an average 1,500 sq m.

Park managers such as Ms Nurhaslinda Ramli, section head of parks, talks to regular park users to get feedback on how the areas can be better managed or what can be built.

Says the 35-year-old: 'Singaporeans are well-travelled. When they see an idea which they think might work here, they will e-mail or stop us in the parks to tell us. From there, we'll work with the landscape architects to see if it's feasible.'

And it seems that the public likes being consulted. A month into NParks' online campaign as well as exhibitions and talks, and the team has received more than 1,000 ideas on how to green up the living environment.

The Gardens by the Bay at Marina Bay, which opens next year, is one concrete example of NParks asking the public what it wanted in a public garden.

The findings showed that visitors want greenery and ample shade but, at the same time, plenty of colour from flowers.

The melding of ideas has taken off well, with the gardens getting, among other things, recognition - this year and in 2009 - at the prestigious MIPIM Architectural Review Future Project Awards, organised by the international publication, Architectural Review.

Now, the biggest challenge is to find more green spaces in Singapore's increasing concrete jungle. But the team is planning to get creative, even if it means looking at unusual spots to make a garden.

Mr Kong says: 'There will always be a space crunch. So we'll look at optimising unused spaces such as under viaducts. You'll never think to put greenery there but it's a matter of design and putting them in the right place.'

Favourite spots
Straits Times 1 Oct 11;

They work with green spaces every day but what are the personal favourites of Singapore's landscape industry professionals? Life! asks five for their green picks.

Who: Mr Kong Yit San, 55, assistant chief executive officer of park management and lifestyle cluster at the National Parks Board
Where: Fort Canning
Why: 'Aside from the memories of growing up here when my father was stationed in Singapore as military personnel for the Malaysian army, I enjoy the green, open spaces.
Fort Canning has more mature trees and a lush landscape, with something for everyone. There are intimate corners where you can sit on a bench and read a book, and wide spaces where you can kick a ball. Also, it's a park on a hill, so it gives a sense of being somewhere else, unlike most parks here, which are on flat land.'

Who: Mr Damian Tang, 37, president of the Singapore Institute of Landscape Architects and assistant director of design with NParks
Where: Tampines Eco-Green Park
Why: 'This is the park for nature lovers. It's really different because when you're here, it's like you're engulfing yourself in nature. It's also one of the more scenic parks here. Often, you will find people who don't live nearby, like myself, who will travel here for the tranquillity and quietness. You can really enjoy the natural surroundings and the wildlife that?s not seen elsewhere.'

Who: Dr Shawn Lum, 48, president of the Nature Society (Singapore)
Where: Upper Seletar Reservoir Park
Why: 'From a nature perspective, there are so many things to appreciate. There are several distinct types of forests growing here, from the primary ones to towering canopies. The animal diversity is great, too, being at the fringes of a freshwater swamp forest. You get unique, rare sights of wildlife such as the hornbills, which are returning to Singapore on their own after they disappeared in the mid-1990s, and also the Banded Leaf Monkey, which is possibly the rarest and one of the most threatened species of larger animals here.'

Who: Ms Emily Lim, 36, landscape architect lecturer at the School of Architecture and the Built Environment at Singapore Polytechnic
Where: Upper Pierce Reservoir Park
Why: 'I discovered it only this year, after passing by once. I like that it has old-fashioned elements that are a throwback to the 1970s, such as the benches and pavilions. These are things you won't see in newer parks. Coming here feels like time has stood still - it's very serene and quiet. There's a beautiful short tree that has grown into one with a gorgeous, low-branching canopy. It's heartening to see families walking around and talking to one another as they explore the area.'

Who: Mr Mason Tan, 48, owner of Mace Studio, a private landscape architect firm
Where: Central Catchment Area, which includes MacRitchie Reservoir Park
Why: 'It's the last remnant of a surviving rainforest that is still relatively intact. It's one of those places that doesn't need to be maintained - the less human intervention, the better. It's away from an urban environment where you don't see or hear the traffic until you leave the park. It's also pristine enough and very refreshing to take a nice stroll through.'

Eight green facts
Straits Times 1 Oct 11;

1 Who says Singapore is a concrete jungle? About half of the island is covered in greenery.

2 It is not as high as conventional mountains but Singapore's highest peak, the 164m-tall Bukit Timah Hill, and its reserve have more tree species than the entire North American continent.

3 Bukit Timah Hill is also a wildlife paradise, with about 160 species of animals including snakes, such as reticulated pythons, and birds such as the striped tit-babbler. Insect life is also plentiful, with about 73,000 species.

4 Parks' carparks are vehicles for greenery. Take HortPark's, for example: Its variety of plants includes 220 trees and more than 8,000 shrubs.

5 Unravel the park connectors and the length would span more than Singapore itself. To date, the Park Connector Network spans 180km, linking major parks, nature sites and housing estates.

6 Pulau Ubin's 45ha Ketam Mountain Bike Park is the first in Singapore to meet international standards for mountain-biking competitions. It has 10km of trails of various difficulty levels.

7 Many trees such as the frangipani, lantana and bougainvillea were actually imported. Others include angsana (pterocarpus indicus) and the yellow flame (peltophorum pterocarpum).

8 The natural swamp habitat at Pasir Ris Park had to go when the area was reclaimed 20 years ago. To restore the original mangrove habitat, NParks spread 2km of organic matter and planted 10,000 saplings of the avicennia mangrove tree.

Source: NParks and

Give suggestions on creating a Garden In A City at NParks' website,, between now and next June or leave comments on its Facebook page at