Grassroots green plan off to a flying start

Bukit Timah group's Firefly Park part of bid to improve neighbourhood
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Jul 12;

THE Firefly Park off Clementi Avenue 4 opened only last week but it is already bustling with residents jogging, walking their dogs and practising taiji.

The space is one highlight of the Bukit Timah Green Plan that was distributed as a brochure to residents last week.

The plan may be the first to be put up entirely by grassroots groups in the Bukit Timah division of the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC to improve the neighbourhood.

In the case of Firefly Park, residents' committees were consulted on the 1.2ha facility's design.

Other proposals in the plan's first phase: a large community garden between Clementi Avenue 4 and Clementi Avenue 6; more green spaces in Toh Yi Drive such as a rooftop garden; and tree-planting, a fitness station and running track at the Mayfair Park estate off Dunearn Road.

Though some of these were planned earlier, Bukit Timah citizens' consultative committee chairman Kenneth Yap said it was decided to group them together in the Green Plan.

'We thought it would be better to plan it a bit more centrally instead of leaving everything to chance,' he added.

The plan has its roots in the Mayfair Park neighbourhood, a quiet estate bordered by Rifle Range Road.

In 2005, residents there worked on roadside gardens in what is now considered the first Community In Bloom project, a National Parks Board scheme to encourage community gardening.

They are now hoping to build a green link to nearby Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, said Mayfair Park Neighbourhood Committee chairman Balasupramaniam Krishna, 66, also known as Mr Bala.

Ms Sim Ann, grassroots adviser and Member of Parliament for the division, said the neighbourhood committee was invited to propose a division-level plan for Bukit Timah. 'I am very glad they took the ball and ran with it.'

But will it be a good fit for larger, more diverse neighbourhoods and get new residents of upcoming Build-To-Order blocks involved?

Mr Yap and Mr Bala said they will seek ideas from everyone.

In the plan's second phase, grassroots committees want residents to suggest ideas.

'We want people to come forward and ask, 'There's a green patch here, can we plant here?' Then we can help them with planning and getting the approvals,' said Mr Yap, 37, a civil servant.

It can be tricky, he added, to strike a balance between giving people ownership of a space so that they can tend to it and seeing that the space remains open to all.

For instance, a garden behind one Clementi preschool has a low wall around it, which marks out the space, but does not stop people from walking in.

And residents do not always get what they want from the authorities, said Mr Bala.

For instance, residents wanted to put planter boxes around the upgraded Bukit Timah market but the National Environment Agency said people might use them to discard litter.

'So they planted a few bushes instead. It's not really what we want, but it's a start, and we are going to go on and try to improve it,' he said.

Other community movements have also sprouted to protect the neighbourhood or natural landscape.

The Save Joo Chiat Work Group helped rid the district of sleaze in 2004.

In recent months, residents of Dairy Farm and Chestnut estates, and Pasir Ris, have lobbied for the preservation of patches of woodland.