Best of our wild blogs: 21 Feb 13

Seahorses and Hermaphrodites
from Pulau Hantu

Read more!

Shaping a loveable liveable Lion City

Can a city of 6.9 million be both liveable and loveable? What goes into making a city liveable anyway?
Grace Chua Straits Times 21 Feb 13;

THE recent Population White Paper had Singapore's planners declaring their aim of making Singapore "a city which is liveable, lively and well-loved".

Singaporeans hear the term "liveability" bandied about - particularly in international rankings of the island-state against other cities. There's even a whole think-tank, the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC), dedicated to it under the auspices of the Ministry of National Development.

But what does liveability mean? It depends on whom you're talking to.

International rankings like the Quality of Life ranking by human resources firm Mercer and one from the Economist Intelligence Unit are specifically used to work out how much an international firm might pay employees to live and work in Moscow, Melbourne or Mumbai. These take into account economic strength, political stability, health care, environment, safety, education and transport, among other measures.

These are important, but most people don't pick where to live based on liveability rankings. So liveability needs to be relevant to a wider range of people than business executives.

So what kind of liveable city would appeal to "real" people?

Dr Dietmar Hahlweg, the highly regarded former mayor of the German city of Erlangen, wrote: "The liveable city is a city for all people. That means that the liveable city should be attractive, worthwhile, safe for our children, for our older people, not only for the people who earn money there and then go and live outside in the suburbs and in the surrounding communities."

For one, there needs to be a clearer distinction between "stayability", which is short term, and liveability, which is about how nice a place is for people to live in, to put down roots and call home.

Indeed, speakers of Singapore English often use the words "stay" and "live" interchangeably, as a direct translation from the Malay word "tinggal". In fact, "stay" refers to a short-term stint, while "live" refers to a long-term one.

Hard or soft?

THE ingredients of liveability could be divided into hard and soft ones.

Hard or concrete liveability might mean: Can I get a better job with higher pay? Is the air polluted or clean? Are crime rates low? Can I get a hospital bed when I need one?

Singapore scores well on these indicators. Others include working water pipes and rail lines; energy consumption; economic growth; even levels of corruption or the presence and enforcement of anti-pollution laws and safeguards.

"Soft" liveability could refer to less tangible measures such as cultural tolerance and diversity. Is the city friendly to those who are different? How does it treat those - within and beyond its boundaries - who are less privileged?

Is there income equity, as well as equity of access to decision-making? (An analogy: If you are a transient renter, you don't get to have much say in what colour you paint the walls. But if you own your home, you get a say within your household on what goes on the walls, how you want the furniture to be arranged and so on.)

Five years ago, the CLC commissioned the more comprehensive Global Liveable Cities Index, comprising measures of economic vibrancy, environmental friendliness and sustainability, social harmony and cultural diversity, security and governance.

In that index, income equality, social harmony and cultural diversity are measured by things like the Gini coefficient, a measure of the gap between the wealthiest and poorest; by the percentage of foreigners or immigrants, by the number of religions and by attitudes towards foreign visitors.

National University of Singapore associate professor Tan Khee Giap, who led the development of the index, explained that the index is useful for governments to gauge how they fare and where they need to improve.

While progress on hard liveability measures is usually quite clear, some soft liveability goals contradict each other. For example, cultural or heritage elements make neighbourhoods like Chinatown or Tiong Bahru authentic, which make them desirable.

But when a neighbourhood becomes too desirable, driving up home prices, the resulting gentrification as wealthier residents move in can drive out the very elements, such as incense shops or traditional bakeries, that make them authentic and desirable in the first place.

Whatever their use, liveability rankings only go so far. Rankings, after all, pit cities against each other - comparing Zurich to Hong Kong, Manila to Teheran.

For those who live there, what's more important is how liveable the city is over time - whether the quality of life progresses or deteriorates.

And a city can have a high standard of living, but a poor quality of social life.

Liveable or loveable?

OR AS Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh asked in Parliament recently: "It is one thing to build a liveable city. The harder question is: How do we build a loveable one?"

Fellow NMP Faizah Jamal suggested that "well-being goes beyond gross domestic product growth". Instead, "it is about fulfilling careers, emotional security, equitable distribution of wealth, affordable housing, health care and education, and factors in the existence of places that evoke childhood memories, natural spaces and access to these places".

That suggests people yearn for a sense of place in their hometown - spaces and buildings that connect them to their past even as the city forges on to the future.

If you merely stay somewhere, you might not mind if the landlord comes in to renovate or repaint, since you aren't going to be there long. But if you have settled on a permanent abode, constant change is like someone barging in to renovate your home and change the furniture every year.

There is a fine line, perhaps different for different people, between progress and disorientation.

Apart from giving people a sense of ownership, a loveable city might be one which is child-friendly. Or as urban planning consultant Suzanne Crowhurst Lennard of the International Making Cities Liveable Council in Oregon notes, that does not mean playgrounds or enrichment centres, but "walkability" that allows children to explore their built and natural environment independently.

Check in on your neighbours

THEN there is resilience, another component of making a city loveable.

In a 1995 Chicago heatwave, two equally low-income neighbourhoods were a study in contrasts: in one, a dying neighbourhood with little social cohesion, lonely older men died alone of the heat, as there was no one to look in on them.

In the other, neighbours and church members went door to door to check on each other, and it had the same mortality rate as a much richer neighbourhood.

Singapore may technically be able to house 6.9 million people not unpleasantly, but would neighbours, so recently strangers, look out for each other if another Sars epidemic hit?

Infrastructure and technology can help promote such soft liveability.

For instance, instead of "checking in" to locations on Facebook or Foursquare, can you literally check in with your neighbours on an app from the local community development council?

In a hometown, one might also want a sense of autonomy and control over what happens, and the speed of what happens. Today, there are several not-in- my-backyard protests over the prospective development of space for nursing homes, for example. Protesters are spurred by a sense that the city is developing too fast around them.

Planners could do more to plan for unplanned space. What does that mean? Today, there are open fields such as in Old Holland Road and Marina Bay, where people fly kites and remote-controlled planes or play soccer or cricket until planning authorities decide they should be used for something else. And at the Kreta Ayer town square in Chinatown, older men sit and play Chinese chess and line-dancing groups go through their routines. At least a few of these unplanned spaces should be dedicated spaces for such activities, not interim empty space.

Just as a stable political climate encourages investment, a stable spatial climate could encourage social investment in the community, with people coming up with new and creative temporary uses of the space instead of protesting when it is to be turned into nursing homes or new blocks.

In the end, liveability measures are static snapshots that assume people are passive consumers of their city.

But "city-zens" have the autonomy to shape a city: to plant trees, start new businesses and invent new technologies, organise volunteers to cook for lonely old folk, start running groups that pick up trash as they go.

When people feel they care enough to make their common space a better one for themselves and their neighbours, that is when a city becomes loveable.

Read more!

HDB to fund green ideas for its estates

Daryl Chin Straits Times 21 Feb 13;

THE Housing Board is providing funding of up to $100,000 to spur the development and testing of green ideas for its estates.

The money for this first-ever initiative will come from a $1 million Greenprint fund that was launched yesterday.

The ideas need to be original and revolve around areas such as saving water and electricity, increasing recycling rates, reducing heat in the environment and improving the quality of life.

The test-bedding site is in Yuhua, specifically Blocks 209 to 240 along Jurong East Street 21.

"This provides anyone, from industry experts and students to ordinary members of the public, with the chance to put their great green ideas into action and see them developed," said the HDB.

Ideas that prove to be workable after testing could be implemented in other towns, it added.

Interested participants can apply on their own or form a team of up to five members. They can also be companies or schools.

Proposals will be evaluated by a panel of experts from the HDB, among others, who will also determine the grant amount.

Environment consultant Eugene Tay said the initiative will help raise awareness of eco-issues. "When residents see the actual solutions being implemented in their backyard, they will have a better sense of what it takes to save the environment and in turn try to pitch in," he added.

He is optimistic that the "substantial" funding will help generate good ideas.

Applications, which have opened on the HDB website, will close on May 20.

The projects will run till next year and the HDB will also gather feedback from Yuhua residents.

The latest move is part of the HDB Greenprint, which was announced in October last year.

So far, various activities are already up and running for residents in Yuhua.

For example, the HDB is working with vendors to sell energy-saving appliances such as air-conditioners, refrigerators and lighting fixtures to residents at discounted rates.

The board is also implementing by next year a pneumatic system that sucks rubbish from flats to a central collection point via an underground network of pipes.

Under another programme, the HDB has also committed some $15 million to put up solar panels in areas like Punggol.

The energy is used to power facilities such as lifts, lights in corridors and staircases, as well as water pumps.

The hope is to test-bed such technology in 200 public housing blocks by 2015.

Read more!

Malaysia: RM35m allocation for viaduct to link forests

New Straits Times 21 Feb 13;

IPOH: The Federal Government has approved a RM35 million to build a viaduct for the Central Forest Spine (CSF) project.

The viaduct will serve as an as an ecological link and provide safe passage for animals between their habitats.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir said the federal authority was expected to call for a tender soon.

"We expect it (the project) to be completed in about two years after the tender is awarded," he said after chairing the state executive council meeting here yesterday.

The CFS is a master plan to ensure animals and plants in the country can continue to thrive for future generations.

Under the plan, the forest complexes will be connected through a network of 37 linkages to form a 5.3 million hectare forest complex. These linkages will allow animals to roam freely from north to south of the peninsula.

The four forest complexes are Titiwangsa-Bintang-Nakawan Range; National Park to Eastern Range; Southeast Pahang Swamp Forest, Tasik Chini and Tasik Bera; and Endau Rompin National Park-Kluang Wildlife Reserve.

Perak has, to date, gazetted about 20,000ha of the the Lower Belum Forest along the Grik-Jeli Highway as a permanent forest reserve under the CFS.

"This if proof of our seriousness to the Federal Government's initiative," Zambry said, adding that the state had engaged experts to help ensure the success of the project.

"We have obtained positive feedback on how we can go about developing a safe environment for the wildlife.

"They have even suggested the kind of plants we can grow as a food source."

Read more!

Indonesia announces shark, manta ray sanctuary

(AFP) Google News 20 Feb 13;

JAKARTA — Indonesia has announced a new shark and manta ray sanctuary, the first to protect the species in the rich marine ecosystem of the Coral Triangle, known as the "Amazon of the ocean".

Environmentalists Wednesday welcomed the creation of the 46,000-square-kilometre (18,000-square-mile) protection zone, in an area at risk from both overfishing and climate change.

The local government in Raja Ampat on the western tip of New Guinea island announced the move this week, issuing local regulations to ban the finning and fishing of sharks in the area, a tourist destination popular with divers.

Rizal Algamar, Indonesia director of the Nature Conservancy, described the regulations in a joint statement with Conservation International as a "breakthrough in policy".

"Scientific evidence states that the value of live sharks and manta rays far outweighs the one-time profit of dead sharks and manta rays, benefiting a growing world-class and increasingly popular marine tourism and dive destination," he said.

Scientists have warned the Coral Triangle, which spreads across a vast area of Southeast Asia's waters, is under threat, with heat-trapping carbon gases blamed for creating acidic seas hostile to much marine life.

Overfishing has also been a problem, but the sanctuary will support existing no-take zones that have helped shark numbers slowly recover.

"Sharks in particular play an important role, as apex predators at the top of the food chain, maintaining fisheries and ecosystem health," the statement said.

The sanctuary is also expected to prevent a drop in manta ray numbers, with the species' gills increasingly used in Asian medicines.

Shark populations are in a rapid and steep decline worldwide, facing intense pressure from fishing and in high demand for shark fin soup.

Up to 73 million sharks are killed annually, mostly for their fins, the statement said. As a result, many shark species have suffered declines greater than 75 percent and in some species up to 90 percent or more.

Indonesia ranks as the world's largest exporter of sharks and rays.

Read more!

India: Olive Ridley Turtles mass nesting begins in Odisha coast 20 Feb 13;

Berhampur: A record number of over 3 lakh Olive Ridley turtles have laid eggs in Odisha coast within a span of only one week, officials said today.

This time the turtles mostly laid their eggs near the river Rushikulya mouth in Ganjam district, about 60 km from here.

The mass nesting of turtles began in Rushikulya river mouth on February 13. Last year, the turtles had congregated for mass nesting at the Rushikulya beach on February 29.

While around 2.60 lakh turtles had laid eggs in the Rushikulya rookery in 2008-09. Last year, 1.07 lakh turtles nested the beach.

"This time, they broke the previous record and over three lakh Olive Ridley Turtles laid eggs so far," said divisional forest officer, Berhampur S S Mishra. Despite rains lashed in the area on Sunday evening,over 8,700 Olive Ridley turtles laid eggs in the wee hours of Monday, he said.

Since some more turtles were floating in the sea, DFO said the nesting was likely to continue for some more days.

The Olive Ridleys, listed under Schedule 1 of the endangered species list, nested in two places this time. While around 2.50 lakh were nested in the 3.50-km long Sandbar between Kantiagada and Podampeta, another 50,000 turtles nested near Purunabandh area, he said.

Mass nesting of the Olive ridley started today followed by the sporadic nesting in the area.

Clean nesting sites and conducive atmosphere are some of the reasons attributed to the record number of Olive Ridleys visited the rookery for nesting, experts said.

This time, the turtles started nesting about a fortnight earlier in the rookery, forest officials said.

Forest officials made elaborate arrangements for smooth and safe nesting of the turtles. The entire area was divided into 32 sectors. Forest personnel and local volunteers have been deployed in each sector for counting the eggs.

They also provided protections to the eggs in absent of their mother turtles, said DFO.

After laying eggs, the female turtles go to the deep sea without waiting to see the hatchels, which generally emerged around 45 days of the nesting.

"The local people in the area are cooperating with the forest personnel to protect the eggs," said Rabindra Nath Sahu secretary of the Rushikulya Sea Turtles Protection Committee.

Besides Rushikulya river mouth, the turtles also nest in Gahiramatha beach and Devi river mouth in the state. But the mass nesting in other two places are yet to start.


Read more!

After China's multibillion-dollar cleanup, water still unfit to drink

David Stanway PlanetArk 21 Feb 13;

China aims to spend $850 billion to improve filthy water supplies over the next decade, but even such huge outlays may do little to reverse damage caused by decades of pollution and overuse in Beijing's push for rapid economic growth.

China is promising to invest 4 trillion yuan ($650 billion) - equal to its entire stimulus package during the global financial crisis - on rural water projects alone during the 2011-2020 period. What's more, at least $200 billion in additional funds has been earmarked for a variety of cleanup projects nationwide, Reuters has learned after scouring a range of central and local government documents.

That new cash injection will be vital, with rivers and lakes throughout China blighted by algae blooms caused by fertilizer run-off, bubbling chemical spills and untreated sewage discharges. Judging by Beijing's cleanup record so far, however, the final tally could be many times higher.

Over the five years to 2010, the country spent 700 billion yuan ($112.41 billion) on water infrastructure, but much of its water remains undrinkable. The environment ministry said 43 percent of the locations it was monitoring in 2011 contained water that was not even fit for human contact.

"The reason why they have achieved so little even though they have spent so much on pollution treatment is because they have followed the wrong urbanization model - China is still putting too much pressure on local resources," said Zhou Lei, a fellow at Nanjing University who has studied water pollution.

A close look at publicly available documents shows limited environmental ambitions, as Beijing strives to prolong three decades of blistering economic growth and fill the estimated annual water supply shortfall of 50 billion cubic meters (bcm) required to feed growing energy and agricultural demand.

At the same time, the government faces growing pressure to address environmental effects of fast growth, as public anger over air pollution that blanketed many northern cities in January has spread to online appeals for Beijing to clean up water supplies as well.

The huge costs suggest that treatment, rather than prevention, remains the preferred solution, with industrial growth paramount and pollution regarded as just another economic opportunity, Zhou said.

"They always treat environmental degradation as an economic issue. China is even using pollution as a resource, and using the opportunity to treat environmental degradation as a way to accumulate new wealth," he said, referring to business contracts local governments offer to big water treatment firms.


On top of the 10-year rural water plan, China last year vowed to spend another 250 billion yuan on water conservation, and has since allocated a further 130 billion yuan to treat small and medium-sized rivers over the next two years.

Local governments are also spending heavily, with Dianchi Lake in southwest China's Yunnan province being lavished with 31 billion yuan of investment in the next three years in order to produce "obvious improvements" in water quality, records show.

East China's Lake Tai, a test case for China's environmental authorities after suffering a notorious bloom of algae and cyanobacteria in 2007, has spent 70 billion yuan in the five years since, and more is expected.

Both cleanup projects have been designed merely to bring water up from "grade V" - meaning "no human contact" - to "grade IV", which is designated "industrial use only", according to detailed plans listed on local government websites.

Even such negligible gains could be crucial for a country that has the same amount of water as Britain although its population is 20 times as big.

Data from China's Ministry of Water Resources shows that average per capita supplies stand at 2,100 cubic meters, 28 percent of the global average. The government has vowed to cap total use to 700 bcm a year by 2030, but that will still require a big increase in supplies, with consumption now about 600 bcm.

Costly engineering and technological feats, though unlikely to address the underlying causes of pollution, could at least make more water available, allowing marginal quality improvements without interfering with industrial growth or the country's ambitious and water-intense urbanization plans.

"Part of this increase in the supply of water will come from removing all 'grade V' water supplies, which is actually useless even for agriculture," said Debra Tan, director at the China Water Risk organization. "Grade IV is not safe to swim in, but it at least is usable." ($1 = 6.2270 Chinese yuan)

(Editing by Ken Wills)

Read more!