Singapore as a small city-state has been known as the Garden City, or ‘City in a Garden’, thanks to the foresight of the late Lee Kuan Yew who believed that plants and biodiversity would increase people’s overall well-being and transform physical spaces. Over the years, architects, developers, and urban planners, both globally and locally, have placed more emphasis on creating more sustainable designs in urban areas, sometimes literally building trees and greenery on buildings. This week, we explore some of the reasons and concerns for nature to co-exist with the city – a juxtaposition of built and natural environment.

Here’s a video that explains this growing trend:

The case for nature in cities

There is also evidence to suggest that people who are more exposed to nature, and connected to nature, are more likely to display pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors. Today, as governments and international bodies are focusing on efforts to change consumption patterns to become more sustainable, people have to be motivated to engage in these conservation efforts for the health of our planet.

Many city governments are realising the importance and benefits of bringing urban dwellers and nature together, with environmental policies focusing on these areas, for instance in the UK, and Australia.

The issue of climate change and environmental sustainability is multifaceted. One other key contributor of human activities damaging to the environment is food production. As land is needed for agricultural purposes, deforestation takes place, which means less trees to absorb carbon dioxide, contributing to the greenhouse effect. Fertilisers and pesticides used also harm biodiversity and soil quality. As populations grow, and food supply is expected to increase to meet demands, more sustainable strategies have to be implemented instead of increasing farm lands.

Part of the solution would be to bring the farms into the city through urban farming technologies. An urban designer expressed his views that governments need to focus on changing patterns on consumption and waste on a global and local level, such as recycling food waste, implement urban farming, and change diets. Urban farming decreases the demand on agricultural land by growing food in cities where it is most needed, thereby reducing the need to travel long distances as well.

Singapore as a Garden City

As Singapore relies heavily on imported food supplies (with only 8% of vegetables grown locally), urban farming technology is a growing sector to strengthen food security. There are currently a few players harvesting agri-tech opportunities in Singapore, and the sector is expected to grow further with funding support and expertise to enable a viable business environment for these new technologies to grow.

It is imperative for Singapore with a highly dense urban population to take the direction of incorporating green spaces in the city, as explained in this interview with a veteran urban planner. The government plays an important role in setting policies and providing support for private developers to take cues from, such as incentives for developers to replace lost greenery with the development of greenery in the buildings.

However, it is not a simple equation of integrating green structures with infrastructures. Recently, large governmental projects have started debates over the environmental impacts linked to the developments. For instance, The Cross Island Line received backlash by local environmentalist groups as they are concerned that the area of development would negatively affect Singapore’s largest primary rainforest. The planned route would also cut through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, potentially destroying biodiversity in that area.

Questions for further personal evaluation:

  1. What are the considerations made when governments decide between conserving nature and developing infrastructures?
  2. To what extent should the public be consulted on the decisions of urban development?

Useful vocabulary:

  1. ‘dwindling’: gradually diminishing in size, amount, or strength.
  2. juxtaposition’: the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect.
  3. ‘sovereignty’: supreme power or authority

Here are more related articles for further reading:

  1. City Lab: In a separate study, it is found that access to nature or use of green spaces had no significant impact on respondents’ well-being.

“On the other hand, it could be the very ubiquity of green spaces in Singapore that makes their effect on well-being difficult to detect on a citywide scale. Singapore is one of the greenest cities in the world, with parks and gardens occupying 47 percent of all land. (Compare that to 14 percent public green space in New York and 29 percent in Rio de Janeiro.) Because green space is everywhere, the authors write, “people may easily feel refreshed and restored by the surrounding greenery without the need to be sited within a green space with predefined boundaries.” Singaporeans may see so much plant and animal life that they take it for granted, such that the health benefit of natural environments is imperceptible on the city level. It’s the law of diminishing returns, for green spaces.”

  1. Machine Design: How the Internet of Things (IOT) and automation can drive modern farming and agriculture.

“By using smart agricultural technology, farmers have gained better control over the process of rearing livestock and growing crops, bringing about massive efficiencies of scale, cutting costs, and helping to save scarce resources such as water. The adoption of IoT solutions for agriculture is constantly growing and the global smart agriculture market size is also expanding rapidly. With all of this in mind, in what way(s) can technologies such as IoT transform or improve agriculture?

Stay in the Driving Seat

By maintaining control over the internal processes you decrease production risks. The ability to foresee the output of your production allows you to plan for better product distribution. If you know exactly how much crop you are going to harvest, you can make sure your produce doesn’t lie around unsold.”