The Straits Times says

Making Jurong Lake Gardens bloom

The national gardens planned for Jurong will distinguish itself by being "a people's park". All gardens by definition have people as their focus, as opposed to the raison d'etre of nature reserves. But Jurong Lake Gardens will accentuate this focus through, for example, community stewardship in the creation of show gardens. This would chime with public preferences evident in the 17,700 suggestions for its development. Among the green activities proposed, over 65 per cent related to propagating, planting and harvesting; maintaining the gardens; and creating garden crafts. Such inclinations are welcome as these can contribute to the sustainability of a garden city.

The garden as a basis for a built city has fired the human imagination since ancient times, judging by wonders like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. In modern times, the seminal book, Garden Cities Of To-Morrow (1902), shaped British planning doctrine to the extent of becoming almost dogma, as noted by observers. Small urbanised nations, however, would be gratified to just hold on to pockets of greenery that remain. Here, the oft-stated aspiration is to "evolve Singapore into a City in a Garden", but urban challenges should not be underestimated, not just at ground level but potentially even under nature reserves.

A bulwark against avoidable encroachments is a national commitment to being green. This has been manifested in public support for state initiatives that go back over half a century, like the tree-planting tradition, and even longer in the preservation of the Botanic Gardens. Such exertions over the years have borne fruit, so to speak. Singaporeans flock to the Botanics (now a Unesco World Heritage Site), to world-class Gardens by the Bay and to over 300 smaller parks. They maintain some 1,000 community gardens, plant tens of thousands of trees, join programmes to help conserve nature, and gather green data islandwide under the Citizen Science programme.

Given the diversity of interests, Jurong Lake Gardens will have many faces. Tranquillity will be preserved for those who value natural habitats. There will also be nature-themed and water play areas, lawns for recreational activities, a community lifestyle and water sports facility, and a new Science Centre nested there. Alongside being a leisure and recreation destination, it is to feature smart technology, and serve as a test bed for green products and services. Such a broad sweep of ambitions reflects National Parks Board's willingness to cater to different needs. But one might ask what will be compromised in striving to be both a suitable "home to unique biodiversity" and also a "place for vibrant programming…of a range of exciting activities and events", as announced. If expectations keep growing, there is a risk of a jumble of purposes and amenities (plus supporting infrastructure) eroding the Gardens' essential charms.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Making Jurong Lake Gardens bloom'. Print Edition | Subscribe