The declaration of the iconic Botanic Gardens as a Unesco World Heritage Site is a testament to the country's sustained greening efforts over 150 years, starting with a smaller focus and growing into the idea of a garden to encapsulate the entire city. The next leap should be to turn more Singaporeans into garden aficionados, nature lovers and greenies - people who see the Garden City aspiration as more than just a slogan but a national obsession. The Gardens played a pivotal role in the rubber boom from the 1900s to the 1960s through its research on rubber tapping techniques.
It evolved over the years from a tropical colonial garden into a modern and world-class botanic garden, scientific institution and place of conservation and education. That love and respect for nature was nurtured from the 1960s by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
In his words, "I have always believed that a blighted urban landscape, a concrete jungle, destroys the human spirit. We need the greenery of nature to lift our spirits."
A national determination to include green lungs as part of the cityscape, despite the demands of a burgeoning population and industrial development on a small island, led to the devotion of a notable portion of land to parks and nature reserves. Despite an increase in the population by 68 per cent - from 2.7 million to 4.6 million between 1986 and 2007 - the area covered by greenery on the island grew from 35 to 46 per cent.
Thus have pioneer and subsequent generations of Singaporeans taken a precious colonial legacy (a mere 10-minute walk from the main shopping belt), protected it from encroachment, and made more of the island in its image.
The challenge now is to build on this legacy and sprout green shoots in the hearts of future generations as well. This goes beyond just appreciating wayside trees for the shade and coolness offered along footpaths and roads. It's more than just enjoying gardens with manicured lawns and pretty flowerbeds. It's about widespread care and concern for nature parks - with their rainforests, mangrove swamps and myriad flora and fauna - and coral communities with their ecosystems that support more species of life than in the whole of the United States. What makes the World Heritage Site award a valued gift is not just its bragging rights, to draw visitors and impress dignitaries, but also the heightened awareness it can stir locally of the special significance of Singaporeans' natural heritage and why it should be conserved diligently for posterity. About 90 per cent of mangroves have been lost to land reclamation since the 1950s, over 40 per cent of intertidal coral reefs and almost 38 per cent of mudflats and sandflats have disappeared in the past 20 years. As in the case of Pulau Ubin's Chek Jawa, people must simply care enough to safeguard what's left.