Why It Matters

Staying rooted in Garden City

Singapore has come out tops among 17 cities for its urban greenery, crowning its City in a Garden status.

Seeds of this success were planted decades ago.

The Republic has been spreading its green mantle since the 1960s, when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew envisioned tree-lined expressways to impress investors. The strategy was trademark Singapore: To pursue long-term growth, with far-sighted planning, flexibility, an eye on the price tag and common sense. (Planting trees which are more drought-resistant, to give one example, has drastically cut down on the need for watering.)

It has worked. Despite intense urbanisation and an expanding population, vegetation cover has increased steadily, and continues to grow.

The authorities are even sending tendrils into the sky: The plan is to have 200ha of skyrise greenery by 2030, up from the more than 100ha now.

Urban greenery is the backbone of this effort. The National Parks Board manages about two million trees along streets and in parks and state land. Roadside sentinels are an integral part of the verdant landscape, creating respite from the heat, a chance to enjoy nature wherever the eye roams, and a haven for wildlife, which is making a comeback here.

The latest study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the World Economic Forum found that almost 30 per cent of the Republic's urban areas are swathed in greenery, more than cities in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

Research from the Future Cities Laboratory at the Singapore-ETH Centre shows another cool fact: 70 per cent of shade in local streets comes from vegetation.

Animals, too, seem to have given their stamp of approval. Recently, for instance, a pair of goshawks and their chicks - a rare predatory bird here - were seen in a tree at a Bedok carpark.

Above all, there are the intangibles - like the feeling a weary Singaporean traveller gets when touching down at Changi Airport amid a sea of foliage.

After all, this little red dot would not be home, truly, without its green.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'Staying rooted in Garden City'. Print Edition | Subscribe