Why It Matters

The gems in our midst

Claire Ng (red), 10, and Kelly Ng, eight, having a game of badminton at Palm Valley in front of the Symphony Stage at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Claire Ng (red), 10, and Kelly Ng, eight, having a game of badminton at Palm Valley in front of the Symphony Stage at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

On Saturday, Singapore welcomed its first Unesco World Heritage Site.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens joined the prestigious ranks of more than 1,000 others across the globe, including the likes of the awe-inspiring Petra in Jordan, and England's 2000BC Stonehenge.

Tourism experts reckon the coveted status adds a new dimension to the Singapore experience, allowing visitors to see the city-state as a beacon for heritage and nature-scapes, beyond its modern marvels and towering skyscrapers. Annual visitorship at the site is also expected to rise from some 4.4 million now to six million in the next few years. But beyond the tourist footfall is a deeper and more urgent need to ramp up awareness of the Gardens' unique qualities among Singaporeans themselves, to get them to revisit the place with fresh eyes and rediscover the magic of the green oasis which is home to 10,000 plant species.

 

Its role as a botany research centre should be exemplified and publicised, so that Singaporeans can view it beyond a place of leisure and, in the process, become ambassadors of our own history.

In the larger picture, the Unesco title represents a significant and positive chapter in the Republic's bumpy heritage journey.

The Government has pledged to preserve the 156-year-old Gardens for posterity. But more safeguards should be accorded to other heritage spaces as well, to ensure they are not unduly sacrificed for new developments.Today, there is no mandatory step in the planning process where environmental and heritage impact assessments are conducted before excavators sweep in - a point that an independent panel of Unesco experts noted was lacking here in its report on the Gardens.

Perhaps now is the time to ramp up efforts to introduce a more holistic framework for the heritage scene, by introducing a system and developing expertise to better protect and maintain the historical gems in our midst, in line with international practices. This would make Singapore world class in its quest to carry the Unesco pin with pride in the decades to come.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2015, with the headline 'The gems in our midst'. Print Edition | Subscribe