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Cambridge Road residents are greening their neighbourhood from the ground up. Here’s how they’re doing it

As climate change issues take centre stage, community-led initiative Our Green Moulmein-Cairnhill shows how citizens can lead the way

From left: Ms Rexlee Hah, Ms Michelle Wan and Mr Elango Letchumanan at the “green corridor” of Cambridge Road – one of many greening initiatives led by the community. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MICHELLE WAN

You know you need to do something when afternoon walks home from school with your children become too hot to bear.

This was so for Ms Rexlee Hah, a 51-year-old administrator at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Her route home would include an 80-metre-long unsheltered walkway commonly used by residents in her Cambridge Road neighbourhood.

“It had little shade and became very hot in the afternoon, especially when parents were walking their kids home from school,” says Ms Hah, a Housing Board resident and mother of two teenagers, aged 14 and 17.

She’d heard of the effects of climate change. Now the impact was becoming felt – and unbearable. She was spurred into seeking a solution to shield neighbourhood families from the sweltering heat.

In 2019, she joined 500 residents and volunteers in the Cambridge Road neighbourhood to pitch ideas to the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC), to create a community-led climate action plan.

Jointly established in 2008 by the Ministry of National Development and the then Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (now Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment), the CLC seeks to research and promote approaches to enable a more liveable and sustainable Singapore. 

The initiative by residents led to the creation of Our Green Pek Kio in February 2020, a community-led initiative co-founded by Ms Hah to lead eco-friendly projects. It was later expanded and renamed Our Green Moulmein-Cairnhill (Our Green MoCa).

Their first project: To transform the unsheltered walkway at Cambridge Road into a “green corridor” by planting trees and plants.

Ms Rexlee Hah (third from left) shares that the residents “came together for the common cause of wanting to make the walkway shadier and cooler.” PHOTO: CENTRE FOR LIVEABLE CITIES/FACEBOOK

The CLC hosted a workshop with a landscape architect to generate feasible ideas, directed funding, and brought in the National Parks Board (NParks) to advise on suitable trees and plants and how to grow them.

“We had site visits where we learned about earthworks and other things,” she recalls. “With the support from CLC and NParks, we were able to make a feasible plan and implement it.”

Across four weekends, about 70 volunteers across all ages pitched in to create the greenway, which was completed in April last year. Since then, about 15 residents, helped by ad hoc volunteers, have maintained it monthly.

Ms Hah shares: “It’s not just that the walkway is cooler and more beautiful now. We have made friends, shared gardening tips and gotten to know one other better.”

To support the ground-up efforts, the Ministry of National Development partnered with the CLC to form the Singapore Together Alliance for Action (AfA) on Building Community Resilience at Cambridge Road in June last year.

The AfA is one of over 30 such partnerships launched since 2020 to involve Singaporeans more deeply in co-creating solutions for a better Singapore.

Transforming back alleys into social spaces

To promote awareness of climate change issues, Cambridge Neighbourhood Committee chairperson Elango Letchumanan has a vision for the Moulmein-Cairnhill area’s back alleys: To rejuvenate them into vibrant, social spaces.

In 2020, Mr Letchumanan, who is in his late 60s, led the drive to paint a large mural in one of the back alleys of his private estate, depicting how greenery cools the environment and purifies the air.

In addition to raising awareness of climate change, Mr Elango Letchumanan hopes that more residents would be keen on having murals painted on the walls of their back alleys. PHOTO: CENTRE FOR LIVEABLE CITIES/YOUTUBE

He led the Our Green MoCa team in getting consent from the estate’s residents and partnering with a local artist from the neighbourhood gallery to come up with the design.

“Many (residents) came forward to ask how they could help. They brought drinks and snacks for the painters and kept them company,” says the retired civil servant and father of two.

Working with NParks, the team plans to install potted plants with low-maintenance greenery, and tables and chairs for future climate change-related workshops and community activities.

“We hope that other residents, when they see how we have rejuvenated our back alley, will be inspired to transform their own, too.”

Sparking conversations on climate change

When private education entrepreneur Michelle Wan joined Our Green MoCa in February 2020, she was keen to put her organisational skills, honed from running a pre-school and other companies, to good use.

The 38-year-old mother of two now manages its community engagement programmes and campaigns, including its webinars and events.

Ms Michelle Wan (top row, third from left) was part of the Our Green MoCa team that was invited by global consulting firm McKinsey & Company to speak on areas of sustainability and volunteerism in community greening efforts. PHOTO: OURGREENMOCA/FACEBOOK

Since early 2020, she has worked with the CLC and other volunteers to arrange and publicise dialogues, workshops and seminars with sustainability experts, first as in-person meetings, and then as webinars during the Covid-19 crisis.

She says: “I was amazed by the work that the CLC did to engage residents, and the volunteers’ passion. That motivated me to get involved in raising awareness and creating conversations about what we can do to reduce climate change.”

The topics included how to grow vegetables at home and ferment organic waste to produce eco-enzymes, which are liquids that can be used for cleaning and fertilising. So far, the webinars have attracted over 1,000 attendees across 12 online sessions.

On how the AfA on Building Community Resilience at Cambridge Road has been a key enabler for Our Green MoCa, Ms Wan says: “The AfAs are great because they get Singaporeans together to co-create ideas to improve the country for everyone.”

“I have two young children and interact with kids daily as part of my job, and I want to do what I can to secure a better future for them.”


Building Singapore Together

Launched in June 2019, the Singapore Together movement provides opportunities for Singaporeans to participate in and support citizen-led initiatives.

Partnerships are at the heart of the movement, with opportunities for Singaporeans to co-create solutions for a more inclusive and sustainable Singapore.

By working together, Singaporeans can turn diversity into strength and transform challenges into opportunities, to build a Singapore that present and future generations will be proud of.

  • Want to be part of creating a better future for Singapore? Head to www.sg to explore opportunities and get involved.

This is the first of a three-part series in partnership with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth

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