Landscape firms to hire residents to maintain neighbourhood gardens

NParks pilot scheme to start next month in Ang Mo Kio, Punggol and Yishun

NParks aims to create about 1,000 new and upgraded jobs over the next five years, with many leveraging new technologies as part of a digitalisation push.
NParks aims to create about 1,000 new and upgraded jobs over the next five years, with many leveraging new technologies as part of a digitalisation push.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
ITE students and NParks staff demonstrating the use of a Resistographc, which tests the health of trees, at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park on Jan 11, 2021.
ITE students and NParks staff demonstrating the use of a Resistographc, which tests the health of trees, at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park on Jan 11, 2021.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Minister for National Development Desmond Lee (left) watching a demonstration of how a drone is used for a virtual tree inspection, on Jan 11, 2021.
Minister for National Development Desmond Lee (left) watching a demonstration of how a drone is used for a virtual tree inspection, on Jan 11, 2021.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Those with green fingers may soon be employed on a part-time basis to help with landscaping works in neighbourhood gardens.

Such opportunities will be part of about 1,000 new and upgraded jobs which the National Parks Board (NParks) aims to create over the next five years, said Minister for National Development Desmond Lee yesterday.

Many of the jobs - for Singaporeans - will leverage new technologies as part of NParks' digitalisation push for the landscape industry.

To foster greater ownership of gardens and green spaces, landscape companies will employ residents to care for greenery in their neighbourhoods under the Resident Gardener programme.

The Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council started a similar initiative in 2015 for the area's residents. But this is the first time it is being rolled out for greenery under NParks' purview.

It will start with a pilot programme next month in Ang Mo Kio, Punggol and Yishun.

NParks will link residents with landscape companies, and also train these gardeners to use mechanised tools when necessary.

"The programme provides an opportunity for residents who are gardening enthusiasts to supplement their income while engaging in their interests," said Mr Lee.

Meanwhile, a year-long pilot involving the use of new tree and park management technologies will begin this month as part of the Landscape Sector Transformation Plan launched in 2019.

The plan, involving NParks, industry partners and institutes of higher learning, aims to digitalise, mechanise and professionalise the sector over a decade.

The pilot will focus on the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio area before the use of such technologies is scaled up islandwide from next January.

NParks said its digitalisation push will encourage the landscape sector to adopt technology, operate safely with greater efficiency and precision, attract a younger workforce and enable older workers to continue contributing.

On the choice of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio for the pilot, NParks said the area, which includes Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Thomson Nature Park, Lower Peirce Reservoir Park and Windsor Nature Park, is representative of the different terrains managed by NParks.

Mr Lee said the pilot will help familiarise and train landscape professionals in the use of advanced tools and technologies before they are rolled out progressively across the country.

He cited the example of the Remote Tree Management System, which uses Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) scans and machine learning to map the locations of individual trees and extract tree measurements.

This allows NParks staff and contractors to obtain an overview of trees in an area remotely, reducing the need for laborious fieldwork.

Other technologies that will be used include tree tilt sensors, automatic lighting fault reporting systems, and cameras with artificial intelligence that help staff monitor and analyse crowd density and visitors' park usage patterns.

Mr Goh Eng Lam, chairman of the Landscape Industry Association (Singapore), said the new technologies will help to reduce reliance on manual work and foreign workers.

He added that digitalisation will give the industry a new profile and make it more attractive for younger entrants.

Institute of Technical Education student Muhammad Raqiib, 19, said that younger people like him may not enjoy manual work as much.

But leveraging technology will make the industry more attractive as it cuts down on laborious tasks, added Mr Raqiib, a second-year student pursuing a Higher Nitec course in landscape management and design.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2021, with the headline 'Landscape firms to hire residents to maintain neighbourhood gardens'. Print Edition | Subscribe