How Singapore is Pioneering the Way to Creating a Greener Urban Environment

Singapore as of late is continually building its reputation as a City in Nature, with Singaporean design long having a strong consciousness to acknowledge that green spaces matter. Urban planners and architects alike have taken a conscientious decision to weave in nature throughout the city as it continues to uproot new buildings and developments, incorporating the implementation of plant life in any form, whether it be through green roofs, cascading vertical gardens, or verdant walls.

This article will explore the pioneering actions taking place in Singapore to create a more biodiverse city and nation, and how this provides a view of how other major cities can adopt similar initiatives over the next decade to provide a blueprint for the future.

Landscape architects, Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl, and the Singaporean government statutory board, National Parks Board, have led the way in creating the biodiverse garden-filled city that Singapore is today. Additionally, the research of Yun Hye Hwang of the National University of Singapore and the Future Cities Lab is presently focused on exploring how to shape sustainable cities and settlement systems through science, by design.

Singapore is already leading the way in efforts to create a greener urban environment following the aftermath of COP26, and whilst its initiative to green Singapore was originally focused on giving the city-state a distinct and intentionally desirable image, today this approach is praised for its ability to tackle issues surrounding urban heat, assist with sustainable water management, and improve biodiversity in the city. Several projects have been implemented to continue dealing with these raising issues and providing sustainable design solutions to further the ‘greening’ of the city.

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park by Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl is one of Singapore’s most popular heartland parks. As part of a much-needed park upgrade and plans to improve the capacity of the Kallang channel along the edge of the park, works were carried out to transform what was once a utilitarian concrete channel into a naturalized river, creating new spaces for the community to enjoy.

“The project was designed to maximize the catchment of water that falls naturally on the island, as well as creating a sense of ownership that will run through generations, so people will want to protect the natural environment.” – Leonard Ng, Country Director

The project is part of the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) Program, a long-term initiative of Singapore’s Public Utilities Board to transform the country’s water bodies beyond their functions of drainage and water supply, into vibrant new spaces for community bonding and recreation.

“The project encourages a biodiverse ecosystem – with birds and otters, among others, colonising the space because it was designed for people and nature to coexist in harmony. When people feel closer to nature and want to preserve it, this is successful biophilic design – using nature to energise and charge people and allowing them to reconnect with nature as our ancestors did.” – Leonard Ng, Country Director

Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl was also responsible for the developments at Jurong Lake Gardens, Singapore’s first national gardens in the heartlands. The 53-hectare Lakeside Garden aims to restore the landscape heritage of the swamp and forest as a canvas for recreation and community activities. The design is reminiscent of a conscious effort to bring back the nature that was once unique to the Jurong area.

Lastly for Ramboll Studio’s projects is Kampung Admiralty, a flagship project that brings together a multitude of programs under one roof. The architectural scheme builds upon a layered ‘club sandwich’ approach. The abundance of greenery present within the design of the housing development serves as an ideal venue for the community to relax and strengthen their relationships with one another, with tree planting strategies comprising the likes of biodiversity, foliage, and fruit trees.

Future Cities Lab Global aims to strengthen the capacity of Singapore and Switzerland to research, understand, and actively respond to the challenges of global environmental sustainability. Professor Thomas Schröper from the University of Technology and Design comments:

“Singapore has been a very interesting case study to look at as it is very dense and there is an extreme pressure on development. As it grows, the only way the city can go is up – to become a vertical city. Over the last 10 years the government has introduced new policies that incentivise green architecture and there are many interesting cases in the context of Singapore – within buildings, as well in the urban design strategies that architects deploy.”

Future Cities Lab’s research continues to look into the environmental performance of green buildings, improving the urban climate, assisting the issues of overheating through cooling, and measuring the positive impact on biodiversity. They believe that the main challenge in achieving a ‘city in nature’ is the public acceptance that humans need to coexist with other living beings.

Yun Hye Hwang from the National University of Singapore (NUS) is continually exploring the possibilities of growing connections between academic findings and practical applications of urban greening in real-world situations, believing that green spaces are vital to building quality of life.

The Ventus Naturalized Garden on the main campus of NUS is a prime example of alternative landscape technology that allows spontaneous plants to overgrow the existing monotonous campus lawn with minimal design interventions. It provides a connection between a woodland park and a secondary forest, demonstrating that even a small piece of land can accommodate a variety of flora, whilst still serving as part of an ecological network at the city scale.

In 2021, the Singapore government launched its Green Plan 2030, a whole-of-nation movement to get every Singaporean on board; getting everyone motivated to help transform Singapore into a glowing global city of sustainability. Some key programs of the Green Plan include setting aside 50% more land (around 200 hectares) for nature parks which will all be within a 10-minute walk to a respective household and aiming to plant one million more trees across the island to absorb more CO2, resulting in the population enjoying cleaner air, and cooler shade.

With the vision of creating a City in a Garden and enhancing the community’s overall wellbeing, the National Parks Board of Singapore has spent decades aiming to ‘green’ its roads and infrastructure, transforming the country’s parks and gardens into spaces welcome for everyone to enjoy, and setting aside areas of core biodiversity to conserve Singapore’s native biodiversity. As Singapore continually transitions into a City of Nature, a biophilic design approach is important in restoring habitats and ensuring that the wider community is engaged in sustaining the national greening efforts.

Today, Singapore is one of the greenest cities in the world. The lush urban greenery that we have is a result of sustained and dedicated efforts to green up Singapore over the past few decades.” – Damian Tang, Senior Director/Design, National Parks Board

Following challenges like extreme weather patterns induced by climate change and increased urbanization, there is an evergrowing demand to build a more liveable, sustainable, and climate-resilient Singapore for present and future generations. National Parks Board also runs over 3,500 educational programs across their various green spaces which are key in enabling the community a closer experience of nature and in promoting mental wellbeing. Tang shares that the City in Nature vision is the country’s next bound of urban planning:

“At National Parks Board, we have five key strategies to transform Singapore into a City in Nature: conserving and extending Singapore’s natural capital; intensifying nature in gardens and parks; restoring nature into the urban landscape; strengthening connectivity between Singapore’s green spaces; developing excellence in veterinary care, animal and wildlife management.” – Damian Tang, Senior Director/Design, National Parks Board

As of today, almost half of Singapore’s land is covered in green space and many of its citizens benefitted from the use of the implemented parks during the lockdowns that were most notable during the height of the pandemic, acting as green lungs, inviting the opportunity breathing and exercising space within a dense city environment.

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