February 26, 2013

Visions of the Future: Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay


By Karyn Boenker Contributor

SINGAPORE– Singapore is quickly becoming a place where global citizens can go to catch a glimpse of a hopeful and enchanting future.  For the last 50 years Singapore has set out to become a “garden city.” The recent opening of gigantic living park, Gardens By the Bay, shows that this vintage dream is alive and well today.

Visiting Singapore feels like being inside a Jetsons episode. Sparkling clean light-rail systems serve as the main mode of transportation. While living architecture and socially-driven shame for purchasing disposable products are mainstream.

Since the beginning of the country’s rapid urbanization in the 1960s, efforts were made and goals were set by local the government to make Singapore a laboratory for testing environmental innovation.

In 1968 these visions were set in stone when the country’s Environmental Public Health Bill declared that  “improvement in the quality of our urban environment and the transformation of Singapore into a garden city – a clean and green city – is the declared objective of the Government.”

Massive super trees collect solar energy and purify the air by day. At night, they glow. Photo: Destination360

Massive supertrees collect solar energy and purify the air by day. At night, they glow. Photo: Destination360

Gardens By the Bay Exemplifies the Best in Eco-Tourism

Gardens by the Bay is a remarkable example of Singapore’s green mission come to life. In 2011, Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s first prime minister called the gardens “the pride of Singapore.”

Upon entering the 250-acre oasis, a series of massive “supertrees” tower above. A total of 18 decorate the interior of the vast park. Some serve as an exhaust system, cleaning indoor air before it is released into the city’s atmosphere. Of the 18 supertrees, 11 are also solar energy collectors.

At night, the supertrees are self-illuminated by built-in solar panels. Aesthetically, they remind locals and visitors that their air and water are being protected and that a public electricity grid is not always necessary in the modern world.

Construction began in 2007, with the help of enthusiastic public input and designers from around the world. In February 2013, seven months after the grand opening, Gardens by the Bay is teeming with young plant life. The biodiversity is incredible, displaying life from most regions on the planet.

“Underlying the concept of Gardens by the Bay are the principles of environmental sustainability. Much effort was made to plan and design for sustainable cycles in energy and water throughout Bay South Gardens,” reads the comprehensive website.

Recently two new garden trails were unveiled and President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s wife, Mrs Mary Tan, planted a tree in the Fragile Forest to commemorate the opening of the trails.

Gardens By The Bay Demonstrates Coral Reef Restoration

As the Gardens grow and flourish, the park will eventually drip with living canopies, creating a small rainforest in the middle of a quickly growing urban center.

Vertical planting was used to create “some real drama in a very flat landscape,” Wilkinson Eyre Architects‘ Paul Baker explained after winning the 2012 World Building of the Year for their design of the Gardens.

Gardens by the Bay recently won 2012 Building of the Year. The cloud forest (shown) was a major factor. Photo: Genesis Castle

Singapore Gardens by the Bay recently won 2012 Building of the Year. The cloud forest (shown) was a major factor.
Photo: Genesis Castle

Gardens by the Bay is a evolving, self-maintaining organism. Energy needed to operate is created on site. Heating and cooling are forced only where necessary and are produced through entirely sustainable methods.

Southeast Asia is home to planet Earth’s largest coral reef system. Unfortunately, it also suffers some of the worst aquatic pollution in the world, as a result of poor forestry and fishing practices. Solving this problem is critically important to maintaining healthy oceans, which help mitigate the severity of global warming by serving as important carbon sinks – or greenhouse gas storage reservoirs.

Impacts would also affect human beings as a loss of the coral reefs in Southeast asia (possible by 2100) could impact the lives of 100 million people, declining food production by 80%. Gardens by the Bay is showing the world how to face these challenges:

1) Water run-off and nutrient loads are minimized by filtering beds – composed of wetlands and aquatic reeds – placed where water enters and leaves the nearby lake system.

2) Biodiversity helps maintain native insect, fish, and animal populations, while also encouraging proper water circulation and aeration. This result is fewer mosquitos, more birds and dragonflies.

3) Urban heat island reduction is achieved by minimizing concrete and supporting living roofs. Additionally, air conditioned spaces are sparse and dehumidified where they are present.

4) On-site energy production and biowaste recycling (from the park and surrounding city) are used to run the conservatories at moderate temperatures. Two of these house the world famous cloud forest and flower dome.

Visiting Singapore Gardens with Little Environmental Impact

The garden protect local water and coral reef systems. Photo: Kenny Teo

The garden protect local water and coral reef systems in Singapore Gardens by the Bay.
Photo: Kenny Teo

Getting to the park is simple and sustainable in a myriad number of ways. At no extra cost, international travelers heading to any of 60 cities in 30 countries serviced by Singapore Airlines can lay over in their hometown for a chosen number of hours.

Rated one as the best airlines in the world and offering some of the lowest rates, flying with Singapore Airlines is an opportunity that should not be missed.

For conservationists concerned about the carbon footprint of flying it is important to know that Singapore Airlines carefully tracks its waste, water consumption, and global emissions.

Singapore Airlines also invests in rainforest conservation and the development of jet biofuel. Already, they have pioneered fuel-efficient take-off and flight, saving up to 3 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions on some of their longest flights.

“Singapore Airlines will continue to be at the forefront of aviation’s drive towards carbon-neutral growth with the aim of a sustainable future for the airline industry… [The current goal is] 50% absolute reduction in carbon emissions by 2050,” states Singapore Airlines’ Commitment to the Environment.

If you take five international flights in a year, your travel emissions could contribute to three quarters of your annual carbon footprint. Considering this, flexible layover options are a great way to see the world and avoid undue environmental impacts.

If other cities followed Singapore the global effort to halt pollution-related health issues could come much faster and with less effort than the pace we are moving today. As we wait for the world to act, it’s nice to know there is a leader out there. 

Photo: (Featured Image) Gardens by the Bay at night. The park is home to more than a quarter of a million plants. Credit: Reuters

About the Author

Karyn Boenker
Karyn Boenker, MS, is a freelance journalist and environmental scientist. She writes human interest stories while traveling the world and enjoys communicating scientific topics with a touch of humor.