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By Arwa Lodhi
Smoking in public, chewing gum, spitting in public, and littering – these are just a few of Singapore’s strict laws that were created to keep the streets clean. But Singapore has made enormous efforts to go beyond basic urban housekeeping with the ambitious goal of cleaning up the environment surrounding the city. According to Siemen’s latest Green City Index, Singapore is one of the best performing cities, as measured by a range of sustainability criteria. Achieving that ranking was no easy feat: large cities may present an efficient way of providing infrastructure for large populations, but they also emit the largest concentration of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – they cover just 2% of the Earth’s surface, yet produce more than 60% of all carbon dioxide and consume more than three quarters of the world’s resources.
The world’s only island city-state has found way of minimising its impact, though, and has managed to carve out a niche in the ecotourism industry with its ‘garden city’ reputation. From energy-efficient art installations to means of protecting primary rainforests, here are some of the reasons why we think Singapore is one of the greenest cities in the world.
Greener Urban Projects
Upon first glancing at the city, it seems to be a sprawling urban jungle. But for any new builds or renovation projects, monetary incentives have been introduced for developers who incorporate green technology into their designs. Additionally, the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint is a government scheme which outlines a number of targets for 2030 including a recycling rate of 70% and a 35% improvement in energy efficiency.
Singapore has also taken steps to ensure its water resource management is sustainable. Two thirds of Singapore’s land surface is now a water catchment area with water stored in 17 reservoirs, including the Marina Basin in the city centre. Wastewater is collected and treated to produce safe drinking water, meeting a whopping 30% of the city’s water needs.
Artists in Singapore are using their work to highlight environmental issues, namely in the i Light Marina Bay Festival, Asia’s first and only sustainable light art event. First held in 2010, the aim of the project is to delight visitors with creative light shows while simultaneously raising awareness of the environment through specially curated installations. Artists are encouraged to use recyclable materials, adopt energy-efficient lighting in their installations and work with event partners to manage resources and minimise waste. Some have used alternative sources of energy such as solar, kinetic or wind in order to generate energy for their work. The Festival also works with the WWF on their ‘Switch off, turn up’ campaign which coincides with Earth Hour from 8.30-9.30 pm on March 19th this year – all the lights in the city at at the light shows will go out for this hour. In addition, social issues are addressed through art in this multicultural city. Recently, students at the LASALLE College of the Arts were given the opportunity to explore ideas of identity, migration and displacement with contemporary artist Owais Husain.
Welcome to the Jungle
Today, lions exist only in Africa. But incredibly, they used to live everywhere from the Mediterranean to Asia – including Singapore. In fact, Singapore’s name in Sanskrit actually means “Lion City.” The lions may now be extinct in this region, but a bit of their former natural habitat lives on through the city’s hundreds of linking parks and botanical gardens. Even the airport has been florally upgraded with a rooftop sunflower garden and outdoor nature trail.
Singapore is one of only two cities in the world with primary rainforest located within city limits. The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve boasts more than 8,000 hectares of jungle and is home to 500 animal species and 840 flowering plants.
The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is another protected area with rich biodiversity. The 202 hectare mangrove forest protects a number of migrating birds and also provides the ideal habitat for crabs, shellfish, water snakes, birds, spiders, monitor lizards and otters.
A More Sustainable Stay
Eco Hotels are sprouting up with increasing frequency in the city, and even established hotels are improving their commitment to the environment. One of the greenest hotels is the Park Royal. This luxury hotel features a verdant rooftop terrace, a tree-lined ‘garden walk’ on the 5th floor, and most famously of all, its iconic vertical gardens spread across their facade.
The hotel is so green that even before it opened in 2013, it was awarded the BCA (Building and Construction Authority) Green Mark Platinum – Singapore’s highest rating for eco-builds – as well as the Solar Pioneer Award for being one of the first hotels in the city to use solar energy. But the green kudos don’t stop there: the Park Royal also collects rainwater to use in the hotel; was designed to maximise the use of sunlight on the solar panels; uses foliage to cool the building and improve air quality; uses energy efficient lighting and much more.
It may have a reputation for being clean due to its strict no-spitting and no-chewing gum laws, but there can be little doubt that with innovative urban projects, jungle conservation and cutting-edge architecture, Singapore is making huge efforts to be the cleanest, greenest city in all of Asia, if not the world.
Images: Wikicommons, Park Royal Hotel