Opening Remarks by Minister Lawrence Wong at the Opening of CDL-NParks Exhibition on ‘Singapore’s Greening Journey: 200 Years and Beyond’

Jun 21, 2019

I am very happy to be here this morning at the opening of the exhibition on ‘Singapore’s Greening Journey: 200 Years and Beyond’. It is fitting that we are having the exhibition this year, because we are marking our Bicentennial, and also celebrating the 160th anniversary of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

If you go back 200 years ago, there were already plans to green Singapore. In 1822, Sir Stamford Raffles set aside 19 hectares of land for a botanical garden atop what was then called Government Hill. It is now known as Fort Canning Hill. 

In 1859, a group of gardening enthusiasts from the Agri-Horticultural Society requested a piece of land for a botanical garden. A prominent merchant of his time, Mr Hoo Ah Kay, better known as Whampoa, was a founding member of this society, and he helped to secure the Garden’s location at its current Tanglin site. 

This is how we have the Singapore Botanic Gardens today. It has since grown to become a much-loved garden by Singaporeans. It is also a world-renowned institution, perhaps the most visited botanical gardens in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

The work of greening Singapore has always been the work of partnerships. If you look at the history over time and how we have evolved, greening Singapore has never been the work of the government alone. 

After independence, it was our founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who set out the vision for Singapore to be a ‘Garden City’. Mr Lee led by example. He was, as many people know, our ‘Chief Gardener’. But Mr Lee did not operate alone. This was a call that was embraced by Singaporeans from all walks of life. All of us contributed to this goal in our different ways. 

As Mr Lee himself put it, “Greening raised the morale of Singaporeans and gave them pride in their surroundings”. He was backed by an excellent team at NParks, which was at the forefront of this work. They were supported by thousands of volunteers, including our Community in Bloom gardeners in the heartlands, and many stakeholders and partners along the way who have been joining us in this journey. Together, we all made tremendous progress in greening our little red dot. 

That is why today, we have more than two million trees planted along roadsides, in parks, and on state land, and more than 300 kilometres of park connectors all over our little island of just 700 square kilometres large. All of these parks and park connectors are accessible to Singaporeans within walking distance of their homes. 

But our work is not complete. There is still so much more that needs to be done. Even as we recall the greening journey that we have taken over the past 200 years, we also have to look forward to what’s ahead of us.

In other cities everywhere around the world, more urbanisation inevitably means less greenery. But that is a trade-off we cannot afford to have in Singapore. We need more development to grow our economy, to create good jobs and better homes for Singaporeans.

At the same time, we also need to enhance and intensify our greenery. We are going for more greenery and more urbanisation; we want green and sustainable urbanisation. That is set out over the next 10 to 15 years. The Urban Redevelopment Authority has just put out the Draft Master Plan, showing our urban development plans over the next 10 to 15 years. Indeed, we are setting aside more space for new urban developments. At the same time, we are adding another 1,000 hectares of green space. It is not one or the other, but both.

We are doing much more to enhance our City in a Garden besides just adding green spaces. We are protecting the rich biodiversity in our four nature reserves, in Bukit Timah, Central Catchment, Sungei Buloh and Labrador. These are areas that are rich in native biodiversity. We are enhancing and safeguarding the biodiversity in these areas, and building a network of nature parks around them to buffer the nature reserves against the impact of urbanisation, and to safeguard our native flora and fauna. 

This work is coupled with our species recovery programme, which is beginning to yield results in rescuing species that were once thought to be extinct, or at the brink of extinction. It is quite remarkable that even as we urbanise, we are seeing thriving flora and fauna in our urban landscape. We are strengthening our ecological connectivity between the areas of high biodiversity, so that native biodiversity need not be limited to the areas where they are sighted, but we are building green corridors to facilitate their movement across the entire island. We are doing these to really integrate nature into our urban landscape. 

We are now also, in a more deliberate manner, integrating green concepts into our urban design and planning process. We are doing it upstream in the process when we design any new developments. This is not just a matter of planting trees in an ad-hoc manner, but doing so systematically in a deliberate manner to enhance nature habitats in our urban setting.

This is work that is now informed by greater investments in science and technology, so we understand the natural habitats, and to build our natural ecosystem even as we continue to urbanise.

The government will take the lead in this work. We are already doing many of this in our projects, for example when we build new HDB towns, or whenever we have a new development.

Private developers play an important role too. Here, CDL clearly stands out as a champion for green and sustainable development. CDL is an industry leader in green buildings, and for more than a decade, has been supporting the government in many public outreach and education projects. There are many developers who are doing this work too, but it is safe to say that CDL clearly stands out with its emphasis and priorities in green and sustainable development. I would like to thank CDL for being our key partner in this green journey.

I hope that the work that CDL does will set an example for the industry. There are many other developers in Singapore; many architectural and engineering firms, many partners in the Built Environment ecosystem. I hope what CDL does will inspire others to also up their game and do more for greenery and sustainable development. 

We certainly look forward to many more companies joining us in this journey, because when we look back at the history of greening Singapore, it is never the work of government alone. It is always the work of partnership, with the government working with companies and the community.

Together, let us strive to build a more beautiful City in a Garden for today and for the future. Thank you very much.