20 August 2010

Singapore's shores and the Focus Groups on Concept Plan 2011

Have our shores been considered in the recommendations on the Concept Plan?
Living reefs of Cyrene at sunrise
Although most of the recommendations relate to urban issues and non-biodiversity aspects, there are many encouraging recommendations that directly impact on biodiversity and our shores.

Including a mention that "while much biodiversity on land has been retained, we should also retain and protect more of our remaining marine biodiversity at places like Labrador Nature Reserve, Chek Jawa and Pulau Semakau." And that "We could also consider gazetting a Marine Reserve."

Other interesting information include a Lifestyle Survey that found that 56.6% of respondents indicated parks and greenery as a feature that that makes Singapore special. Frequently mentioned examples by respondents include East Coast Park, Botanic Gardens, Bishan Park.

Elsewhere in the recommendations, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Pulau Ubin are mentioned as natural heritage which can contribute to an increased sense of belonging to Singapore.

Among the recommendations include more volunteer opportunities to work with nature and environmental issues, and more effort to raise environmental awareness through schools.

Here's some extracts from the Reports, with my own emphasis in bold and comments in square brackets full articles on wildsingapore news.

From the Final report of Focus Group’s recommendations on “Quality of Life” (pdf)

A city of great urban biodiversity

2.3 Singapore is known for our lush streetscape and the extensive network of parks,nature reserves, park connectors and roadside greenery. Despite our island’s high level of urbanization, when seen from above, our ‘green cover’ takes up 40% of Singapore’s total land area. We can build on our ‘City in a Garden’ image to also become a city of great urban biodiversity, where urban living and nature can co-exist in close proximity. To achieve this, we can have more skyrise greenery on our buildings and roofs. Our larger parks could be themed or made more iconic, while we can have more small and intimate green spaces woven into our housing estates and city areas. Such spaces could also be enlivened by regular activities including both unplanned local events as well as signature events. There can also be more colour in our parks and roadside planting through the introduction of foliage that changes colour throughout the year and more flowering plants.
[Comment: sadly, there doesn't seem to have a good understanding of the difference between native and introduced biodiversity and the dangers of invasive aliens.]

From the Final report of Focus Group’s recommendations on “Sustainability and Identity” (pdf)

1.3 First, with Singapore’s small size and the increasing demand for land, we have to ensure that there is sufficient land to meet current needs while also safeguarding sufficient capacity for the needs of future generations. We must be a responsible member of the international community and do our part in supporting sustainable development. We also cannot ignore how climate change (such as sea-level rise and changes in weather patterns) may impact us as an island-nation.

1.11 In addition, the Lifestyle Survey results show that the top 3 aspects that make Singapore special to the people are parks and greenery, conservation areas and buildings, and national icons and destinations. 56.6% of respondents indicated parks and greenery as a feature that that makes Singapore special. Frequently mentioned examples by respondents include East Coast Park, Botanic Gardens, Bishan Park.

1.13 We are pleased to note that there are already plans progressively being implemented by various government agencies to enhance our sense of belonging to Singapore as an endearing home, such as the URA’s conservation programme, the Identity Plan and Parks & Waterbodies Plan, the National Parks Board’s (NParks) Heritage Roads and Heritage Trees Scheme, and National Heritage Board’s (NHB) Heritage Trails.

1.14 We think that such efforts are a very good start in making Singapore endearing. However, we also note that they generally concern the ‘hardware’, with their focus on retaining and preserving the buildings and greenery, or infrastructural improvements. We feel that for Singapore to be an endearing home, the community must connect with the city. Hence, our recommendations involve going beyond the physical hardware to enhancing the ‘software’ by adopting a people-centric and activities-based approach towards strengthening our community’s sense of belonging to Singapore.

2.2 A sustainable city also requires sustainable communities. There are already community initiatives to involve people to do their part for the environment. However, we believe we can do more to educate and influence the public to make mindset and lifestyle changes, such as to use more public transport, reduce and recycle waste, and to conserve resources.

Strengthen green infrastructure

2.38 Schools play a critical role in raising environmental awareness and inculcating ‘green’ values and habits among the younger generations. Environmental education has been incorporated into the school curriculum, and students are involved in environmental initiatives in schools and the community. However, for such projects to be sustained, the schools and students need to be equipped with sufficient resources, including funding and information. To do this, we can consider a framework for schools to work hand-in-hand with the people and private sectors on environmental projects. There should also be greater sharing of environmental teaching resources across schools so as to reduce duplication in efforts. In addition, while we could introduce environmental sustainability as a compulsory subject in our educational system, it might be better to see how schools and tertiary institutions can inculcate such attributes in a more holistic manner.

2.43 To enhance the sense of bonding and ownership in our environment, we propose to have more volunteering opportunities for people who are keen to contribute in their own way to making our living environment more sustainable. For example, volunteers can be involved as guides in our nature reserves and parks, or can work to keep our neighbourhoods clean. Though such volunteer programmes already exist, we can redouble our efforts to make the safeguarding and wise management of the commons an integral part of the Singapore way of life.

Cherish and safeguard our built and natural heritage

3.3 Singapore has much built and natural heritage which can contribute to an increased sense of belonging to Singapore. These include our historic districts (e.g. Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India) and monuments (e.g. the old Supreme Court and City Hall), local areas of identity (e.g. Thomson Village, Joo Chiat, and Changi Village) and iconic structures (e.g. the Esplanade and the Merlion), public housing estates, parks and waterbodies, and nature reserves/areas (e.g. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Pulau Ubin).

3.4 There are already plans and strategies in place to enhance the identity and character of these places in order to strengthen our sense of belonging to Singapore. However, the challenge for us is to move beyond the physical hardware and to actively enhance the software aspects. We also need to strike a balance between letting these places evolve to meet the changing lifestyle needs of the people, and maintaining the character of these endearing places so that they continue to serve as anchors of our collective social memories.

Parks and waterbodies

3.20 Besides conserving buildings and monuments, greenery is an important aspect that contributes to our sense of belonging. In the Lifestyle Survey, most of the respondents thought that parks and greenery are features that make Singapore special to our people. In 2002, the Parks and Waterbodies plan was developed to guide their development. The key proposals were to provide parks near homes (such as new parks like Woodlands Regional Park and Sengkang Riverside Park), offer different park experiences (for example the Tree Top Walk at MacRitchie Reservoir), and to enhance accessibility to parks via park connectors.

3.21 We propose that Singapore’s image as a City in a Garden be further strengthened to make Singapore even more distinctive and to enhance our sense of belonging to Singapore. We should imbue our parks with more character by designating parks with national or historical significance as ‘National Parks’ or ‘Heritage Parks’.

3.22 Town parks in public housing estates should also be made more distinctive through a combination of waterbodies, activities, landscaping, and greenery that reflect the history of the town. One notable example is Toa Payoh Town Park. It will also be useful to introduce more of such town parks in private housing estates.

Natural biodiversity

3.23 Our natural heritage is also an important aspect of what makes Singapore distinctive and endearing. We should place stronger and more explicit emphasis on recognising the role of our natural heritage in creating an endearing home. For example, we can work towards a general planning rule stipulating that solutions to maintain or improve urban biodiversity will be sought as a first course of action in any development plans. In addition, while much biodiversity on land has been retained, we should also retain and protect more of our remaining marine biodiversity at places like Labrador Nature Reserve, Chek Jawa and Pulau Semakau. We could also consider gazetting a Marine Reserve. We should put in place nature corridors that connect the central catchment reserves to the coastal areas, in order to allow the movement of flora and fauna into the reserves to replenish and maintain the existing biodiversity.

3.24 We should also consider how biodiversity can be promoted in our urban environment at 3 levels:
a Local: such as the incorporation of green features like green roofs, skyrise
gardens, vertical/urban farms and green walls into individual buildings
b District or regional: by connecting green spaces as part of the general
planning guidelines
c System-level: by thinking of and planning green spaces as urban ecosystems
that support biodiversity and serve as key ecological sinks

3.25 Using the above framework to conceptualise how to promote urban biodiversity
entails that we consider issues such as:
a Delaying development within contiguous nature areas to reduce degradation and fragmentation;
b Providing designated buffer areas for the forests and Nature Reserves, or gazetting additional Nature Reserves, to either fill the gaps caused by fragmentation or act as buffers from other developments; or
c Utilising brown-field sites and reclaimed lands for future developments instead of biodiversity areas.
We believe that our biodiversity areas would benefit from being left as natural as possible. If they really have to be developed, we hope that measures can be put in place to protect their biodiversity as much as possible, and that such development can be done with a light touch.

Raise awareness of endearing places

3.30 There can be greater integration of local history into the rejuvenation plans for housing estates, such as through sculptures, public art and buildings, to raise
awareness of the history of the towns. New residents could be introduced to the history and heritage of the town, through printed guides and invitations to events. We should also encourage more small-scale private museums and “collectibles showcases” in relevant places to raise awareness of and to promote the value of arts and heritage around Singapore.

3.31 The same goes for our natural heritage. We should raise public awareness of our terrestrial and marine habitats, as this will go a long way in promoting public appreciation of our rich biodiversity and ensuring that our nature areas will continue to hold relevance to our people. For example, it will be useful to publish key information on our Nature Reserves and Nature Areas (e.g. location, size, flora and fauna present, and threats to these areas) to create greater public awareness and support for biodiversity conservation.

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