SDG 11 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is aimed towards creating smart cities. By 2030 cities aim to be inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable for the growing population. Today, the world is becoming increasingly urbanized with 3.5 billion people living in cities worldwide and by 2030 this is projected to increase to 5 billion people. Highly urbanized cities face issues of large carbon footprints, pollution, traffic congestion, and pressures on scarce resources such as water and energy.
Singapore is a highly urbanized city with limited land space and high population density with over five million people living in no more than 700 square kilometres. Singapore’s strategic use of land ensures that these problems are addressed sustainably.
Singapore – Sustainable and Green City
As a highly dense and urbanised country, Singapore’s growth in terms of its economy and population has led to an increase in the phenomena known as the ‘Urban Heat Island’ effect (UHI). The UHI effect refers to air temperatures being higher in metropolitan areas than in suburban or less developed areas. Replacing natural land covers with dense concentrations of pavements and buildings, as well as anthropogenic heat generated through human activities (i.e. factories, air conditioning) contributes to the changes in the urban microclimate. Singapore is among many urbanised cities to suffer from the UHI effect and this contributes to its high temperatures.
The Singapore government prudently implements and develops policies integrating nature into their infrastructure. Their strategic use of land and managing scarce resources of water and energy has successfully helped to manage the urban ecological footprint.
Urban Green Spaces
Singapore’s urban infrastructure is made up of materials and surface traps that radiate more heat. Government institutions like the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) closely collaborate with other institutions to implement policies integrating vegetation and green spaces into their infrastructure to mitigate the issues arising from the UHI effect.
Bishan Park is among several green spaces around the city that were redeveloped under the Active, Beautiful and Clean (ABC) Water Programme. Prior to the development, the park contained a concrete canal in its entire length and this was transformed into a meandering naturalised river known as Kallang River. Natural materials from the river were integrated into the park’s surroundings to shore up its riverbank. This directly contributed to maintaining the biodiversity within the natural environment of the park as Bishan Park began to attract more native wildlife with a wide variety of native birds spotted visiting the river. Singapore’s green spaces consist of a rich biodiversity, habitats to a large variety of animal and plant species with more than 390 species of birds and at least 2,100 native plant species to be found in their Garden City.
How do green spaces help alleviate the UHI effect? Green spaces around the city ‘cool down’ their surrounding metropolitan areas by absorbing the heat released from metropolitan areas. As a result, people in the surrounding metropolitan areas require less energy to cool down their homes, as the heat is naturally dissipated to be absorbed by the green spaces around the city.
Alongside reducing the UHI effect and providing habitats for native wildlife, Singapore’s green spaces are all connected under the Park Connector Network (PCN), providing island-wide routes that residents are encouraged to explore. As of 2020, 46.5% of Singapore’s land is covered in green space with over 300km of green corridors developed as part of the PCN.
Kallang River in Bishan Park
The vast majority of Singaporeans use public transport daily. Living in a fast-paced environment with people constantly moving from one location to another means that the demand for an accessible means of transport is increasing. As a result, the Singaporean government employed a transit-oriented approach in their goal in providing a safe, resilient and sustainable form of transport.
As a land-scarce country, employing a transit-oriented approach to development ensures that land is utilised productively to cater to Singaporean’s residential and economic needs. Today, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system constitutes the bulk of Singapore’s rail network which encompasses 230 kilometres with 122 stations in operation spread across six lines. By 2030, the island-wide heavy rail network is projected to expand to 360 kilometres and the construction of three new lines, enabling eight in ten households to be within a ten-minute walk of an MRT station.
The focus on the expansive urban green space leads to enhancing public transport while promoting active mobility such as cycling and walking as a more viable and environmentally friendly mode of transport. The PCN has seen an increase in visits to parks and green spaces as it has become a fundamental feature among urban green spaces as it encourages residents to walk or cycle as part of their commute while improving urban walkability. Walking and cycling rates have simultaneously increased as use for exercising, commuting and recreational or social activities.
Singapore’s integration of the natural environment to their sustainable urban infrastructure and expansive green spaces around the city may help to achieve SDG 11 in building a sustainable and habitable city in support of its people. Their initiative to increase environmental awareness among its citizens is striving to achieve sustainable change by creating long-lasting solutions, with the presence of green spaces to help reduce the negative environmental impact of carbon emissions and limiting the UHI effect, as well as maintaining the rich biodiversity for its flora and fauna.
We, as global citizens, should always be mindful of our environment and community in order to raise awareness of the problems that our world is facing every day as we aim to build a sustainable future for us all. There are comprehensive solutions we could adapt to build sustainable and green cities by integrating the environment into our daily human activities.