March 4, 2021

I.H.T. Special Report: Smart Cities

But it is not enough. In Singapore’s next “green road map,” its 10-year development plan, the country aims to go from being “a garden city” to “a city in a garden.” “The difference might sound very small,” says Poon Hong Yuen, the chief executive of the country’s National Parks Board, “but it’s a bit like saying my house has a garden and my house is in the middle of a garden. What it means is having pervasive greenery, as well as biodiversity, including wildlife, all around you.”

More and more cities are waking up to the need to be more than sweatshops on a citywide scale. Singapore rose to international prominence by constructing a country that was orderly and efficient. But being globally competitive today is about more than productivity. It is about sustainability, too.

In order to attract so-called knowledge workers, in industries like computing, biotechnology and other forms of new technology, a city has to be an appealing place to work, play, live, and raise a family.

“As we’ve moved into the more knowledge-based industries, they bring along talent who like to live in a great city,” said Mr. Poon. “It’s no longer about being well tended, but also about the liveability, the excitement of living in a great city — and biodiversity is part of it.”

According to the United Nations, more than half of the world’s population lived in cities in 2008 and that percentage is set to rise to 70 percent by 2050.

Singapore ranked 28th in the Mercer 2010 Quality of Living survey of the world’s most liveable cities, and in 22nd place as an Eco-City. It tied with San Francisco in 51st position in The Economist’s index of the World’s Most Liveable Cities, making it the fourth-best city to live in Asia after Osaka, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Singapore aggressively pursued its reputation as a green city as early as the 1960s and 1970s, when the newly independent country was in the rush of rapid economic development and urbanization. While the authorities built thousands of public housing blocks, they also planted trees and shrubs along the main highway bringing visitors from the airport to the city center. At the time, the government was attempting to attract a certain type of foreign investment, particularly manufacturing, and the key justification for having well-tended trees and parks was an economic one: to underscore to investors that the country was well run, well tended, and stable.

With economic policies focusing in recent years on developing creative industries and the service sector, Singapore is facing new pressures to attract talent. And with many companies in Asia, in particular, reporting a dearth of high-skilled talent, offering international companies and their employees a greener working environment becomes a big selling point.

“To be frank, we did not have a very conscious idea to conserve biodiversity right from the beginning. That was not the blueprint,” Mr. Poon said. “For a very long time, we focused only on plants and it has worked very well for us, but now we feel that to engage people and get them excited, especially the young, we need to include a wildlife component and moving forward we want to do more.”

Biodiversity will play an important role in the 1 billion Singaporean dollar, or $829 million, Gardens by the Bay project. The first phase of the 101-hectare, or 250-acre, green site the Bay South Garden, is set to open next June. While there are no plans to artificially introduce wildlife into the gardens, the National Parks Board hopes that newly resurgent species, including hornbills, kingfishers and dragonflies, will find a haven there.

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