Optimism high for Botanic Gardens' heritage site bid

Optimism high for Botanic Gardens' heritage site bid
To be a potential World Heritage Site, a place must meet at least one of 10 criteria. The Botanic Gardens met two: having a historical landscape, and playing a role in the interchange of human values.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

After five years of planning and preparation, Singapore could welcome its first Unesco World Heritage Site this weekend.

The World Heritage Committee is due to deliver its decision on the Botanic Gardens' nomination today during its 39th session in Bonn, Germany.

The chances of a successful listing are high, after the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) - a Unesco-appointed panel - recommended in May that the Gardens be listed as a World Heritage Site.

This comes after a 11/2 -year effort by local agencies to assemble a pitch for the Gardens to join the ranks of Cambodia's Angkor Wat and Indonesia's Borobudur temple compounds.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong and officials from the National Parks Board and National Heritage Board are in Germany to receive the results.

Mr Wong told The Straits Times that the 156-year-old Botanic Gardens is a favourite spot among many Singaporeans, with happy memories of times spent together with friends, family and loved ones tied to the place.

The bid signals the country's commitment to heritage conservation, he said. "We want to preserve this green oasis in the heart of our city, so that it will forever be a special place for all Singaporeans, and indeed for all of humanity."

In 2010, the Government conducted a feasibility study involving the public on possible sites that could be put up for the bid. Among the suggestions were Tiong Bahru estate, Chek Jawa, Little India and the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

These suggestions were carefully evaluated, before the Botanic Gardens was deemed the best candidate to meet Unesco's criteria.

The next step was to have Singapore sign the 1972 Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which enabled the Republic to become a state party with Unesco and nominate the Gardens.

To qualify as a potential World Heritage Site, a place must have outstanding universal value and meet at least one of 10 criteria.

The Botanic Gardens met two - having a historical landscape, and playing a role in the interchange of human values. If successfully inscribed, it will join two other Unesco-listed gardens: The 1759 Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, and the 1545 Orto botanico di Padova in Padua, Italy.

Groups such as the Nature Society Singapore, the Singapore Heritage Society and the Rubber Trade Association of Singapore were consulted when the dossier was put together. It was eventually submitted to Unesco in January last year.

Ms Jean Wee, director of the Preservation of Sites and Monuments, said she is "delighted" at the possibility of having the Gardens inscribed. "It would be a fitting recognition of how it has been well maintained and preserved all these years. This potential Unesco award will remind us of its context and history," she said.

Tourism experts, such as the Association of Singapore Attractions chairman Kevin Cheong, said a Unesco World Heritage Site title could change the perspective tourists have of Singapore as a built-up city with modern marvels to one with something univer- sally historical in its midst.

Dr Kevin Tan, the president of Icomos Singapore, agreed.

A listing would be a prestigious accolade that would place the Republic on a different international tourist map, he said.

"We are going to get a different kind of tourist - the kind who runs around the world hunting down Unesco World Heritage Sites."

This article was first published on July 4, 2015.
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