MND may require HDB estates and condos to have dedicated green spaces

Mr Desmond Lee, Minister of State, Ministry of National Development on a tour around the GreenUrbanScape Asia 2013 exhibition.

SINGAPORE - Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said on Thursday that the Ministry would be exploring the possibility of introducing a minimum requirement, as a way to ensure "pervasive" greenery continues to exist in Singapore.

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Here is the full speech by MOS Desmond Lee at the Opening Ceremony of GreenUrbanScape Asia today:

A very good morning to all of you.

I am delighted to be here with all of you this morning for the opening of the inaugural GreenUrbanScape Asia, which also incorporates the 2nd International Skyrise Greenery Conference. The organisers have told me that we have more than 4,000 participants, speakers and delegates from 25 countries here in Singapore over the next 3 days to share innovations and solutions on landscape and urban greenery. To all our international friends here with us this morning, let me extend to you a very warm welcome to Singapore - our "City in a Garden".

From "Garden City" to "City in a Garden"

Some of you may be more familiar with Singapore being popularly known as a "Garden City". From the early days of our independence, we set out to build a world class living environment through greenery. It was not an easy process. We aimed to be a "Garden City" which is clean and green - a city of parks, gardens, reservoirs and clean rivers. We have invested time, resources, and energy to create the beautiful garden city that we enjoy today.

For our international friends and for those of us living in the central and western part of Singapore heading to the conference this morning, you may have noticed the rows of mature rain trees lining the East Coast Parkway where the tree crowns have arched over the expressway and interlocked to form a green tunnel for much of the way. This expressway has now become an icon familiar to many Singaporeans coming home, and also to welcome our visitors as they travel towards our city.

This is an example of our deliberate attempts to green our streetscape and provide green spaces, as we urbanise and make our city more liveable. This is not just something that you see along the ECP, but in many parts of Singapore. In Jurong West, for instance, where I serve the community, there is a street in the heartlands, in street 52, which is equally interlocked with rain trees and beautiful site that that we all appreciate - the shade, the sense of calm, the oasis amidst the dense and stressful urban environment that we encounter day to day in the city.

Going forward, we are transforming Singapore from a "Garden City" to a "City in a Garden". Some of us here may think that this is a mere play on words. Not quite. It is in fact a significant shift in approach. Our "City in a Garden" vision is about turning Singapore from a city that is green into a metropolis that is nestled in a garden of tropical greenery. It is about connecting vibrant ecosystems, places and most importantly, communities of people, through a seamless network of parks, gardens, park connectors, streetscape and skyrise greenery.

In short, as a "City in a Garden", we aspire to bring parks and green spaces right to the doorsteps of our homes and work places. Even in land-scarce Singapore, we are committed to set aside 9 per cent of our land for nature reserves and parks, and to provide parks within 400 metres of 85 per cent of our households.

Demand for innovative landscape and urban design solutions

Like Singapore, many cities also view greenery as an integral part of a high quality living environment. However, this is not without significant challenges. The United Nations forecasts that today's urban population of about 3.6 billion will rise to nearly 6.3 billion by 2050. Asia, in particular, is projected to see its urban population increase by 1.4 billion, accounting for about half of the global urban population growth. Population growth and urbanisation will make it more challenging for all of us to maintain our greenery, let alone to increase it.

It is therefore important for planners and governments to continue to set aside space, and to create new spaces for parks and greeneries even as cities ramp up their infrastructural developments. With the on-going global conversations on improving liveability and sustainability, green spaces have become more important in ensuring quality living for city dwellers.

In this regard, cities have much to learn from each other. Platforms such as the GreenUrbanScape Asia can facilitate meaningful conversations and exchanges between the different stakeholders - from developers, architects, engineers, and builders, as well as between the public, private and the people sectors on how best to enhance our greenery and innovate urban greenery solutions.

Singapore's greening journey

For Singaporeans, greenery is increasingly viewed as part of our national heritage and identity, and as an important way of mitigating the stress of urban living. In a park usage and satisfaction survey conducted by the National Parks Board (NParks) in 2012, out of 2400 respondents, 80 per cent felt that living in a garden city improved the quality of their lives and that Singaporeans needed parks and green spaces to relax in after a day's work.

To achieve the "City in a Garden" vision, we must not only increase the quantity of greenery, but also the quality of our greenery. Let me briefly share 3 key areas of focus in this journey.

Providing pervasive greenery

First, we aim to continue to provide pervasive greenery all over our small island of 710 km2. Where new developments displace existing greenery, these developments should fully or partially replace the lost greenery by other means, such as developing skyrise greenery, vertical greenery, rooftop gardens or landscaping.

This is not new. Already, new public housing precincts have achieved 60-70 per cent landscape replacement rates, and new developments in our Downtown Core Area like Marina Bay have to meet a 100 per cent landscape replacement requirement, of which some 40 per cent must be greenery.

Moving forward, we will work with stakeholders to explore a minimum greenery provision for public housing and private condominiums. We will also study how we can green more public infrastructure such as sheltered walkways, bus shelters and ventilation buildings. Where possible, planners of new infrastructure should consider how to incorporate greenery in the design stage.

Optimising use of limited land

Second, we have to optimise the use of our limited land for greenery and related uses, especially when there will always be competing demands for the use of land.

Our landscape companies and nurseries do not have the luxury of large tracts of suburban land that some other cities have to run their operations. We encourage our companies here in Singapore to look at ways to maximise the productivity of the land they occupy. This can be achieved through simple space-saving and maximising techniques and technology such as multi-tier display racks and automated irrigation systems for such racks. This way, we make the most use of our limited land for our nursery operations.

Beyond this, all of us are familiar with the approach of going skywards to achieve more greenery. In Singapore, NParks launched the Skyrise Greenery Awards and Skyrise Greenery Incentive Scheme in 2008 and 2009 respectively to promote skyrise greenery in developments.

Today, there are more than 500 buildings with sky gardens and vertical green walls in Singapore, and over 100 developments have benefitted from the incentive scheme. In fact, Singapore has more than 60 hectares (equivalent to some 84 football fields) of green roofs, surpassing Chicago's 51 hectares.

Enhancing labour productivity

Third, we must raise the capabilities of our landscape industry and its workforce in order to achieve the highest standards in both the design and maintenance of our greenery.

NParks had launched the Landscape Productivity Roadmap in 2010 to help landscape companies cope with tightening foreign labour supply and to professionalise the landscaping workforce. We have set aside about $12 million to co-fund the training of workers and to incentivize companies to adopt innovative landscape design, technology and operations. Over time, we aim to build up a sustainable pool of skilled local landscape workers.

Conclusion

This year, we commemorate 50 years in our efforts to green Singapore. Some of you may recall that in June 1963, our then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew planted a Mempat tree at Farrer Circus in our first ever tree planting exercise. This marked the start of our greening journey to improve our living environment and enhance the quality of life for all Singaporeans.

We will not let up in our greening efforts. But the Government cannot do this on its own. We will harness the passion and creativity of the community and the landscape industry to help sustain our greening efforts.

Over these next three days, I trust you will gain meaningful insights from your interactions with fellow participants and the other companies at this conference. At the same time, I hope you can spend some time to walk around Singapore to enjoy the greenery around us. On this note, I wish everyone here a fruitful learning experience and an enjoyable time in Singapore. Thank you.