National Day Award for NParks' ex-CEO

After toiling for 30 years, Dr Tan Wee Kiat is now witnessing the fruits of his labour.

The founding chief executive officer of National Parks Board (NParks) said he sees the results of early policies in projects such as the park connector network, the Singapore Botanic Gardens' successful Unesco bid, and Gardens by the Bay, of which he is currently CEO.

"I'm in a profession that deals with living, growing things, so it takes time, but I'm just lucky to still be around to see the results of the efforts we've put in from the early days," said Dr Tan, 72.

Yesterday, he was one of 213 National Day Award recipients honoured at a ceremony for public service officers of Ministry of National Development agencies. Minister Lawrence Wong presented Commendation, Efficiency and Long Service Medals to 187 recipients. Another 26 were conferred medals earlier.

Dr Tan, who received the Distinguished Service Order Medal from President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Nov 8, was CEO of NParks from 1990 to 2006. In the 1990s, he coined the term "city in a garden" to describe a vision of vibrant greenery amid urbanisation.

Efforts to realise this have been so successful, he said, that visiting heads of state often compliment Singapore. "Some of them would even ask, 'Where did you get your trees? We want to buy some.'

"And it pleases me to say that we got them from your own country," he said with a laugh.

Dr Tan, who inherited his love of botany from his mother, said his biggest concern is the conflict between development and the preservation of greenery. "The day that I see our Central Catchment area being criss-crossed with highways will be the day I think we will have lost our green soul."

Still, he is excited at the possibilities for integrating nature and urban spaces, especially plans for the 24km Rail Corridor. "It's a piece of land that really has been untouched, and if we can handle this right, our green railway stretches will become a key component in our garden city fabric."

This article was first published on November 14, 2015.
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