Not a Garden in a City – But a City in a Garden

It was not until we stepped out of the airport and found ourselves in the city where skyscrapers are as common as parks and green rooftop gardens that I understood why Singapore is often also referred to as “Garden City”. With the area of skyrise greenery corresponding to more than 100 football fields, the city-state of southern Malaysia managed to become one of the greenest cities worldwide despite its size and population density

Looking at cities globally, they are currently home to about half of the world’s population and are expected to be so to two thirds by 2030. Therefore, it is little surprising that it becomes increasingly important to understand the economic, social as well as environmental impacts that come with the population shift from rural to urban areas, which is often termed urbanization. Focusing on the implications for the environment, urbanization does not only lead to more skyscrapers and roads to be built but also higher temperatures during the night, a higher concentration of CO2 emissions and the deposition of atmospheric nitrogen. Now, you are probably wondering why you should give any further thought to degrees Celsius, CO2 and N even though you never really liked geography or chemistry in the first place! Well, to keep it short, half of the global population lives in cities, which means that it’s not very unlikely that you and me do, too. Therefore, we are also the ones who are most likely to be affected by climate risks such as water shortages, floods, heat waves or pollution caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions.

The recognition of this threat led to the rise of urban ecology as a scientific field which deals with how humans and nature can sustainably coexist in human-dominated systems. With regards to this, cities are more and more urged to come up with new sustainability-related solutions. In terms of Singapore, one of those is LUSH, Singapore’s Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-Rises programme. Aiming to encourage developers to make the city greener, vertical and rooftop greenery now also qualify as landscape replacement areas. Here, the term rooftop greenery refers to exteriors of buildings which were transformed into urban farms or communal gardens.

By this, Singapore aims to reduce the effect of greenhouse gas emissions by reaching its target of 200 hectares of rooftop greenery mentioned in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint. Not only is growing plants on rooftops a great way to make use of all the limited empty space in a crowded city, but it is also environmentally friendly, enhancing biodiversity and local food cultivation and thanks to its energy-saving features in terms of thermal insulation. The ones that in the end benefit the most from a city in a garden instead of a garden in a city, however, are the people who get the chance to have the two things that at first may seem mutually exclusive: Busy life in a big city combined with the calm side of life in the countryside. And the best about it is that it’s sustainable!

Franziska Nguyen


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