Although it is modern and industrialized, with its meagre land area densely populated and built–up, Singapore is officially the greenest city in Asia. Unofficially, it is probably the cleanest in the world.
Singaporeans are proud of their clean, green reputation. “Singapore is very nice” says Elwin, a waiter in the Hotel InterContinental’s restaurant. “The air is clean, there’s no pollution, not too much traffic, no litter and lots of green”.
Elwin is right. The city air is clean; it is warm and soft on the skin; it smells of rain, imminent or just past, with the slightest tinge of exotic Asian food. There isn’t too much traffic; it flows in smooth lines, quietly enough for a conversation. There is no litter; no dropped papers and packets on the footpaths, no soggy cigarette butts clogging the gutters, no chewing gum to embed in the soles of unwary pedestrian shoes, no dog-poo, vomit or pee to side-step and none of the accompanying stench. In fact, there are no dogs, drunks or derelicts (at least not on the streets).
Beds of lush plants border the pavements and boxes of bright flowers spill from walkways. There are vast, dense lawns of an almost blinding green, like the Padang, the Singapore Sports Ground, down in front of City Hall. Oases of palm trees line the streets and pepper the shopping malls. There are roadside stands of shady old-man trees with dark canopies, their scarred trunks twisted with growths like thick rope. Like a verdant heart, Fort Canning Park sits at the centre of a knot of busy arterial roads, a cool repose for the eyes between the silhouettes of skyscrapers. The clean, clear surface of the Singapore River reflects the sky despite the bum boats full of tourists that chug constantly up and down and the cafes that crowd at its edges from Boat to Clark Quay.
Singapore’s nature reserves form a rough semi-circle round the city. There are the Botanical Gardens – 53 hectares of trees, flowers and shrubs, with picturesque paths and walkways; Singapore Zoo, a jungle haven with 290 species of animals; Sungei Bulah Wetlands – its Mangrove Swamp alive with birds and sea-creatures; MacRitchie Reservoir with its nature paths and treetop walk; Bukit Timar Nature Reserve and the wildly colourful Jurong Bird Park. Beyond the mainland are the islands; sleepy Pulau Ubin – a glimpse old Singapore and Sentosa, once a pirate hideaway, now a retreat from the city, threaded with shady bushland paths and fragrant gardens.
Singapore’s clean, green reputation is thoroughly deserved. Singaporeans have worked hard at it. A committed effort has seen the once polluted river run clear again. Strict laws and tough consequences have rid the streets of litter. New, clean, efficient, accessible public transport systems have been established and Singaporeans are encouraged to use them, rather than private cars.
As old Singapore has morphed and mushroomed into a modern metropolis, careful planning has safeguarded precious urban green zones and preserved 5% of the island in its natural state. In 1990 the Singaporean Environmental Council was established to oversee growth, land use, water supply, pollution control, refuse disposal, transport and quality of life into the 21st century and beyond.
Elwin is right. Singapore is nice. Singaporeans are determined to keep it that way. So, as 21st century Singapore shoots ever skywards and business booms, a clean, green future with fresh air, pure water and a quality lifestyle in a safe, healthy and “nice” environment seems assured.