Urban Landscaping


I was in Singapore in the late 90s. It was a trip planned at the last minute and right in the middle of a college week. However the opportunity was simply too good to miss (in India or at least in typical middle-class households, missing a day of school is unthinkable unless you are on your deathbed). It was my first ‘foreign’ trip and being in architecture school at that time, all my attention was on the urbanscape details. Having heard of the amazing job that Lee Kuan Yew had done to transform a fishing village to a bustling metropolis, I was ready to see a thriving city dotted with umpteen flyovers, wide lanes of road filled with fast traffic, and gleaming glass skyscrapers (yeah! I had a skewed sense of what makes for good urbanscape).

But as soon as I landed at the Changi Airport, I was blown away by how green the city was. Green as in landscape profusely; not just in grand city parks that we normally associate with a landscaped city but also in small details like traffic islands, road dividers, and even the space under the flyovers. Govindraj had a similar experience recently and he took additional effort to find the secret of making a city green. He learned that Lee Kuan Yew took personal interest in the subject of soil and vegetation, trees and drainage, climate and fertilizers:

In an equatorial forest, as Lee learnt, with big tall trees forming a canopy, the rain water drips down. But in Singapore, the trees had been chopped down, it would all come down in a big wash. So Lee decided that fertilizers would replenish the soil and began the task of making the compost from rubbish dumps, adding calcium and lime where the ground was too acidic.

Lee asked his officials to find out which plants could survive below the flyovers where the sun did not shine much. And instead of having to water these plants regularly, which was expensive, he got his officials to find a way to channel water from the roads, after filtering it to get rid of the oil and grime from the traffic above.

Govindraj is right in observing that although Singapore is geographically located in a hot tropical zone, thanks to the urban greenery you feel a lot more at ease. Greenery in Singapore, as we learnt isn’t an accident but a deliberate attempt led from the top. It is true when they say that great cities don’t just happen but have to be shaped either by individuals with foresight or an ever-interested community.

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[tags]Singapore, urban, Lee Kuan Yew[/tags]

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