On Supertrees, neo-colonialism and globalisation

Guest essay by Joanne Leow

Supertrees, green spaces and urban development: strange yet compelling connections between the impending demolition of Bukit Brown and the public relations blitz accompanying the opening of the new Gardens by the Bay, with their $1 billion Supertrees and cooled conservatories. One space has been made significant by a spontaneous, communal outpouring, newly cognizant of both its historical and environmental specificity – the other has been planned by the government, designed by a British firm and built by (exploited) foreign labour on land that has been reclaimed from the sea. The latter also dramatically alters the urban landscape of the city – hoping to capitalize on the “nature” that must act as what the Straits Times argues is “an inspired decision” [Footnote 1]  to include “green breaks” in Singapore’s frenetic development. The Prime Minister has called the decision to provide this park space for the downtown area a “difficult one” given the land values and “the opportunity cost of using the premium land around Marina Bay.”

As a visionary combination of environmental science, architecture and landscaping, it’s true that the Gardens by the Bay have to be heralded a feat of engineering and planning. However, I’d argue that euphoria about a new “green” space in the city aside, it’s important to cast a skeptical and reflective look at the significance of these new Gardens. This is especially so given the recent public outcry over the exhumation of graves in Bukit Brown, and the imminent destruction of real-life Supertrees and other forms of local flora and fauna in order to construct a new highway.

I think it’s important to scrutinize some of the implications of the construction of the Gardens by the Bay and understand the space as ultimately an imposed, artificial construct of nature and history that is in line with the marketing of Singapore as a globalized tourist destination while simultaneously acting as a kind of psychological safety valve for an increasingly urbanized population. I think that it is crucial that we examine the human, environmental and social costs that may be obscured in the celebratory, self-congratulatory haze of the Gardens’ launch.

History of botanic gardens

Perhaps it would be useful here to first consider the history of botanic gardens in the context of Empire and colonialism. Many scholars like Richard Drayton and Lucile H. Brockway have made extensive studies of how British colonial power in particular was inherently linked to and manifested in the botanic gardens in the empire. These gardens were spaces where colonialists attempted to assert their authority over the nature of other countries, returning from the colonies with samples that had to be classified and categorized. In particular, Brockway considers how a “worldwide network” of these gardens “contributed significantly to the colonial expansion of the West through active participation in the transfer of protected plants and their scientific development as plantation crops for the tropical colonies of the mother country.” [Footnote 2]. A more general observation that may be made: botanic gardens are spaces where the colonial authorities attempted to assert their power over nature itself, to master it – both in terms of knowledge but also spatially, as it is contained in fixed, manicured environment.

How might this be relevant to the new Gardens by the Bay? Consider how there are 225,000 species of plants in the new Gardens, the vast majority of which were chosen because they were “not commonly found in Singapore.” In essence, the Gardens represent an attempt to mimic globalization in the specific geographical location of Singapore as it strives, above all else, to be a hub of transnational capital and investments. What exactly were the costs in terms of the carbon footprint to carefully ship all these plants to Singapore? Further, like colonial botanic gardens of old, the Gardens are a vision of governmental mastery over nature, dictated by planners, scientists, botanists and capital. They are experimental spaces for technology and environment modification, and attempts to combat the equatorial climate of Singapore.

And even more significantly, the new Gardens’ attempt to exercise power through knowledge extends directly into the realms of race and culture. Indeed, the racial categorizations that were produced and reinforced during Singapore’s early colonial history and racially divided urban landscape re-inscribed spatially and culturally in the Gardens. Ostensibly a means of learning about history through the different plant species, the Malay Garden, the Indian Garden and the Chinese Garden reinforce disturbing racial and cultural stereotypes. For example, the Malay Garden seeks to emphasize the myth of an essentialist and traditionalist culture situated in a “kampong” or village. This is in contrast to the Chinese Garden that seems to reflect a more sophisticated culture, as its garden is a place of “inspiration for writers, poets and artists, through seclusion and tranquility.” Even more telling is the Colonial Garden that sees only the plants themselves as “Engines of Empires” – the “lucrative crops, spices and plants that formed important trade routes between the East and the West.” At the very least, these seem to be idealized and stereotypical versions of history – omitting not least any mention of the colonized labour that enabled much of the harvesting and processing of raw materials from these plants, and how the colonies were in fact exploited for the wealth of the metropole.

Social justice and environmental impact

These omissions seem less grave when we consider how the larger human and environmental costs of the project might be obscured as well. We might do well to reflect on who exactly was doing the heavy lifting in the transformation of site that did not have roads, drains, sewers or electricity. In a 30 June 2012 Straits Times article, the chief executive of the Gardens, Dr. Tan Wee Kiat reveals that of the $1 billion spent on the gardens, 80 percent went to the infrastructure works while the 700,000 plants were less than 20 percent of the budget. While we might assume that some of the money that went infrastructure went into labour, I would argue that this is optimistic at best. Consider another article: “Injured worker goes home, loses 13 kg in 7 months” [Footnote 3] this time by the organization Transient Workers Count Too, dated April 2012. This article chronicles the misfortunes of Asad who was injured while commuting to the work site at Gardens by the Bay. His painful injuries aside, Asad’s revelations of his working conditions makes us question the sustainability and humanity of relying and exploiting foreign labour. According to the article, Asad worked 24 hours every other day in May and April 2011 for $1,600 a month. What exactly were the working conditions for the 1,000 workers then, who were reportedly working “around the clock” to ensure that the Gardens could have their official opening without a hitch? What kinds of human costs are justified here?

Another hidden cost is the environmental one – the Gardens project is a spectacularly green one – in the sense that it has created a spectacle (in the Guy deBord sense) of nature itself. The Supertrees also have what is said to be an amazing light show, literally nature as entertainment. However, while green spaces like Bukit Brown and the Bukit Timah Reserve act as the literal lungs of the island, cooling and purifying the atmosphere – could the same be said for the Gardens? According to the press releases, NParks commissioned an energy modeling study to “ascertain the environmentally sensitive energy requirements of the conservatories” which showed that “the energy consumption for the conservatories is comparable to that of an average commercial building in Singapore of the same footprint and height, normalized to a 24-hour cooling period.” So at least where the conservatories are concerned, we might see them as a net loss for the environment, since they are consuming energy much as they would if they were ordinary commercial buildings [Footnote 4]. But an examination of a diagram that shows how the “cycle” of the Gardens works also raises questions about where the heat expelled by the cooled conservatories is going to as it seems that it is just being released into the atmosphere:

(Above diagram can be enlarged by clicking on it)

Globalization and the manufacturing of a Tropical City

One other aspect of the Gardens that I found strangely fascinating and a little off-putting was the intense obsession with creating other worlds and other globalized spaces in Singapore. What are the cooled conservatories if not versions of indoor air-conditioned bubbles that we have become so accustomed to? And why was the masterplan of the gardens inspired by the Valley of the Giants in south-west Australia? What does that have to do with Singapore as a specific space and locality? Would it have made a difference if more Singaporeans had been involved in the aesthetic direction of the initial planning stages? Does a UK-based team really have the local knowledge and feel to create something that is unmistakably Singaporean as opposed to an idea of what a tropical garden should be? If these Gardens are supposed to fundamentally change Singaporeans’ relationship to the downtown core and the newly reclaimed bayfront area, what kinds of artificially induced expectations are they creating? In other words, will we become inured to unadorned natural sites and instead always hoping to always be “wowed” (in the words of the Gardens’ Dr. Tan). In a country that refuses to slow down, will we now extend that momentum to nature itself, expecting instant Supertrees made from concrete and steel instead of appreciating the reality of the old trees that we do have?

I’m optimistic that many Singaporeans can see past the light shows, exotic plants and dramatic architecture. I’m hoping that the outpouring of genuine emotion and engagement that we witnessed when faced with the irrevocable alteration of Bukit Brown is the start of a new relationship with the spaces of our island. We need, in fact, to create and live in spaces that are conscious of our immediate geographical and ecological contexts – finding solutions that don’t need extreme recalibrations of environments or an overuse of resources (human and otherwise). Any development that requires learning how to live in our tropical spaces means claiming them from the bottom up, understanding the value of slowing down and being aware of the human and environmental costs of development. Consider also how the high cost of admission fees to the cooled conservatories and the OCBC Skyway, and the park’s location in the expensive downtown area mean that this space is a fundamentally discriminatory one. Further as the Skyway’s corporate branding suggests, the Gardens risks becoming more of a private business venture, albeit one heavily subsidized with taxpayers’ money, than a public commons.

One of the UK-based designers responsible for Gardens on the Bay had a memorable quip in the promotional video, saying “On a plate, this is what Singapore is about.” While I am not against Singapore becoming a more cosmopolitan and diverse place, we need to ask some hard questions as well: Do we need to be served up on “a plate”? Who defines and decides “what Singapore is about”? Is it a breathlessly instant garden, planned to exploit the tourist market, built on occasionally shaky reclaimed land without much regard to the foreign labourers’ welfare or the decadence of spending hundreds and thousands of dollars on importing plants from all over the world? When we are simplified and contained “on a plate”, what other stories and issues are obscured from this self-presentation? Could we have a more honest and fair spatial relationship with this land that we call our home?


1. “Editorial: Gardens an inspired decision.” The Straits Times. 3 July 2012

2. Brockway, Lucille. “Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Gardens.” American Ethnologist, 6.3 (1979): 449.

3. http://twc2.org.sg/2012/04/04/injured-worker-goes-home-loses-13-kg-in-7-months/

4. Tellingly, the Gardens has refused to divulge the cooling costs of the conservatories, but it does estimate that the site will require $50 million a year to be maintain it. See Cheong, Suk-Wai “No walk in the park. Escalating costs fuelled by building frenzy dogged Gardens by the Bay.” The Straits Times. 30 Jun 2012

77 Responses to “On Supertrees, neo-colonialism and globalisation”

  1. 1 Lye Khuen Way 5 July 2012 at 21:29

    I have a little difficulty reconciling the ornate, expensive Gardens by the Bay on Reclaimed Land in the new Downtown. Call me old-fashion, but I recalled one PM mocking his National Development Minister for using Reclaimed Land to build Marine Parade Housing Estate…..

    Nowadays, whatever we do, I dare say it for the tourists, the rich big spenders.

    If Singaporeans can benefit, good.

    If we cannot afford the entry fees to the special enclosures, too bad.

    Just my opinion.

  2. 2 Charles 5 July 2012 at 22:23

    Thank you.
    Singapore goals has changed from being the Geneva to the Las Vegas of Asia and that now includes environmental stupidity.
    I will celebrate the opening of the Gardens by going and seeing real trees.

  3. 3 Mrs Ang 5 July 2012 at 23:13

    What a well thought out piece. Thank you for offering a different perspective on this issue.

  4. 4 Stef 5 July 2012 at 23:20

    Indeed. There is a certain sense of superficiality when I am walking in the gardens especially in the conservatories.
    There is also a certain common thread of history that the present government has been harping on especially with regards to the heritage gardens which brings to my mind that despite the promises of changes, I am fearful that nothing has changed at all.
    As usual, there is technological innovations in hardware which we are all so good in, but there is a neglect in the softer, human aspect which this country is lacking in whenever we plan for progress and development.
    As an educator, I also find it highly disturbing that the gardens also market itself as a destination for learning journeys by schools when there is really nothing new that students will learn except for often regurgitated history. Even our natural heritage is presented in a piecemeal, neat, organised manner which is far from reality. Thus reflecting our obsessions of controlling the wild nature, a rather anthropocentric philosophy of man exercising power over nature and being highly successful in doing so, yet we forget that nature subsumes us and we are part of nature’s ecosystem. In our present world, it is a highly dangerous philosophy to practice.
    I am worried. Worried that if we continue to create this bubble of fantasy, we will land on a hard landing when reality bites.

  5. 5 SN 5 July 2012 at 23:20

    Hi Joanne,

    I haven’t seen the world’s bestest Garden yet, but I surely hope to soon.

    Big yuck to the idea of ethnic gardens. On that note, whatever happened to the ‘Other’ garden?

    I am not convinced, however, by the colonials as the masters-of-nature trope. Isn’t the mastery or conquest of nature a human imperative? Over the course of human history we weren’t so successful or we were successful enough, at least, to propagate the species. Only with the advent of modern natural science did we start to see the tide turn in our favour. In short, I think it is anachronistic, and ultimately questionable, to impose the framework that you have.

    The second point concerning the connection between the mastery of nature and globalisation (epitomised by the craze to accumulate over 200,000 species of plants under one roof) I understand it this way: if Mohammed will not or cannot go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed. But you may be correct to suggest that it has more to do with our fragile national psyche. We are nothing if we cannot show the world that we are something.


    • 6 Poker Player 6 July 2012 at 14:49

      Isn’t the mastery or conquest of nature a human imperative?

      No. Or more precisely – no more an imperative than for chimpanzees.

  6. 7 Gaba 5 July 2012 at 23:30

    Saw the Gardens by the Bay and was quite disappointed. They’re quite ugly up close, and it still lacks the wow factor. I had similar thoughts as you about the Chinese/Malay/Indian Garden. How unimaginative can you get? The sculptures were also awful and seem to have been thought up by a civil servant and the light show is as bad as the one at Sentosa.

    There’s just a lack of vision and compromises.

    And $20 per entry to the domes? After spending $1 billion of tax payer’s money on building this montrosity? I hear maintenance is $50 million a year as well? Frankly it’s ridiculous.

  7. 8 Alan B'astard 5 July 2012 at 23:32

    What public outcry? Remember noise made by a small group of wanna be activists who are not really trying to save bukit brown and only out to pick a fight don’t count as a public outcry to save the place.

    • 9 Poker Player 6 July 2012 at 14:44

      Who else counts as “small group of wanna be activists…only out to pick a fight”? SPCA? TWC2? SDP? JBJ’s WP? And how do you tell the difference from the bona fide ones?

  8. 10 Passerby 6 July 2012 at 00:25

    Maybe it’s just me but I couldn’t help humming Big Yellow Taxi as I read this piece.

    “They took all the trees
    And put ’em in a tree museum
    And they charged the people
    A dollar and a half to seem ’em

    Don’t it always seem to go,
    That you don’t know what you’ve got
    Til its gone
    They paved paradise
    And put up a parking lot”

  9. 11 Goop 6 July 2012 at 01:55

    Hey maybe if we’re lucky they might actually grow Chinese, Malay and Indian people in those ethnic gardens.

    On a more serious note, I am repulsed. I get that they want to represent the major ethnic communities but doing it this way is just of poor taste. Why can’t they just have a Singapore garden and showcase the herbs/vegetation we consume and cook with everyday and maybe have little signboards on which will detail what it’s used for, and in which ethnic cuisine? Sounds lame but at least it’s a lot better than a Chinese, Malay and Indian garden.

    So where’s the “Other” garden? Do they grow “Other” plants there too?

  10. 12 Anon 4155 6 July 2012 at 04:24

    I’m also unimpressed by the Garden. To me, it screams “artificiality”. The Domes spell “Singapore is an air-cond city”. Housing plants of the world into 1 air-cond complex defeats the very essence of what these plants represent. There’s no longer “seasonality”. You cannot capture that in an artificial air-cond environment.

    Frankly speaking, I like the Botanical Gardens or even Bishan park more.

    I think PM Lee’s opening ceremony speech gives a window into how this debacle came to be. The govt’s mind was so obsessed with the fact that a big plot of prime land is being “sacrificed” for greenery, that they feel that monetarily, the resultant project has to be worth its while. Hence, the touristy (ie. artificial) nature of the product.

    On the other hand, there’s much less of this “monetary payback” mindset when it comes to the Botanical Gardens or Bishan park. It merely represents a vital green lung in that part of the island.

    In other words, the Garden is what it is because, I think, the Govt had the wrong mindset. Did the govt ask citizens for feedback as to what they’d like to see in Singapore’s version of Hyde Park or Central Park? No. They think they know better.

    I can’t help but think that for much less than the amount spent, we could have come up with a more natural version of the green lung in the city. Just don’t look at it directly in terms of monetary payback and we’ll have started off on a better footing.

  11. 13 Mrs Ang 6 July 2012 at 07:03

    I also wanted add that I agree completely with your point on the foreign workers – I’ve been to the gardens twice now and to my horror, have seen workers bathing and brushing their teeth in the scummy green water of the lake. These poor men! What must their living conditions be like that it’s preferable for them use the filthy lake?

    • 14 GB worker 6 July 2012 at 14:10

      Mrs Ang, your statement needs lots of validation. I’ve been there on a weekly basis for the past 2-3 years and had never ever seen of heard any of what you mentioned here. Fyi, their quarters were just round the corner all this while during the construction period. These workers are now enjoying the fruit of their labour and touring the park and even more proud to say that they told some ugly visitors off (both local or foreign) when they spotted these ‘visitors’ destroying the premises and exhibiting anti-social behaviour.

  12. 15 Tell Me The Truth 6 July 2012 at 07:18

    Just a side note after reading this well researched article by Joanna Leow. Why is Bukit Brown Cemetry not considered as a educational tourist site for both locals & foreigners. There is a wealth of history there with local WW2 heroes, philanthropists, coolies who helped build Spore etc. In France, the cemeteries there are tourist sites eg Père Lachaise Cemetery http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C3%A8re_Lachaise_Cemetery. In Shanghai, there is famous cemetery where notable literary & political heroes are buried. Why can’t Spore authorities lend a helping hand to make it a worthwhile tourist site?

  13. 16 Anon q242 6 July 2012 at 08:01

    This is a very insightful piece by Joanne Leow that reveals the hegemonic artificality or I would say the artificality of neo-liberal and neo-colonial hegemony in Singapore. Part of the originally reclaimed land had actually evolved into a lush wildlife sanctury for migratory birds. The public park that was once Marina South has also been a very comfortable place for all sorts of social activities as well. But, it is so obvious that the current monstrosity now serves a completely different purpose, turning Singapore into a tourist and photographic freak show. It would have been commendable had the government turned part of the reclaimed land to a new BTO HDB housing estate to help ordinary Singaporeans get to their workplaces in the city more easily. But, again, this is a pro-business state.

    • 17 Poker Player 6 July 2012 at 12:13

      turning Singapore into a tourist and photographic freak show.

      Yep. That sums it up. And “freak show” applies to many aspects of Singapore life.

  14. 18 Anon m3ko 6 July 2012 at 10:16

    I happen to see the place some 2 years ago on an arranged visit. Several things irked me with this man made monstrosity.
    First, they claimed to build a Central Park. I know Singapore is obsessed with comparing itself with others, I guess it must be some inferiority complex. Well, I don’t think Central Park and this have much in common.

    Secondly, when the racial tree thing came up (apparently changed to racial gardens), I got really annoyed. I guess only in Singapore would plants get classified by race (at the same time telling us how racists-free the place is).

    The last issue was about the giant air-conditioned plant malls supposed to create Mediterranean spaces (why they need to pretend to be Southern Europe escaped me). They actually claimed that those would be carbon neutral. Upon some probing questions that I planted, I got some sorry answers trying to bluff us. Claiming that they would use the sea water to cool and provide cool air only where needed etc etc. At least now we know they are far from carbon neutral.

    To me, the Garden is an extension for the Casino patrons built with our taxes. Thanks a lot.

    • 19 CK 6 July 2012 at 13:54

      It IS an extension for casino patrons! There is even an overhead bridge linking MBS to the Gardens.You can’t get any casino-friendlier than that!!

  15. 20 nick 6 July 2012 at 10:35

    I think the sensory garden at Pulau Ubin is much much better. And it is free!

  16. 21 Unbranded BreadnButter 6 July 2012 at 10:43

    Sydney City Botanical Gardens. A living space. Enough said. Thanks for the article.

  17. 22 Saycheese 6 July 2012 at 12:18

    This ostentatious display of extravagance is perhaps the clearest symbol of the governing elites’ disconnect with the ordinary people trying to cope with the high cost of living. Many who are struggling with utilities, transport and children’s education expenses and worrying about healthcare costs and loss of livelihood, cannot appreciate how this and other prestige projects like the YOG or F1 improve their lives in this place they call home.
    This garden, together with the Flyer and the two IRs are just vulgar showpieces heralding our arrival and to trap the debased tourist dollar.
    Who knows, but the openning of this garden may coincide with the day in history when the world goes into its worst depression yet.

  18. 23 george 6 July 2012 at 14:33

    Can someone provide details of what has happened to all the grandiose structures built by Marcos in the Philippines, including a counterfeit version of the US “Mount Rushmore”? Garden by the Bay is nothing but a self-aggrandizing idea, like the Biblical Tower of Babel.

  19. 24 Tan Big Tan 6 July 2012 at 14:37

    They need to do more for the local gardens – has anyone been to Mt Emily Park? Some of the trees surrounding the place are absolutely beautiful – but the plant life on the actual top are dreadful.

  20. 25 Anon 15t4 6 July 2012 at 15:03

    Joanne, your article is AAA1.

  21. 26 DP 6 July 2012 at 15:05

    Honestly the Gardens By the Bay repulses me. I think after a while, it would die a natural death and end up like the Tang Dynasty Village at Jurong. If the government wants to really make it last, maintain public both local and foriegn interest and justify the operating cost, it should make it a burial ground & memorial for our world famous founding father and all the Prime Ministers & Presidents after him. This way we can be sure the future leaders will not destroy it like they did Bukit Brown. It can also serve as a site for national education for our kids and perhaps we can one day rename it the Singapore Memorial Gardens

    • 27 The 6 July 2012 at 16:43

      Repulse Bay

    • 28 yuen 6 July 2012 at 19:34

      > it would die a natural death and end up like the Tang Dynasty Village at Jurong

      probably not; Tang Village was hard to access, and had limited features for a day visit; it was mainly useful as a function venue combining tour, dinner and show, for patrons driving their own cars or tour groups going by bus; it ultimately proved to be an uneconomical use of space

      Joanne Leow made some valid points on the hidden political and social issues, but to most visitors these issues will be “hidden”; some will no doubt wonder whether it was a good use of land and public money, but just as a passing thought; I doubt anyone will be motivated to go and picket Garden by the Bay or Botanic Garden for their political incorrectness (assuming they can get the necessary police permit)

      • 29 Poker Player 7 July 2012 at 17:24

        I doubt anyone will be motivated to go and picket Garden by the Bay or Botanic Garden for their political incorrectness

        What’s your point? Rising public transport fares, when and how you get your CPF money as a moving goalpost, money for higher education that could have been spent on locals spent on foreigners instead, public services strained through massive immigration – none of these caused any picketing.

      • 30 yuen 8 July 2012 at 12:27

        quite so; there are many issues of greater concern to singaporeans whether Garden by the Bay expresses colonialism

      • 31 Poker Player 8 July 2012 at 23:18

        “quite so; there are many issues of greater concern to singaporeans whether Garden by the Bay expresses colonialism”

        Is there any issue that this blog addresses where this doesn’t apply? This is like saying some gay people have a sense of entitlement. The point is not that it is not true (it is) – it is that it applies to all groups – but you choose to remark it for a particular group. IOW, it’s a cheap shot and needs to be called out.

      • 32 yuen 9 July 2012 at 05:21

        > “quite so; there are many issues of greater concern to singaporeans whether Garden by the Bay expresses colonialism” … This is like saying some gay people have a sense of entitlement.

        maybe you see connection between the two; I dont; since you are so keen to follow up every one of my comments, spend a little more time to elaborate please, including why you believe “some gay people have a sense of entitlement.” (I am neutral on this)

      • 34 yuen 9 July 2012 at 17:52

        >both are cheap shots.
        maybe you feel your shots at my comments arevery sophisticated?

        > yuen 2 January 2012 at 23:04 I have occasionally noticed a sense of entitlement, “to be different”, among some gays, but assume there is a silent majority that simply want to be left alone

        certainly gays (and others) are entitled to choose to be different; in fact, your follow up comment seems to agree, to the extent of remembering it half a year later

      • 35 Poker Player 10 July 2012 at 10:41

        Once in a while YB let’s in a very obviously bigoted comment. I consider them harmless. It actually furthers his cause (which I am very sympathetic to) and discredits the opposing side. The bashing is fun too.

        But what happens when opposition is camouflaged in banality? What if defense of the status quo is disguised as pragmatism? What if causes are trivialized because only the marginalized are affected? It provides bigots with the vocabulary to allow themselves to think that they are doing nothing more than being moderate.

        YB says I pick on people.

        No. But I do pick on patterns of thought.

      • 36 Poker Player 10 July 2012 at 11:03

        certainly gays (and others) are entitled to choose to be different; in fact, your follow up comment seems to agree, to the extent of remembering it half a year later

        Why do I have to repeat myself?

        The point is not that it is not true (it is) – it is that it applies to all groups – but you choose to remark it for a particular group. IOW, it’s a cheap shot and needs to be called out.

        Did you miss the point on purpose?

      • 37 yuen 10 July 2012 at 13:35

        >Once in a while YB let’s in a very obviously bigoted comment
        >The point is not that it is not true (it is)

        so which bigoted comment do you have in mind? obviously not my “cheap shot” since you agree it is true, and remember it half a year later

        you are welcome to your opinion about my comments; I have my own opinion about yours, but prefer not to waste time on “cheap shots”

      • 38 Poker Player 10 July 2012 at 14:24

        so which bigoted comment do you have in mind?

        The first paragraph was not referring to your comments. It was to provide the context and the contrast in the second paragraph which does characterize your comments:

        But what happens when opposition is camouflaged in banality? What if defense of the status quo is disguised as pragmatism? What if causes are trivialized because only the marginalized are affected? It provides bigots with the vocabulary to allow themselves to think that they are doing nothing more than being moderate.

        Later you say

        obviously not my “cheap shot” since you agree it is true, and remember it half a year later

        based on quoting less than a quarter(!) of my original sentence.

        You quote

        The point is not that it is not true (it is)

        The original:

        The point is not that it is not true (it is) – it is that it applies to all groups – but you choose to remark it for a particular group. IOW, it’s a cheap shot and needs to be called out.

        What do you hope to accomplish with rebuttals of a part of a sentence when the sense of the sentence in rest that you didn’t quote? Especially when the part you quote starts with “The point is not”!!!

      • 39 yuen 11 July 2012 at 12:07

        time to move on man; you can always save it and dig it up again 6 months later

      • 40 Poker Player 11 July 2012 at 15:38

        Not unusual for this blog. I’ve seen articles almost a decade old brought up again in comments – there is a continuity and consistency.

        BTW, you keep harping on “6 months old” and don’t mention that it was you who challenged:

        spend a little more time to elaborate please, including why you believe “some gay people have a sense of entitlement.” (I am neutral on this)

        What more effective way to answer than the fact that it was you who had that opinion and not me!

      • 41 Poker Player 11 July 2012 at 16:00

        And yes – the best way to get someone to see something is to refer to his own words and speech as context. But in your case your only discussion of it here is that it is 6 months old and not its actual content. Maybe as part of moving on, you want to reflect on why.

  22. 42 Faiz Zohri 6 July 2012 at 16:12

    i am convinced that gardens and green areas defines and help determine what a city is now and for the coming future….
    With the Ferris wheel, the temporary F1 circuit, and later on Moshdie Safdie’s IR and Libeskind’s swaying towers, its obvious what the planners want Singapore to be – a monumental spectacle. Unfortunately, the planners/ministers link monumental and beauty with as-big-rojak-as-possible. We want to be part of this group with Dubai, and the new China. We try to make everyone else happy and at home, we forget about ourselves. I hope we can just be a modern tropical island, but i dont see it happening. this Garden, for me, marks the end of the golden age of singapore urban planners.

    like Jack Nicholson in the Departed , i scream to these places “Dont add inches to you dick!! “

    • 43 Leuk75 9 July 2012 at 00:42

      But that is exactly what is wrong! I know how China wanted to impress with the fengshui based building of the forbidden city, the dragon gate hotel, water cube, bird nest stadium etc. And how Dubai aims to please wow with Burj Khalifa and those window cleaners suspended half a kilometre above ground that puts Spiderman to shame. seen them all, great in grandiose architecture but left me out cold. Just brash, big and in your face, no soul.

      And Singapore wanted to copy them. Give me Sungei Buloh any day. And I will take the messy Chong Pang Road and Bah Tan Road of my childhood in late 70s early 80s anyway and watch a show in the Sultan cinema.

      Thats my Singapore

  23. 44 Anon fr55 6 July 2012 at 21:42

    Solid article. i share sentiments and increasingly find something is not right about our country and gov and you made some good points with this comparison.

  24. 45 Stefan 6 July 2012 at 23:43

    I’m not surprised, though it still makes me angry. Typical Singapore ‘marketing’ of life, contrived and smelling rotten, as real issues go unaddressed day in day out. The only way to fix things is to talk openly and rid of the racism, ego and arrogance that permeates Singapore culture. I don’t think it will happen so soon.

  25. 46 Rabbit 6 July 2012 at 23:44

    In the past, money earned was preciously spend on Singapore defense system and basic needs of our people. Even Goh Keng Swee was mulling whether it was cheaper to maintain Bird park or Zoo in order keep this country prudent in order to survive.

    Now, all these hard earned money were thrown needless by the 3rd generations leadership who created a yearly huge maintenance costs to justify more taxes from its people. Is this how a country is tightening its belt? When Greece is on the brink of bankruptcy, we should have learned the power of savings for darker days instead of flaunting our wealth on needless white elephant. How many jobs have been created for Singaporeans in the overall Marina Projects? I suppose it will remain a shameful secret forever. Will I be expecting a pinoy manning the cashier when I enter the Marina Garden?

    Why can’t the money be spent on noble cause like building more nursing home, hospitals, training a pool of local talent,subsidize the poor more generiously on medical costs, school fees, transport fees…etc which is the best defense to bring hope for Singaporeans and unite this shaky nation which is not quite ready to be called home by some Singaporeans.

    Singapore is like a very expensive Ferrari with mindless driver. Crash is just a matter of time if we ignore the red light.

    How many jobs have been created for Singaporeans so far in the overall Marina Project? I suppose it is still a huge shameful secret.

  26. 47 woontienwei 7 July 2012 at 04:44

    If you wish to help save Bukit Brown 100%.. 

    Get as many people to make some noise by doing so: 

    Like the SOS Bukit Brown page,  http://www.facebook.com/sosbukitbrown. 
    Put your name/ic/ID number/email down for the open letter.  Email to :sosbukitbrown@gmail.com
    read open letter

    These 2 numbers reflect the ground sentiments,translate into the concerns and strong interest about Bukit Brown.

  27. 48 New Parent 7 July 2012 at 09:30

    Thanks for the article and always good to read well though-out, researched articles.

    While I found the neo-colonialism argument intellectually stimulating, it was on that did not resonate with me personally.

    For me, the “ethnic gardens” is just an attempt to group/celebrate those3 races with flora. even if its a bit contrived/unimaginative, I don’t see it as bad.

    My view is that The Gardens by the Bay should be evaluated for what it is. A park Development within the prime land of Marina Bay. the sizeable investment, ticketing fees etc, is consistent with the overall concept of the area, and the crowd its for. While not perfect, this was the chosen plan as opposed to another skycraper development in this area. which i am very happy for.

    I do agree with the last bit about how its important to treasure green lungs like bukit brown (signed off on that petition). the slight disconnect I have with the article is is that the Gardens on the Bay is not an alternative or even comparison with those.

    • 49 Goop 8 July 2012 at 03:13

      Well this article is written for an academic audience, or at least an undergrad who has read post-colonialism to some depth. To an outsider, the ethnic gardens are not a big deal, but to someone who is aware of how racial identities are artificially constructed as a residue of colonialism and social hierarchies inherited by some Asian governments post-independence, it is an awful, awful gaffe.

      But of course, I’m not invalidating your view in any way, rather, I think the point of this article was to apply post-colonial theory on a very recent development which is another direction altogether. Surely an entity can be from different angles, not all of which has to intersect.

      • 50 Joanne 8 July 2012 at 11:35

        Thanks for your clarification Goop. I think the point of my essay was to look at the Gardens with a more critical lens, instead of just imbibing the official line.

  28. 51 octopi 7 July 2012 at 11:05

    Hanging Gardens of Babylon, anyone?

    One of the good things about Singapore, esp post independence Singapore is the gardens. Singapore has always been the garden city, and this does not change anything. It would be wrong to say that there was something neo-colonialist about Gardens by the Bay when Bukit Brown is a colonial relic. It is not like we cleared a forest for the construction of these gardens – this is reclaimed land. It’s not like we destroyed the marine environment in order to reclaim the land – Singapore harbour has been operating for 100 years and there’s nothing left there to destroy. If people want to build a nice funky little garden there with a nice funky little concept what’s there to kaopeh about? There is nothing wrong with labeling our flora and fauna like in the Botanic Gardens – it educates people and inculcates in them a respect for nature and for me that more than compensates for clearing the forest for the Botanic Gardens. There is nothing wrong with understanding nature. There is nothing wrong with human activity shaping the landscape into a garden. At the end of the day, photosysnthesis is still taking place. It is OK as long as you don’t overdo it and do too much damage to our ecosystem.

    What is wrong with that place is that it is literally a fig leaf. It’s one of the things that was packaged together with the casino into an “integrated resort” so that we don’t have to reckon with the fact that we’re morally prostituting ourselves for the economic benefits. It is loud and gaudy, and it was designed by people who do not understand or respect our heritage as well as we do. That is the reason why the Gardens is neo-colonialist, rather than the mere fact that we proud humans are raping Mother Nature. The representing the three races thing – I don’t know, that’s gauche. I hope that in time we can Singaporeanise it in the same way that people no longer think of the Statue of Liberty as a French Lady standing in the middle of the New York harbour. The third reason is – well I hope that the gardens was paid for from the profits of the casino, rather than the government’s coffers. This sorda reminds me of Bishan park, you spend a ridiculously large sum of money on it, rather than figuring out how to reduce poverty in Singapore.

    Otherwise my objections to this park are rather mild.

    • 52 Poker Player 7 July 2012 at 17:19

      It would be wrong to say that there was something neo-colonialist about Gardens by the Bay when Bukit Brown is a colonial relic.

      Joanne Leow didn’t make it explicit, but her references and style make it clear that she has a far more than a passing familiarity with post-colonial theory. They use the word colonial loaded with many accretions from use in their literature – saying “Bukit Brown is a colonial relic” is talking at cross purposes.

      • 53 octopi 8 July 2012 at 00:09

        The real difference between Bukit Brown cemetary and Gardens By the Bay would be a class thing. Gardens by the Bay was designed top down, and I would call it an “imperial project”. The rich (Sands) built it, the powerful (govt) endorsed it. Whereas Bukit Brown would be more like a “people’s cemetary”, except that I’m sure that there are plenty of prominent upper class people buried there. All the same, it reflects a very unequal society. The only egalitarian thing about it is that everybody’s dead.

        Is there really a big difference? Bukit Brown being a reflection of colonial society, and Gardens by the Bay grappling with the legacy (and possibly continuity) of colonialism? All I see is that there is a continuity between the old society of masters and slaves, and the present situation of great social inequality. And what’s this post colonial thing and how is it related to neocolonialism?

      • 54 Poker Player 8 July 2012 at 23:37

        It was only at last sentence that even had anything to do with my comment:

        “And what’s this post colonial thing and how is it related to neocolonialism?”

        My point was that you this is something you should find out before saying It would be wrong to say that there was something neo-colonialist about Gardens by the Bay when Bukit Brown is a colonial relic. because Joanne Leow’s article is informed by post-colonial theory and your comment on Bukit Brown is based on what you think you know about colonialism – that’s what “talking at cross purposes” means.

        Stop going off on tangents. If you are making a separate point – then make it clear that you are making a separate point – nothing wrong with that – just be clear.

    • 55 octopi 8 July 2012 at 00:30

      And this thing about the “gardens” approach of Botanic Gardens / Gardens By the Bay vs the “natural reserve / forest” approach of a Bukit Brown / Bukit Timah is a little silly to me. Which would I want? I want both, and what do you know? We get both.

    • 56 Goop 8 July 2012 at 03:17

      “It would be wrong to say that there was something neo-colonialist about Gardens by the Bay when Bukit Brown is a colonial relic.”

      An opinion is never wrong. It is just different from the one you hold.

      Anyway, I haven’t visited it myself, but I do agree that perhaps in time we can Singaporeanise it in some way. Perhaps.

    • 57 drifter 8 July 2012 at 10:17

      I believe it was built using taxpayer money and not part of the MBS casino, so effectively public money was spent to enhance the attractiveness of the adjacent private property owned by a foreign entity.

      • 58 Joanne 8 July 2012 at 11:39

        Octopi, I believe that the Gardens are neo-colonialist because it is using many of the same racial categories and forms of power that existed in colonial times. For example the need to classify and categorise everything (people and plants), and the idea of dominating and mastering nature for capitalist gain. Now, there may be some way of arguing that Bukit Brown is a relic of colonialism – but I think you might wonder how different the Gardens are in terms of scale, elitism, use of human and material resources, alteration of landscape, etc.

      • 59 octopi 8 July 2012 at 18:16

        OK, I wasn’t so much objecting to your calling GBTB neo-colonial, but it was more of questioning why it was contrasted in this sense to Bukit Brown. I still have some vague memories from the “Orientalism” and “Imagined Communities” I had to read while in college a long time ago so I’m not totally new to these ideas.

        GBTB and Bukit Brown are obviously very different from each other, but they are both in their own way end products of colonialism. You talk about the differences, and I’ll talk about their similarities.

        Yes, there may be something neo-colonial about all that labelling. But isn’t a graveyard also about labelling dead people? Isn’t claiming descendency to prominent people also about power relations, and also about classifying people? Calling yourself Teochew or Hokkien or Cantonese is totally removed from racial categories? A graveyard is not a museum of sorts? Bukit Brown was not cleared jungle land? Conquest of nature takes place across all cultures and people with varying degrees. I guess what I’m saying is also: in what sense does GBTB reflect relationships between man and nature which are existing regardless of whether or not colonialism has taken place?

        Also, if I’m not wrong, the Gardens By the Bay may have been built for the purpose of enhancing a casino, but it is also a public space? It enhances the casino for now, but also a new downtown built around the area. (I take this opportunity to point out how dodgy it is to have stock exchanges and casinos side by side with each other – or maybe it is wholly appropriate?)

        Then there is another separate but related question: we have internalised our colonial heritage so much that it forms so much of what makes us Singaporean. English is not a white man’s language in Singapore. The national drink is coffee. We wear long sleeve office wear to work in the tropical heat. We eat rice with forks and spoons (PRC people think this is very unusual). Has the white man’s culture conquered us or have we claimed aspects of it for our own and in doing so recaptured it? The line between our “true” heritage as Chinese / Malays / Indians, and what is inherited from the “other” is very blurry and probably does not exist. Even if you take the main categories: Chinese, Malay, Indian, White, there are 6 different self-other relations taking place in our context.

        Lastly, we think about the white man as the colonial power. In Singapore, there are four colonial powers: “India” was the first colonial power when we had the Hindu Kingdoms. Remember that the name Singapore derives from Sanskrit. The Arabs were also colonial powers. Zheng He was a coloniser, and only lastly, we had the white man. Chinese people in Singapore usually forget that they are also colonisers.

        I guess I’m trying to say that Bukit Brown and GBTB are not totally different from each other, not polar opposites of each other, but lie at different points on the continuum. Calling GBTB 100% Singaporean is not right, but neither is calling it 0% Singaporean.

      • 60 yawningbread 8 July 2012 at 23:36

        Octopi – my gentle advice 🙂 Stop here. You’re perhaps digging a deeper hole for yourself.

      • 61 octopi 9 July 2012 at 02:23

        Yes, maybe my objections are excessive when I actually agree with 90% of the article.

        It’s just that the idea that we needed colonialism to teach us how to subjugate nature, stick labels on things and build big ugly objects is not quite right. We already had all these tendencies. Chinese people don’t need to be taught that.

  29. 62 Thirunavuk Arasu Balasingam 7 July 2012 at 14:33

    The name of this new so-called “national icon ” is “Gardens by the Bay”. I visited it with a “child-like curiosity-cum-attitude embedded within the Singaporean psyche”. I was impressed with the extensive manicured plots of species of flora (plants) artificially segregated with no “natural links’ to Singapore except that their native home is one of the countries found elsewhere on Planet Earth.

    I asked “Where are the Gardens and where is the Bay; and what are the connections and niches that exist naturally in any natural ecosystem on Planet Earth and Home Singapore?

    What are the natural associations/dis-associations to the other “Gardens” and “Bays” that are flourishing in Singapore, for example, Botanic Gardens, Labrador Park, MacRitchie Reservoir, Pasir Ris Park, Tanjong Chek Jawa at Pulau Ubin, Fort Canning Hill and so many other gardens and bays dotted all over Singapore. Where is the fauna (animals) that co-exist naturally with the flora like found in the other national parks of Singapore?

    How do we explain to our young Singaporeans the natural links of the “Gardens by the Bay” to our other national parks so that a “Singaporean identity and pride “will well up and root” in his/her Singaporean pysche for the “Gardens by the Bay” also.

    I left for home, tired, sad but hopeful. Why hopeful? The “Gardens by the Bay” has acres of potential development to be a national natural asset like the Botanic Gardens – a national natural asset that every Singaporean, young and old, can empathise and instinctively connect with as well as a “must visit” Singaporean icon by every tourist/visitor to Singapore.

    Let us give the Gardens by the Bay” “another shot” to uplift it to be a “national icon” which it so deserves to be.

    Thank you Joanne Leow and all my fellow Singaporeans for your relevant, meaningful and well-thought comments on this article “On Supertrees, neo-colonialism and globalisation”.

    God bless Singapore!

  30. 63 george 7 July 2012 at 22:56

    ” According to the press releases, NParks commissioned an energy modeling study to “ascertain the environmentally sensitive energy requirements of the conservatories” which showed that “the energy consumption for the conservatories is comparable to that of an average commercial building in Singapore of the same footprint and height, normalized to a 24-hour cooling period.” ”

    So ironically the quantum leap taken by the LHL govt with the ‘garden by the bay’ in respect of the ‘garden city’ concept blueprint initiated by his father, is a leap BACKWARDS.

  31. 64 Orange 8 July 2012 at 01:24

    Tourist trap.

    According to the article, Gardens by the Bay imported most of the 225,000 plants. What is the total cost of ensuring each plant survives in Singapore’s climate and does it factor into the $50 million maintenance fee? If it is a hidden cost, who is liable for footing the bill?

    Will the admission fees, rental of land, charges for wedding and party and other events, etc., help the government to see its first profit in 2 to 3 years’ time? Anyone with common sense would see the wisdom of only building part of the project first and then expanding if it pays off.

    This project was poorly thought-out. An invasion by a foreign plant species can upset the balance of flora and fauna and other parts of the ecosystem. Our dear government must be masterminding an evil plan, to form an army of mutant plants to take over the world.

  32. 65 yeokky 8 July 2012 at 09:43

    when the esplanade was first built, the same form of discourse happened, didn’t it?

    think it came out okay though, hmm

    • 66 yawningbread 8 July 2012 at 10:32

      Actually, the rumbles continue. Basically the criticism is that so much of the arts budget went into building and sustaining the Esplanade (including bringing in foreign productions), that the local arts scene has been starved of support and become the stepsister of imported productions.

  33. 67 ricardo 8 July 2012 at 15:14

    I wonder if our Lord LKY, the HoLee Family, their Ministers & friends have heard of Human Induced Global Warming.

    George says “NParks commissioned an energy modeling study to “ascertain the environmentally sensitive energy requirements of the conservatories” which showed that “the energy consumption for the conservatories is comparable to that of an average commercial building in Singapore of the same footprint and height, normalized to a 24-hour cooling period.”

    I once thought Singapore’s reputation as the Garden City was an impressive example of how cities must evolve in future if they are not to become cesspits. It now appears that our Lord LKY etc have decided to reverse this trend and move Singapore towards International median commercial Carbon Polluting standards for everything.

    This goes hand in hand with the new road building programme to suit Ferrari drivers. All easily paid for by a small increase in SMRT fares and suitable efficiencies (cutbacks) in maintenance.

    Or perhaps, our Lord LKY etc may have set new world class standards for energy efficiency for commercial buildings. As they plan to reduce their multi-million Dignity to help the poor & disadvantaged. 8>D

  34. 68 VincentWee 9 July 2012 at 11:40

    Reblogged this on newemergent.

  35. 69 T 10 July 2012 at 01:43

    Upon reflecting on the two recent topics of xenophobia and Gardens By The Bay on YB, I find the government’s political will to be highly arbitrary. On the one hand, it was determined enough to meticulously plan and build a $1 billion garden, sourcing for resources (e.g. trees) from many parts of the world. On the other hand, it seemed so hard for it just to set wage targets for one of the low-income sectors (which are sources of foreign labour that contribute to xenophobic sentiments) (http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/1209015/1/.html). With comparisons such as this in mind, there needs to be more skepticism when government representatives claim helplessness in coping with external, globalized pressures to resolve/alleviate national issues.

    Two other issues that surfaced for me were the lack of mass public involvement in the construction of the garden, as well as the prime location chosen for the garden. The first issue raises two concerns: One, the government’s penchant and (utter) discretion in providing bread and circuses as “superficial means of appeasement” (Wikipedia) for the people and two, the apparent acceptance and/or acquiescence by a significant proportion of the people towards such “bread and circuses”. Based on this action-reaction relationship, I feel that the public call for accountability on massive government spending may vary (and even weaken) according to whether the individual “national” project benefits the individual citizen. This is despite the fact that in a (proclaimed?) democratic society, any significant use of public funds should ideally be explored and discussed collectively.

    Secondly, the prime location of the Gardens represents a trend where the most expensive and expansive efforts at urban (re) development continue to be concentrated at the city-centre/ urban core. This will mean that to get to places of interest for work and in this case, leisure, people will have to travel from all other parts of the island to access opportunities and facilities for such endeavors. Such commuting behaviors will continue to increase reliance on public and private transport that will lead to congestion, both on MRT carriages and roads.

    On another note, the notion of a garden is often associated with that of a home. But from the overhead shot of the Gardens above, there are no homes to be found nearby as of now. This forms a contrast to the multiplicity of HDB public flats whose dwellers often have no garden to tend to, even as a community. Overall, the prestige and publicity of the Gardens By The Bay obscures the relative neglect experienced by local towns and neighborhoods in terms of urban rejuvenation and the missed opportunities in revitalizing socio-spatial relationships at a more intimate and accessible level in the heartlands (https://yawningbread.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/on-the-ground-strangely-depopulated/)

  36. 71 Avinash 10 July 2012 at 21:57

    Interesting piece, thanks for sharing. The point about the various Botanical Gardens in British-nurtured colonial cities being colonial spectacles for the masses is a curious one; certainly stands to reason, obviously.

    Where I disagree is on the extent to which there’s a public outcry to save Bukit Brown. While Bukit Brown must be saved, of course, it is an important piece of Singapore’s heritage, I can’t help think there hadn’t been any public interest in the cemetery until the plans for the expressway had been published. I should know; used to go past it every single day from work. Never did I see any form of public activity there until about December-January of this year.

    The people fighting for it obviously have their hearts in the right places, but I’m afraid I’d have to be cynical on the extent to which the masses will lap this, or other public spectacles, up. After all, that’s exactly what the ornate, elaborate tombstones at Bukit Brown also represent, don’t they, a public spectacle of the importance of the person interred there.

  37. 72 aaron 11 July 2012 at 15:12

    Thank you for the thoughtful article, which raised many interesting and valid points. I guess there was an ‘outcry’ over Bukit Brown as there was genuine dialogue on the ground about the implications of running a highway through the cemetery before it was actually done. Compare this to ‘Gardens at the Bay’, which was built via the traditional method of top-down planning — if there were genuine public debate about the financial (i.e. tax payer), environmental and human cost before construction of the ‘Garden’ actually started, things might be different. As it is, ‘Gardens at the Bay’ has become a fitting accompaniment to MBS and the other artificial constructs in the Marina Bay area, which are fundamentally meant to be a playground for the rich, globalized elite. I’m sure they wouldn’t bat an eye-lid at the admission price (inclusive of the hidden costs you thoughtfully outlined).

  38. 73 Alfian Sa'at 13 July 2012 at 20:47

    Thanks Joanne for a wonderful writeup. The more I live in Singapore the more this place feels like a colonial Chinese settler society.

    ‘Ostensibly a means of learning about history through the different plant species, the Malay Garden, the Indian Garden and the Chinese Garden reinforce disturbing racial and cultural stereotypes. For example, the Malay Garden seeks to emphasize the myth of an essentialist and traditionalist culture situated in a “kampong” or village. This is in contrast to the Chinese Garden that seems to reflect a more sophisticated culture, as its garden is a place of “inspiration for writers, poets and artists, through seclusion and tranquility”.’

    Of course one could also turn the ‘Malay Garden’ into one which supports indigenous claims and that of prior settlement–twining history and natural history. It could showcase native flora that have given Singapore its earliest place names: plants and trees such as changi, gelam, mandai, kranji, tempinis, serai, ubi. Or the timber used by the Malay ancients to construct their palaces and their naval ships–often the size of frigates and galleons. Or the plant motifs used in Malay art and design–like the pucuk rebung (bamboo shoot), bunga cengkih (cloves), bunga lawang (star anise)–reproduced in textiles and pottery (as the ‘four gentlemen’–orchid/spring, bamboo/summer, chrysanthemum/autumn and plum blossom/winter are celebrated in Chinese painting). Or even the plants that have strong cultural significance to the Malays, appearing often in its literature and ceremonies, like the sirih (betel leaf) and pinang (areca nut palm). But whoever wields the power will always get to decide the narrative.

  39. 76 The 14 July 2012 at 10:19

    They now claim that making the decision to have the Gardens is not easy, because of the opportunity cost. And they pat themselves on their backs (especially Mah BT’s back) for making this “hard” decision. Again, not quite the whole truth. This idea was floated in the 80s by Teh Cheang Wan. It was subsequently canned when he was charged for corruption.

  40. 77 Timothy 17 July 2012 at 00:50

    Doing a research on deconstructing the Garden City and came across this well written and insightful article. I thought there are two issues here.

    First, the clash between civilisation and nature of yester centuries are now presenting itself in the form of modernisation versus heritage. However, what is heritage? Everything that constitutes shared memories amongst groups of individuals can be perceived by these same individuals as heritage such as my first Volkswagen Beetle, the mama shop at my void deck, the old Hainan village my grandmother stayed in Bedok area. It is the abstract value that is accorded to an item, a place, or even a person – often by a person / group of authority that will render the same item, the said place or the targeted person an item worthy of preservation. This could boil down to the Dead Sea Scroll, LKY’s house at Oxley or the mummified Lenin. The issue is who determines what is heritage. How do we quantify the “heritage value” vis-à-vis the price of building infrastructure that benefits thousands of people? Can the cost-benefit model be applied without considering the emotional quotient? What is the proper value of the emotional quotient attached to a subject of heritage? Are some people’s emotional quotients more valuable than others? At what price?

    Second – the ideology of the “Garden City”. This is an oxymoron as it stands. It spells of either pure narcissism or atonement. Either the architect of such a concept is following the paths of many great architects of yesteryears to create the illusion of Eden; or he/she is seeking atonement for the harm and damage that is already done to the eco-system. That said, mankind is in the stage of no return. We have to hardwire ourselves to incorporate nature into our daily lives, lest we dwindle in the abyss of hardcore concrete and tar. This is where the concept of “Biophilic City” intrigues me – a term which I only come across late last year when I embarked on this research.

    Just to share a documentary that was actually produced by a group of researchers who conclude – more or less – that Singapore can be counted as “Biophilic city”. This came as a surprise for me. In a warped sense, in many years of being hardwired to live with trees in our midst, we have taken for granted that this is not a norm in many other cities. It reminded me of a gay friend who visited from New York who said that he would love to retire here because of both the warmth (he can’t take winter anymore as his joints hurt) and the shade offered by the trees (which he claims minimise skin cancer). I was pleasantly surprise and the narcissism in me kicks in uncontrollably as I start to see Singapore urban landscape differently. One of the more interesting ones, I thought, was how an ordinary neighbourhood school has embraced the concept to transform their school to an “almost hanging garden of Babylon”. The other features Bishan Park (which I pass by everyday and never did realise its value). I attach the relevant chapter here, enjoy:

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