(Source: The Sunday Times, February 26, 2012)
Importance and relevance of green urban parks
The recent launch of North Eastern Riverine Loop highlights the efforts by Nparks to cater to Singaporeans’ increasing demands for greener urban parks. With the aid of organisations like NParks, urban parks are becoming a biodiversity haven. In North Eastern Riverine Loop, an array of plant life like lemon grass, Spanish reed and firecracker plants are scattered along the loop. Not only are these plants pleasing to the eyes, they also serve several practical functions as well, as they help treat storm water, prevent soil erosion and also act as a flood-prevention measure. The shallow vegetated troughs found along the Sungei Serangoon Park Connector (which is part of North Eastern Riverine Loop) also help reduce water pollution by cleaning water before it reaches river. The coral plant spotted attracts butterflies and bees that pollinate flowering plants as well. Bird lovers are also in for a treat as water birds such as the grey heron and the white-throated kingfisher can be regularly spotted. A biodiversity rich park like North Eastern Riverine Loop is certainly very conducive for schools’ educational trips.
Singaporean parents are well-known for being over-protective of their children. As such, most parents may be aversive to the idea of their children venturing into the woods or forest. These urban parks may serve as a safer alternatives for their children to get closer to nature.
The government also recently announced the Round Island Route project – An island-wide green link that will link up the various heritage areas, costal spots and rustic greenery. The route, 150km will be three time the length of Singapore. Indeed, this is Singapore’s biggest green project to date, and serves to highlight the government’s green commitments. Such island-wide green link offers Singaporeans an alternate avenue for recreation and fitness. With this green link right around the neighbourhood of more than 3.5 million residents, most will no longer have the excuse that going to a park is troublesome. Such massive green spaces also encourage Singaporeans to step out of their home and work routines to recharge their body and mind, thus enhancing their emotional well-being. It also helps establish social contacts with fellow community members, improving Singaporeans’ social well-being as a result.
The various green project spearheaded by NParks can benefit the environment in two possible ways. First – Trips to the park allow a closer and interactive experience with nature. With more Singaporeans visiting, and enjoying the perks that urban parks offer, people can understand more clearly the importance of conservation and the maintenance of nature. Better understanding will lead to increase in green efforts and initiatives. Second – Parks can also be used for water conservation purposes. For instance, the Loring Halus Wetland located within the North Eastern Riverine Loop serves as water catchment area to collect and treat rainwater before being sent to Serangoon Reservoir.
As seen, a mutualistic relationship between the nature and Singaporeans is possible, provided that we use such parks responsibly and do not take such managed nature for granted.
Urban green parks could be useful to convey some conservation messages to visitors. However, whether or not visits to such parks can lead to long term increase in conservation knowledge is questionable. I would reckon otherwise. This is because most visitors are just passive observers. And as we know, learning should be an active process. Perhaps educational trips to the parks may be more educationally beneficial compared to mere visiting.
Purists may also find urban parks too artificial. However, we should also be realistic enough to understand that urban parks and nature reserves are probably the closet Singaporeans can get in touch with nature. I would reckon that meaningful relationship with nature does not mean rejection of urban context. In fact, urbanisation and conservation can co-exist. And I applaud NParks for their green efforts!