From ‘Promote Gardens by the Bay better’, 16 July 2012, Voices, Today.
(Stefan Lim): I am touched by the splendour of the Gardens by the Bay and proud of our Government’s decision to build a mega park right in the city. I hope the space will be enjoyed by both Singaporeans and visitors. I am disturbed, though, by the Singapore Tourism Board’s description and marketing of it on yourSingapore.com: “You’ve been to gardens before, but have you ever stepped into a garden costing more than a billion dollars?
“That’s the cost of Singapore’s newest icon, a 101 hectare-superpark, where you’ll see more than a quarter of a million rare plants in huge domed conservatories …” To associate the rationale for visiting an attraction with its cost is to create an impression of a mercenary Singapore. This distorts the promotion of a park filled with nature, built for the enjoyment of young and old.
It may even be condescending to suggest that our visitors, local or foreign, have not visited expensive gardens and therefore should. The park’s appeal lies in its greenery, conservation efforts and Singaporeans’ will to have nature right on our doorstep, not in how much we spend to create an expensive infrastructure.
The right intent should be communicated to visitors to create the right impression, not only of our “hardware” but also of how we genuinely want to have a green space for ourselves and our visitors.
Boasting ‘supertrees’ as its main attraction, it’s surprising that this superlative-laden ‘superpark’ was not called the ‘SUPERgardens by the bay’, considering how ‘super-expensive’ building and maintaining this costs. Lack of creative adjectives aside, the YourSingapore website also invites visitors to ‘immerse yourself in a world of NATURAL beauty’, despite this ‘super-green’ space veering dangerously close to ‘theme park for plant lovers’ status. Compared to the MBS casino, Gardens is less controversial and more suitable as the new ‘babyface’ icon of the Singapore Story. Still, the tame ‘Gardens by the Bay’ doesn’t do justice to the wild international acclaim surrounding this project. Supertrees have become synonymous with ‘Garden City’ living that a few have even sprouted in Tampines, despite these being mere steel structures and do not actually photosynthesize.
An extravagant showcase of our conservation efforts, the chest-thumping promotion of our latest icon reeks of the usual arrogance you would expect of a country trying to make its mark as a ‘little green dot’ and reclaiming its repute as a ‘Garden City’; by pumping money into audacious projects and preening for the everyone to see, while behind the scenes of the grandiose showboating lies an overcrowded, consumerist, litter-rampant world hidden from view, symptomatic of a country stricken by an ‘eco-addiction’, but only appearing ‘green’ because the Government is either paying people to clean up after our mess, or diverting the scrutiny by bringing superstar acts like Jason Mraz and K-pop primadonnas to perform at the Gardens opening. If Singapore has indeed lived up to its green claims, it’s only because we have hired the best housekeepers, gardeners, shrub-pruners and landscape artists in the business. We also have a government willing to squeeze a bit of manufactured nature out of the limited space we have using tax-payers’ money, such as:
- Punggol Waterway – $225 million. Affectionately referred to by our PM as the ‘Venice of Punggol‘.
- HortPark – $13 million. Billed as a ‘one stop gardening and lifestyle hub’.
- A total of $75 million spent to upgrade Botanic Gardens, Fort Canning and Bukit Timah Reserve in 1989
Even our multi-million dollar condominiums are inspired by lush verdant greens and oases. I’ve yet to visit the Gardens myself and I may well change my mind about it, but it appears to be a vague representation of how much Singaporeans in general value nature and sustainability over, say, their iGadgets, which they would discard without giving much thought to the accumulation of electronic garbage in our landfills once the next upgrade is launched. We still depend heavily on plastic bags, drive a lot, and brazenly run highways over old cemeteries. We rather grow crops on Farmville than water our cactus at home, we splurge on buffets, waste enormous amounts of food and leave massive carbon footprints with our frequent flying. We have more ‘digital natives’ than ever before, and few indigenous ratrace castaways fostering a symbiotic relationship with ‘the land’. Some who put thoughts and words into action by ‘championing’ environmental sustainability get caught with their pants down screwing underaged prostitutes they found online. We shoot down birds and boars whenever we feel like it, the idea of our past ‘kampong’ kinship reduced to camp sentimentality that is more about ‘chateh’ and ‘five stones’ than communing with nature.
If we continue to flash the billion dollar price tag without a change of heart in the way we approach nature, this wouldn’t be so much Gardens by the Bay, as it is a Gardens by the ‘Buay Pai Seh’.