Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the opening of Gardens by the Bay

28 June 2012

“The People’s Garden, In Our City in a Garden”

Mrs Theresa Foo
Chairman, Gardens by the Bay

Dr Kiat Tan
CEO, Gardens by the Bay

Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Boys and Girls

I am delighted to join you this evening for the opening of Gardens by the Bay.

Parks and gardens are among my favourite places in Singapore, as I am sure it must be for many of you. As a small child, my parents would regularly take me on outings, for example to the Botanic Gardens, where I would run around, scamper, exercise, climb some trees, have fun. And I still visit the Botanics and the many other parks we now have regularly – to unwind, exercise, enjoy the fresh air and beautiful surroundings and to see many other Singaporeans doing the same. Last week while on leave I had a little bit of time free and I visited the Woodlands Waterfront, and I also took a walk along the rail corridor. One was built by people to make it a garden, the other one is an old railroad track which we are going to make into something beautiful one day.

I know many Singaporeans feel like this too, and I am always happy to see the many families using the parks, and enjoying themselves. In fact, the more developed a city Singapore is, the more important it is for us to have such peaceful, tranquil oases in the midst of our concrete buildings and expressways, in order to strengthen our emotional wellbeing and sense of belonging.

From the beginning, even before Singapore became independent, we sought to build a world-class living environment here through greenery. At first we aimed to be a “Garden City” – parks, reservoirs, Kallang River cleaned up, Singapore River, later cleaned up. Today, more than half of Singapore Island is covered in green; and we have more than 3,000 hectares of nature reserves, which is equal to six and a half Toa Payoh towns. So if you look at Singapore from the air, you do not see a concrete jungle. You see tropical forests, greenery, and you have to identify the roads by where the green trees are, not by where the tarmac can be seen. If you go on a Google or Flickr search and you type in “Singapore Parks”, you get hundreds of thousands of beautiful pictures. Singaporeans enjoy it, and visitors are also unfailingly impressed by how clean and green Singapore is. So Singaporeans, to the best of our ability, and I think we have not done badly, are able to enjoy high-quality living, with many places to enjoy nature.

The next phase from being a “Garden City” is to make ourselves into a “City in a Garden”. It is a play on words, but it means something different, because it means connecting our communities and our places and spaces through parks, gardens, streetscapes and skyrise greenery. And we already have got 3,000 hectares of parks and we are going to add another 900 hectares, another 2 Toa Payoh New Towns, of park land. And we are going to bring the green spaces and the biodiversity closer to our homes and workplaces. Butterflies, birds, all sorts of interesting flora, fauna; once in a while a wild boar, but not here.

Gardens by the Bay is the latest realisation of our City in a Garden vision. We set aside so much prime land in the heart of the new downtown for Gardens by the Bay. It was not an easy decision. We could easily have used this for far more valuable commercial or residential developments, right in the middle of the new Singapore city. But our planners in URA believed that a large and beautiful park was an important element of our new downtown in Marina Bay South, just like Central Park in New York, or Hyde Park in London, although not quite as big. So Mr Mah Bow Tan, who was then the Minister for National Development, strongly supported this project. He saw value in having Gardens by the Bay right in the city, value beyond enhancing the price of the rest of the land in Marina Bay. Because a Gardens by the Bay would be an icon of the redeveloped Marina Bay and a jewel in the skyline of Singapore city. Because we are building not just a commercial district, with offices where people can work and do business, and earn a living and create prosperity for ourselves, but a new city centre, a place all Singaporeans can be proud of, identify with, and bring to mind when people talk about Singapore.

The Gardens have been in progress for five years. For a garden it is not a long time, some gardens take thirty, fifty years to mature. So we are not completely ripe and ready yet, but it is already quite clear that we made the right decision to build this Gardens by the Bay. The whole development is something special. I went into the other cool house just now, I think they must have planned this, and I looked up at the waterfall and I said, “Wow”. They said, yes, that is what you are supposed to say. But it was spontaneous. Before that, I had gone to the Skyway, on top of the Supertrees, where you can see not only the Gardens, but also the skyline around us, and see how all of the pieces fit in. That you can expect, but to walk into a cool house and see waterfalls, mist, plants which live in mountain climbs, tree ferns, orchids, pitcher plants – all lovingly tendered, flowering, and taken care of, and I hope all to be enjoyed by many, many visitors who will admire and respect them. Look, but please do not take. Because it is really to be shared by all of us. It transports us to another world – of waterfalls, Supertrees, and even of Mediterranean forests, away from the hustle and bustle of Singapore.

It is not just plant-wise beautiful and interesting, also engineering-wise, many “green” innovations in the park to replicate the self-sustaining features of nature. For example we have cooled conservatories, this one is not powered by burning oil or fossil fuel, it is biomass, horticultural waste from around Singapore, transported here, burnt, cools this place. And the lakes around us contain aquatic plants that naturally clean the run-off water in the park before discharging it into the reservoir, which is for drinking, or to irrigate the plants in the Gardens. For now, these are pilot projects, proof of concept, shows that it can be done, but as the technology improves, as the economics become more favourable, as we learn more about how to do this, then there is every potential for implementing it more widely in a green and sustainable Singapore. So these are all the works of many, many people – the architects, the designers, the clients, the engineers, the contractors, who have worked for the last five years. I thank them all, and I think I should also thank the Minister who started this, Mr Mah Bow Tan, who is here with us today. Thank you all very much.

So this Garden is not just a pretty flower to admire from afar, but a “people’s garden” for all of us – residents and visitors – to enjoy every single day. It is a place to relax after work, a place to bring the family to on weekends. It is a place to enjoy a concert or a nice meal, and activities that cater to a wide spectrum of ages and interests. I am glad that many corporate partners, like Far East Organisation, OCBC Bank, ExxonMobil, have already contributed generously to the Gardens, and I encourage all Singaporeans to visit the Gardens and to embrace them as our very own, as we have embraced the old Botanic Gardens, which are now one and a half centuries old.

This is just one example of how we are transforming Singapore’s living environment. We may be a densely populated city, maybe one of the densest in the world, but we are determined that our people should be able to live comfortably, pleasantly, graciously. Not just with good homes, efficient public transport, which we are still working hard to improve, or safe streets, but also to be in touch with nature, to be never far from green spaces and blue waters, where they can relax, recharge, where they can let their children and pets run around safely, and where they can take glamorous wedding pictures.

We may not be able to build Gardens by the Bay everywhere in Singapore, but we are beautifying every corner of Singapore – the places we live, work and play, and the community spaces that we all share. And especially so in the heartlands, and we have many projects which have already been realised - the naturalised river in Bishan-AMK Park - naturalised means it used to be a canal, and we have made it look like it was there since time immemorial, meandering with water plants, with waterfowl, with stepping stones, with little kids trying to catch longkang (Hokkien for canal) fish. We have the Punggol Waterway, you can call it the “Venice of Punggol”. We even have a Jurong Lake District – the lake is already there, the district is coming. I am happy that Singaporeans are co-creating our living spaces, and as we develop more of these places, we will involve Singaporeans more actively, and more intensively and earlier, to conceptualise them, to give us the ideas, what we can do with them, and to help us to tend them, love them and make sure that they continue to improve. So we have the rail corridor coming, which I told you about just now, we have destination parks which we are building – East Coast, Sembawang, and other parts of Singapore. What we can do to make it beautiful, we are doing. People need to take care of it, love it, respect it, and make sure it is maintained in a way that we can all be proud of – I think that is what we expect of Singaporeans. So I encourage Singaporeans to continue supporting these efforts. Take care of these surroundings, volunteer with NParks, educate the public, man the visitor centres, or restore areas which need management with native plants, or adopt a tree. By working together, we can make Singapore the best home for us all.

So I would like to thank all the officers for creating this beautiful new attraction. I hope many Singaporeans will come to visit and enjoy its beauty for many years to come. Today’s guests come from all over Singapore, we have grassroots leaders, we have students, we have children from homes, we have people with disability. Go home, tell your friends about it, bring your family here again - it is open first thing tomorrow morning.

Thank you very much!

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