Visions of Clean and Green
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Against this background, Lee Kuan Yew at the head of the People’s Action Party (PAP), now in the seat of power in the new Republic of Singapore, prosecuted his insight that Singapore should become a clean and green city. This was motivated, as mentioned earlier, by putting the right face on the attraction of outside foreign investment and tourism upon which Singapore was to depend. He also saw ‘clean greening’ to be a tangible way of addressing inequality throughout the island and, finally, as an opportunity to create an identity for residents and a sense of national pride. As elsewhere, this underlying narrative or metaphor for island-city development went through subsequent transformations. The ‘Garden City’ idea, for instance, moved on to be a ‘City in a Garden’ and then towards the end of the twentieth-century, ‘a Tropical City of Excellence’ envisioned by the URA with strong connotations of its vegetative and ‘geographical ‘green-blue’ aspect. More recently, more of a convergence into a ‘city in nature’ is emerging, with greater emphasis strongly on the identity aspect of an altogether tropical landscape in which living takes place befitting Singapore’s geographic and otherwise natural location. This latest ‘turn’ on ‘garden’ and ‘city’ also argues for greater complementarity of green and blue aspects of Singapore’s intrinsic environment. It involves efforts to intensify the planting of more native and more diversified plant species; and through multi-layered heights of plants to emulate the forest structure and to create more ecosystems providing niches for different fauna species. The plantings are thus carefully curated in the beginning but will be left to grow and evolve naturally to produce a naturalistic rather than garden-like setting. It may also provide the rest of us with a clearer view into the successful occupation of ‘hyperobjectivity’ by beginning to invert the usual dominance of constructed over ‘natural’ environments in city making. Of course, Singapore is not alone in this strong metaphorical and influential presence of ‘natural and cultivated’ landscape qualities with those of a more constructed and technological kind, nor of the transformation of such juxtapositions over time. American ‘pastoralism’, for instance, giving way to the ‘machine in the garden’ is another such instance. Also, various rounds of ‘citta’ in ‘compagna’ in the Italian ecumen is another along with other European schemes. Indeed, it seems as if such poetics of occupied and environmental space are leit motifs of civilization. The key point here, though, is that what Singapore is beginning to tackle, so to speak, is unique and of its own making.
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