Inside Singapore’s ‘city in a garden’ vision

By Medha Basu

Data is key to conserving Singapore’s greenery over the decades, says assistant CEO of the parks agency.

Image: City-Reader - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

‘Supertrees’ as tall as 16-storey buildings, nestled in the heart of Singapore’s business district, are home to over 200 different species of plants.

Across the city, there are trees sprouting from buildings, creepers on towers, and parks on roofs. Singapore’s vision is to be a “city in a garden”, says Tan Chong Lee, Assistant CEO of Corporate Development and Services at the National Parks Board (NParks).

The city’s conservationists and horticulturalists have been aided by high-tech tools that track, map and predict changes in the island’s flora and fauna, he tells GovInsider.

Virtual trees in 3D

Image: National Parks Board, Singapore

Singapore is starting to build virtual 3D models of its trees. It will help naturalists study the behaviour of trees under different weather conditions, like rain and wind, and adapt conservation and management to extreme climate. “This project has the potential to fundamentally change the way in which we manage our greenery,” Tan says.
“This project has the potential to fundamentally change the way in which we manage our greenery.”
Such data is key to Singapore’s long-term conservation efforts, he believes. The city has a “comprehensive tree management regime” to ensure plants are healthy and safe.

NParks extensively uses geospatial technologies to help field staff monitor and inspect greenery. As different species require unique types of care, every tree on the roadside and its biodata are mapped. All park officials have access to this on their smartphones and computers.

The app also pulls together data from other sources on park planning, facilities, biodiversity, community gardens, skyrise greenery, and satellite and vegetation maps. The centralised platform and maps have allowed NParks to better plan activities, and help officials work more efficiently, Tan says.

Robot mowers

Maintaining all of this greenery has required Singapore to import labour over the years to prune trees and cut grass. NParks believes this can be done more efficiently with technology. “We have been using smart tools in the field to increase efficiency in our operations and reduce reliance on manpower, and will continue to do so,” Tan explains.

The city is starting to use robot lawn mowers to ensure that parks and gardens are well-maintained through the year. It is also installing sensors to track grass-cutting operations and detect the height of grass. This will reduce the need for park officials to visit sites for inspections.

Tracking corals

Diploastrea coral spawning

Our marine experts were eggstatic to witness a Diploastrea coral spawning near Raffles Lighthouse over the Easter weekend! A truly rare event as corals require time and energy to spawn successfully.

Find out how you can help increase our coral numbers through the Plant a Coral initiative!
Video credit: NParks

Posted by NParks on Friday, April 21, 2017
Advanced computer simulations were used to decide the location of Singapore's first marine park. NParks used “agent based modelling” to see how coral larvae from surrounding reefs moved and predicted where they would settle, Tan explains. The results showed that Sisters’ Islands, off Singapore’s southern coast, was the ideal spot, and this was chosen as the marine park site.

The parks agency also looks after Singapore’s birds and animals. The agency makes habitats more conducive for migratory birds to feed and roost using data. It places geolocators and satellite transmitters on the birds to collect data on their movements.

The agency also gets a little help from other nature enthusiasts to collect data. Residents can share their insights on biodiversity and report wildlife sightings on an app provided by the agency.

Singapore was once an island covered with tropical rainforests. With a great deal of planning and technology, the city is preserving its lush green heritage.