At the start of the year, plans for the development of Dover Forest garnered much attention which sparked a debate as to whether nature and development can co-exist in Singapore. Our intern, Yi Xuan, sheds more light onto the issue.
Balancing Priorities - Natural vs Built Environment
Covid-19 has definitely framed a new perspective in the local context. With restrictions added to the norm, the new normal has seemingly brought about a host of new experiences that we may have never discovered were it not for the pandemic. Of course, it would probably be a fever dream once the pandemic is over, but the fact remains; the public’s perceptions towards our local spaces have changed, perhaps, for the better.
With the implementation of travel restrictions, coupled with government encouragement of supporting local attractions and experiences, more and more locals are rediscovering the offerings of Singapore; including our previously hidden green spaces. The video footage of Clementi Forest last year, which went viral, spotlighted our previously unnoticed sanctuaries. Since then, greater public awareness of such spaces has fuelled the support of green initiatives and efforts, which brings Singapore to the recent situation.
Local Attention to Green Spaces
On October 21 2020, a video of the Clementi forest was uploaded by a nature enthusiast, capturing local attention with its stunning scenery. Largely untouched, the 85 hectare forest is home to rich biodiversity, and is the largest unprotected patch of forest contiguous to the Corridor (Zheng, 2020). With the forest in the spotlight, public concerns grew at the unknown fate of the forest.
Although the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) later announced that there were no immediate plans of development of the forest, the video has brought green spaces in Singapore to the forefront of public attention. With travel restrictions in place, it seems that exploring the green spaces in Singapore has become an alternative for locals to break away from this metropolis.
When Nature meets Urban Planning
Which is why when news of developing the Dover Forest reached the public, it made headlines. Unlike its neighbour, the Ulu Pandan estate is set to be developed in the coming years, as URA plans to offer 17 000 BTO units at the space.
Of course, with heightened awareness of such green spaces in the local scene, the move to develop this 33 hectare forest faced resistance, with public concerns arising. A resident’s petition to protect the space was set up, and has since reached over 46,000 signatures as of 17 March 2021. With more green spaces being spotlighted, public calls for the recent situation have found their way into the august chamber with Members of Parliament (MPs) raising the issue (Elangovan, 2021).
As the government becomes more receptive towards the perspective of green groups, coupled with the change in the environmental impact assessment framework, it seems the calls have been, at the very least, useful in getting the government to open a platform to receive the public’s feedback on the matter.
With the feedback period extended till March 1, it seems the public has much to say on this matter.
Land scarcity has always been an issue for our island country. Being a small first world country, constant development is crucial for us in order to continue attracting investors and growing the economy. Furthermore, to maintain a growing pool of talent and manpower, Singapore also welcomes numerous individuals to work and live here, which increases the need for housing and residential properties.
As the country grows and prospers, there is a greater need for connectivity and development of infrastructure to suit the needs of the ever-changing economy. Development of more spaces has certainly improved the standard of living in Singapore; providing ever greater interconnectivity and convenience.
In the modern world where technological advancements move faster than the blink of an eye, development and redevelopment become crucial. Therein lies the question:
Which to prioritise: Development or Conservation?
Singapore, a small island located at such a strategic location, has become a centre for trade and commerce as well as a bustling city home to different cultures, ethnic groups and spaces. The olden buildings and landmarks of yesteryear and the new skyscrapers of the future stand side-by-side now, but this view is not permanent. Despite efforts and calls for preservation of buildings and sites, Singapore lacks capability to preserve all our heritage and spaces, and modernise at the same time.
This can be easily seen from past cases like the Bukit Brown cemetery, and now it seems the Dover Forest may very well be joining the list.
Strange, isn’t it? We brand ourselves as “City in a garden” yet we lack the elements of one, relying on pieces of greenery scattered across the island, and man-made spaces of greenery. But how can we balance such opposing needs?
“Just develop another site and preserve this area instead.”
“There are old estates that can be redeveloped instead of developing a new space.”
“How can we call ourselves a city in a garden if all we have is a concrete jungle?”
It is simple to talk the talk, but to walk it is another issue altogether. Faced with different priorities of various groups, the government faces difficulties in weighing them, with each outcome resulting in varied repercussions.
What is it then that we can do to tread this fine line of development and preservation? That is certainly something we would all like to know and something to think about. But at least for now, all options are on the table.
To dive deeper into this topic, here are some commentaries we found online:
Commentary: Save forests or build 4-rooms? It’s not a zero-sum game by Yun Hwe Huang (Channel News Asia)
33-hectare Dover forest to be cleared for housing projects after being left untouched for over 40 years by Sumita Thiagarajan (Mothership) https://mothership.sg/2021/01/dover-forest-residential-development/