Optimising Land Use for Singapore
With the climate change crisis, there is urgency for us to go beyond the existing efforts at greening Singapore. I observe from the Long-term Plan Review (LTPR) that URA has taken pains to provide more green spaces for play and recreation. While I appreciate this as an important step, as many citizens do, too, I also believe that there are many citizens who can and wish to be more participative rather than passive consumers of green spaces. How can we create a participative or collaborative model where citizens are actively engaged in realising the “City in Nature”?
How can we better allocate our land for various uses to reflect and fulfil Singaporeans’ evolving aspirations and desire for more wellness and balance?
The work adjustments that were forced upon us by COVID-19 present us with an opportunity to consider how much space do we really need for offices. Personnel that were not essential to be on-site worked from home, freeing up many spaces in the offices. Contrary to what many expected, many surveys point to an increase in productivity when people work from home, including one by Prodoscore, a productivity intelligence company that reports that there was an increase in productivity by 47% since March 2020, compared to the same period in the previous year in the US.
In the new era and new economy, do we still need as much land for office spaces? As we rethink what growth means to include well-being, can we not allocate more land away from commercial purposes and towards regenerative and wellness purposes? I proposed the Doughnut Economics model in my Budget debate speech, and it resonated with many Singaporeans who shared how they feel hopeful and vindicated in having their sentiments shared in Parliament – their desire to have a different model of progress.
Human beings are meant to live as a community and that means we share resources and responsibilities and have one another to lean on.
In my previous cut, I proposed communal and co-living to foster mutual support and optimise land usage. Fostering inter-dependent relationships builds social capital and trust. Having social capital and trust and being helpful to one another increases people’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem and security. It takes away the need for material possessions to shore up our self-esteem, to acquire status symbols and helps people to feel happier with much lesser.
Sociologists and anthropologists around the world know this. We can greatly reduce wasteful consumption when people have deep contentment and a sense of connectedness in their lives.
In the same vein, we need to allocate more spaces in Singapore for activities that allow citizens to rebuild our relationship with Nature. Human beings are also meant to live in a symbiotic and interdependent relationships with nature. When we recognise that we are part of a larger ecosystem, interdependent on one another as well as the flora and fauna that we live amongst, we will constantly be reminded that we are one another’s keeper, making sustainable daily practices of “Using Less, Sharing More and Wasting Not”, a natural way of life.
Spaces for Community Permaculture Pilots
To engage our citizens constructively in action for our people’s and the planet’s wellness, I propose MND to make permaculture education a national effort.
What is permaculture? It is a way of growing plants and food using nature-based regenerative methods, based on the ethics of “Earth care, People care and fair share”. It is a permanent form of agriculture which can be sustained indefinitely. It lowers the carbon footprint of food production and at the same time helps the soil used for agriculture to capture carbon from the environment. It brings and bonds different members of society together in doing so.
I got to know about permaculture from Ms Catherine Loke, the Founding President of The Circle for Human Sustainability – a collective in Singapore made of architects, engineers, sociologists, scientists, design leaders and farmers. She has a visionary idea of Little Farms Everywhere for Singapore, to utilise the currently unused plots of land between our HDB blocks and in our community parks for permaculture gardens, maintained by the community, for the community.
Many more Singaporeans are now showing a greater interest in growing edibles and being in nature. There is societal openness to this, and not just an esoteric interest of a fringe group of enthusiasts. We can ride on this momentum and re-introducing nature’s workers such as chickens, bees and fish within our neighbourhoods to produce local food will reduce our reliance on harmful chemicals and machinery that damages Earth.
Fish in ponds help fertilise crops while eating up mosquito larvae – we do not need fogging and we do not need Wolbachia. And we can reduce dengue risk. Our young children will have ample opportunities to interact with Nature, which enhances their physical, intellectual, emotional development.
If permaculture is implemented at scale, food supply chain issues would be less of an issue as it is now for Singapore, because we now import more than 90% of our food. As global fuel scarcity increases, countries will choose to prioritise their own people over exporting to us. How can we ensure our food security when that happens?
There is a little-studied case of the success of Cuba. It was plunged into a severe economic and food crisis in the 1990s when the Soviet Union dissolved. But within a decade, it recovered sufficiently to double agricultural production, increase calorific availability by 25% for its people and maintain a consistent and equitable social food programme. Permaculture methods featured strongly in the reforms of Cuba at that time, and it is worth further studying to see what good practices we can adopt to ensure Singapore’s food resilience and future.
I urge MND to avail more land towards regenerative nature technology research, including utilising current unused pockets of land in our HDB estates.
We can work with interested Singaporeans to make permaculture part of the Singaporean way of life. There are scientists in universities, sociologists and even private groups such as Abundant Cities and even passionate individuals like The Tender Gardener Olivia Choong and Urban Jungle Folks led by Ms Michelle Tan who are already rallying Singaporeans in this effort. All MND needs to do is to allow and to support them.
We can even transform the current “illegal planting” problem plaguing many HDB estates into little farms that empower and engage our seniors. Of course, this requires hard work and effort, especially in finding solutions to disamenities, like rooster crowing too early, disturbing residents. But the pros outweigh the cons. And I believe it is possible to enrol our people to co-create solutions to solve these challenges along the way. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Watch the speeches here.