The cost of urbanization?

by Rita Padawangi

TODAY paper reported that a banyan tree in Toa Payoh Central fell a few days ago. No injuries reported, but it damaged a small shrine under its hanging roots.

This tree, the 40+ year-old shrine and the people attached to it was the main feature of one of the short films in the City Possible II Film Festival on 2 July 2013, titled “Leaf of Faith”.

The film left us wondering how the shrine would survive amidst the development push to remove the tree. Resembling a more or less ‘close to ideal’, but not happy ending, finale to the story, the tree fell on its own. The tree can only be removed if the guardian spirits let it die.

From another perspective, the tree had been surrounded by dense housing developments that look pretty much suffocating for the tree itself. This also reminds us to the recent talk on Channel 5 on floods in Singapore: is it natural or man-made? We have seen green areas disappearing in Singapore. The greens surrounding another living heritage, Singapore’s dragon kilns, are also disappearing. Bukit Brown, a natural heritage on its own, is also going to be reduced and subsequently planned for a residential development.

In Jakarta, where floods become more and more frequent and prevalent, urbanization has been blamed for 50% increase in water runoff, which subsequently caused floods. Green and penetrable areas of the Ciliwung River watershed have been reduced significantly since the 1970s and continue to decline. But still, more land clearance and concrete developments continue.

Is there an alternative to development as usual? Is another city possible? If so, how should it be?

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