Plants in glass domes and the “Garden City” dream

The latest Singaporean icon is a futuristic glass doughnut known as Changi Jewel. Over the weekend, I’ve seen dozens of photos of the famous Rain Vortex and Canopy Park. It looked absolutely stunning to me – so stunning in fact, that literally half a million people signed up for the preview to see it last week (Kiasuism, maybe).

According to lead architect Moshe Safdie, Jewel echoes Singapore’s reputation as “The City in a Garden”.[i] Indeed, Singaporeans seemed to have developed a fondness for plants in glass domes. Around the same time of Jewel’s opening, Gardens By the Bay (GBTB) opened a new attraction: Floral Fantasy. This is in addition to the two existing conservatories, Cloud Forest and Flower Dome.

The similarities between Jewel and the GBTB attractions are obvious. The exterior glass structure aside, these buildings feature vibrant, exotic blooms imported from all over the world. The air conditioners are always turned on high, and the walking paths are kept free of dirt and soil so visitors can enjoy the best of what nature has to offer while dressed in heels and dress shirts for the perfect photo opportunity.

It appears these structures offer an “enhanced” version of nature, in comparison to our muddy, muggy and mozzie-ridden reserves. Though I think these glass structures are beautiful and exciting developments, I’m afraid that Singaporeans may one day ditch what’s left our naturalistic green spaces in favour of more manicured greenery – referring to the study[ii] we covered in class, survey respondents preferred for more land to be allocated to managed landscapes in the future.

The key difference between wild spaces and managed greens is that the former keeps us alive, while the latter relies on us to stay alive. Air-conditioned greenhouses can’t offer us ecosystem services like watershed protection or refugia for wildlife (I struggled to find even a single ant in the GBTB conservatories). Instead of sequestering carbon, they probably are probably huge emitters, given the amount of energy it takes to keep the building cool.

As such, I think it is crucial that we don’t neglect our outdoor green spaces as well. Getting dirty can be fun too, and the chances of spotting different species of animals add an element of surprise to each visit. Not to mention, the health benefits of a good workout and taking a break from the ‘gram cannot be extolled enough.

A question to ponder: How does the glorification of manicured green spaces, as part of efforts to promote Singapore as a “City in a Garden”, affect how we think about nature and our will to protect it?

 

[i] Kaur, K. (2019, April 11). Jewel Changi Airport ready for its coming-out party and plans to wow 500,000 visitors over next six days. The Straits Times. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/transport/jewel-changi-airport-ready-for-its-coming-out-party-and-plans-to-wow-500000

[ii] Khew, J. Y. T., Yokohari, M., & Tanaka, T. (2014). Public perceptions of nature and landscape preference in Singapore. Human Ecology42(6), 979-988.

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