Singapore’s dream of a Green Corridor

The reason why the below is sort of incoherent is because I was taking notes on my G1 phone during the meeting. I have chosen not to edit it for authenticity =) I’ve added hyperlinks; some subsequent comments are in square brackets. Obviously, I ran out of battery halfway through.

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I’m attending the NSS “Conservation Chat” on the proposal to keep the KTM railway land [PDF file], soon to be returned to Singapore, undeveloped, and to make it into a Green Corridor – essentially a giant park connector with bike and pedestrian trails and community gardens. I’m a big supporter of bike paths, not least because I cycled from my workplace near NUS all the way to NSS HQ here tonight.

[It’s in Lorong 28 Geylang, about 16 km. I stopped at Clarke Quay Central for a burger, and discovered that the damned mall, like most in Singapore, doesn’t have a bike parking rack, so I had to go all the way into the basement and lock it to a ladder in the motorcycle parking area. Also, after dinner I found I had a slow puncture in the rear tube and had to stop every few km to reinflate.]

They’ve put on a lovely slideshow of a walk along the abandoned Jurong Line from a few months ago (I missed the walk, unfortunately). [Independent blogger’s post about her and her friends’ walk to Bukit Timah along the railway.]

Ezra, a teacher at the Min of Edu office at Bukit Timah, is giving a talk on outdoor education. Usually outdoor activities here are silly stuff like jumping off buildings. Actually, a number of schools are near the railway and could benefit. There are also 3 dedicated “Adventure Centres” namely Jalan bahtera, dairy farm, and labrador. There are 39 schools along the KTM rsilway, ranging from primary schools to junior colleges and 3 within a few hundred metres of the Jurong Line.

Schools could use the park connector for physical education and nature education instead of being limited to school fields. Currently many walking activities are stuck in a semi-urban environment, walkjing past HDB glats [Housing Development Board flats, public housing which over 80% of the population of Singapore lives in]. The connector would be sager as well as more pleasant. MOE planningf other activities but confidential.

Kids’ book called “The Curious Garden” anout a boy who watches a smoggy railway line turn a whole vcity into a garden. Last year conference about outdoor education here, over 400 people attended. Some policymakers in MOE would like to see the GC implemented.

Schools are free to choose/invent their own outsoor activities, just must do risk assessment.

Student from SOTA (School of the Arts): doing a project about the GC. Not just for class requirements but also personal interst. Would like to make more people aware of it, starting with their schoolmates. Notes that so far most activities have been physical e.g. walks, but would like to look at it from arts perspective.

Wai Hong (one of the planners for NSS proposal): PDF presentation about what the KTM railway is & show how it plugs into different places in Singapore. Kranji, Central Catchment area, Bukit Timah, Jurong. Will link together existing Park Connectors. Population centres: 1.2 million people live within walking distance!!! Highlighted “pit stops” where cyclists etc. Can get on and off the line easily – also goods for putting toilets and other facilities.

Small-scale agriculture: already along jurong line and some parts of commonwrealth.

Showed examples of how people use exisiting green space and park connectors.

Will be presenting @ National Library end of next month (26th March).

Some students at NUS have been doing a project on this, presented to the URA [Urban Redevelopment Authority]. URA tasked NParks [National Parks Board] to look into it; seems to be taking quite seriously.

Land to revert to Singapore on 1st July. Probably will not know anything concrete till then.

Economics: can prove that real estate value goes up when next to park, so even just from the money side, may have benefits over just building on top. Land is very narrow at some parts – not enough room for buildings + roads.

Porblem with exisiting park connectoras: not continuous, keep having to cross roads/ go up and down bridges.

Legal stuff: Right of way – even if some of it is developed, a passageway through is required. Precedents exist, e.g. some new shopping centres have 24-hour passageways.

Public support will be critical to government’s decision. May be easier to get if clear that we are not insisting on 0% buildings.

Senior citizens: Singapore’s greying population. Can place old folks’ homes along the line? Most of agriculture along Jurong Line is by senior citizens.

Example of property values and nature: There was a plot of land near Dover MRT that was about to be developed, residents successfully campaigned against it. Sensitive issues at the moment because election coming up, but could bring it up after?. A lot of rich people in Clementi and Bkt Timah areas.

Jurong Line taken over in 1999 but no develop,ent except for 1 factory. Shows authorities could have something in mind for preserving it.

Biodiversity: Habitat types: Forest/woodland, parkland, scrubland/grassland, marshland, mangrove. Clusters of trees around major road junctions provide crossing points important for wildlife, especially birds. Birds also use parkland to hop between forest patches. Marshy areas exist around Alexandra, Tanglin Halt.

Clementi Woods is an important large patch. Branching west along jurong line, you gfet Boon Lay woodlands. There are more marshy areas but river clogged at the moment.

Proceeding north you have TohTuck Gdns and Bukot TIMAH

*****

At this point my battery was about to die so I saved and shut down. That was supposed to be “Bukit Timah”, by the way.

After that another recent NSS member, a guy who lives in the Faber Heights area, gave a presentation about the birds in his neighbourhood and a threat they are facing. His house is on the abandoned Jurong Line which is a western branch of the KTM railway, included in the Green Corridor proposal (you can see the ribbon of greenery cutting the neighbourhood in half in the Google Maps view linked above). Unfortunately I can’t find his bird photos since they’re on a Chinese birdwatching website and I’m functionally illiterate in Chinese.

The LTA is planning to build a road through that stretch of the Jurong line to link to Commonwealth Avenue. Ostensibly it’s to relieve congestion in the area, but rumour has it that it’s to serve a new fancy condo development to be built over the chunk of forest between the AYE (Ayer Rajah Expressway) and the Ulu Pandan canal (the brownish river to the north of the Faber neighbourhood). Bird guy isn’t happy, needless to say, and while his neighbours, in his words, “think all birds are sparrows”, they’re not happy about the dust and racket that construction will raise either, with little benefit to them. According to him, congestion in that area only occurs during a brief window in the morning when parents are dropping their kids off at Nan Hua Primary School.

All the construction around that area – LTA is actually planning to put in a whole bunch of roads to connect the International Business Park, Tradehub 21, Commonwealth Ave, and the AYE – is going to suck for me and the other people who enjoy the Ulu Pandan Park Connector. We finally get a pedestrian bridge over the fork of the Pandan Canal, but not till all the construction is done 2+ years from now. And with all those roads, the tranquility and fresh air along that stretch of the park connector will be gone. Sigh…

Bird guy met with some LTA officials last Thursday, the day after the NSS meeting, to discuss his concerns, and it looks like at least one other person has written to the LTA and an open letter published in a popular daily. Let’s hope they listen…and let’s hope the Green Corridor proposal is implemented by the government, in whole or in part. Singapore has a great deal of riches that are not cash. You can always make more money, but you can’t bring back the rainforest.

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