Singapore: A ‘Bonsai’ garden in a tropical rainforest

Posted on: 21 May, 2009 | Tagged as: ,

“A bonsai — if carefully cultivated — can be beautiful, hardy and long lasting. But it cannot reproduce on its own. And a whole bonsai garden needs the constant “micro-management” of the good gardener in cultivating each and every selected plant. In the rainforest, however, the whole is the greater than the sum of its parts; yet each part makes its own distinctive contribution to biodiversity and ecological sustainability.”

Kwok Kian-Woon in The bonsai and the rainforest: reflections on culture and cultural policy in Singapore (2004)

While Assoc Prof Kwok was referring to Singapore’s cultural policy when he wrote this, I find it an apt reference to examine two recent Straits Times articles that reflect the management of space in Singapore.

The head of the leading landscaper in Singapore was interviewed today in No gardeners in Garden City where he highlighted how our image as a Garden City would fail without government support because this is “a nation of armchair gardeners”. Indeed, the emphasis of our Garden City policy is to make Singapore a Garden City and not a Gardeners’ City, which brings us back to Assoc Prof Kwok’s description of Singapore as a “bonsai garden” — it cannot reproduce on its own.

On Monday, the current chairman of the Orchard Road Business Association was interviewed in Growing Orchard where she suggested that Singapore’s shopping street be cleared of beggars, flyer distributors and street buskers in order to make Orchard Road “A Great Street“. Such a move, I think, would sterilise the street and make it live up to its name of being a carefully cultivated orchard just for shopping.

But Orchard Road is after all a public space, so a suggestion that comes from an association which “promotes the welfare of businesses in Orchard Road” should be received with caution. The hope is that Orchard Road can be like Assoc Prof Kwok’s “rainforest”, a reflection of this city’s diversity and not just the space of the businesses.

/UPDATE/ The Straits Times published a letter I wrote with regards to Growing Orchard today. Read it here.