A City in Blue and Green

Calendar 4 Jun 2020
Time 7.00 pm – 7.40 pm, GMT+8 
Location Zoom
cpd1 SILA CPD Pts, 2 SIP CPD Pts 
BOA-SIA members: no lectures or webinars will award CPD points this year as CPD requirements are waived



Throughout its nation-building journey, Singapore’s efforts to manage water resources, protect natural landscapes, and cultivate vegetation have been crucial elements underpinning the city’s liveability. Ranging from infrastructure systems to social history, Professor Peter G. Rowe will share how these unique strategies and effective practices have transformed the city into a “clean and green” powerhouse, and how this puts the city in good stead to respond to disruptions resulting from climate change.

Webinar Video


Slides by Prof. Peter G. Rowe (PDF: 7.4MB)
Full Webinar Transcript (PDF: 162KB)

Webinar Takeaways

Greater Liveability and Greenery

Greater Liveability and Greenery, despite Density

Despite Singapore’s rapid growth in population and urban density, it’s blue and green efforts let it increase its liveability and green cover in parallel, said Prof. Peter Rowe. Dr Limin Hee elaborated that “to be dense and yet highly liveable, cities will have to make blue and green elements mainstream components of urban planning and design.” These can mitigate urban heat island effects, and provide relief from density, among other benefits. “Imagine living in a city where nature-based solutions are everywhere, and there are no concrete drains,” she said. 

Image: Tan, L. (2018). From a ‘Garden City’ to a ‘City in Nature’. [Computer-aided Diagram] Singapore: CLC Insights, Issue No. 24.

Adapting to Sea Level Rise

Adapting to Sea Level Rise, from Singapore to Mumbai

Global warming-induced sea level rise poses existential threats to Singapore and other cities. 70% to 80% of Singapore’s 180km coastline will need to be protected by seawalls or other techniques. The tremendous costs that would be incurred appear to match the projected benefits, and the idea appears to be feasible, said Prof. Peter Rowe. However, not all cities may be able to afford such solutions, and there are other approaches. Wetlands can help to protect coastlines in places like Mumbai, for example, and Singapore’s scientific research, experience with policy and planning implementation including public messaging in these areas could be useful. 

Image: Tan, R. (2018). Mangroves at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. [image] Licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND2.0). Available at: shorturl.at/ipGJP [Accessed 22 Jun. 2018].

A City in Nature

A City in Nature, but not (yet) a Biophilic City 

A City in Nature is “ideally, a fully urban ecological system, reconnecting the populace with the nature of which they are a part, and this verges on a biophilic direction,” said Prof. Peter Rowe. However “with regards to overall sustainability and environmental performance, Singapore seems unlikely to reach Edward O. Wilson’s “biophilic” state.” Residents in a City in Nature must “become more acquainted with nature”. While Singapore has been quite successful, Prof. Rowe recalled a local butterfly expert who told him that while people loved butterflies, they disliked caterpillars. This suggests there is still some way to go for people in Singapore to embrace living with nature.

Image: Chriskay

A Closed Loop: Radical Water Sustainability

A Closed Loop: Radical Water Sustainability

Singapore’s water supply comes from ‘Four National Taps’: Malaysia (imported water), NEWater (reclaimed water), desalination, and local reservoirs. At our recent webinar, Prof. Peter Rowe observed “in effect, Singapore has a closed loop water system, making use of all the water on the island state, literally. Perhaps the most radical aspect of this is to reach water sustainability for domestic consumption, and with only 5% losses due to leakage.” Dr Limin Hee noted that technologies like water reclamation were not unique to Singapore. However, its scale of implementation made it the first nation to close the water loop – ultimately enabled by systemic innovation across multiple ‘urban systems’. 

Image: PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency.

Pragmatic Vision

Pragmatic Vision: a belief in the perfectability of cities

How did Singapore successfully implement its Green and Blue Plan? Prof. Peter Rowe highlighted visionary government and strong political will, with “a belief in the perfectibility of cities”. At the same time, a characteristically Singaporean pragmatism helped realise those visions. Other success factors included collaboration across government agencies “to a high degree”, and public consensus and acceptance of blue and green programmes. Prof. Rowe also credited ‘super citizens’, who are “well informed, professionally engaged and constructive”, while Dr Limin Hee highlighted the role of ‘citizen scientists’.

Image: Urban Redevelopment Authority (1991). Living the next lap: Towards a tropical city of excellence, Singapore.

Blue-Green Singapore was born of Disruptions

Blue-Green Singapore was born of Disruptions

Singapore’s 1965 ejection from Malaysia “was a major crisis”. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was especially concerned about its reliance on imported water from Malaysia, said Prof. Peter Rowe at our recent webinar. The city also had “squatter settlements, poor municipal services and a very high incidence of poverty.” To quickly attract foreign investments and accelerate social progress, Mr Lee’s cabinet responded with “an astute set of choices” positioning Singapore as a first world city in the region – from tree-planting campaigns to UN-advised urban plans. “Singapore is remarkably resilient,” Prof. Rowe said, “the story of water and green is an episode of (that) resilience.”

Image: Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew Planting a Sapling During His Tour of Ulu Pandan Constituency. (1963). [Photograph] Singapore: Ministry of Information and the Arts.

5 Components of the City of Gardens and Waters

5 Components of the City of Gardens and Waters

Singapore evolved from a Garden City, to a City in a Garden, and now a City of Gardens and Waters, said Prof. Peter Rowe. It’s 5 components are:

• Two world-class gardens: Singapore Botanical Gardens, and Gardens by the Bay.
• Four nature reserves: Central Catchment, Bukit Timah, Sungei Buloh, and Labrador.
• 100+ Active Beautiful, Clean Waters Programme sites.
• An island-wide network of Park Connectors, Nature Ways and the old Rail Corridor. 

• Greening of buildings, with 100ha of vegetated roofs. 

Image: Interior of Cloud Forest. (n.d.). [Photograph] Singapore: Gardens by the Bay.

About the Speakers



Prof. Peter G. Rowe

Raymond Garbe Professor of Architecture and Urban Design, Harvard University
Distinguished Service Professor, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University

Prof. Rowe served as Dean of the Graduate School of Design at Harvard from 1992 to 2004 and was Chairman of the Urban Planning and Design Department from 1988 until 1992, and Director of the Urban Design programs from 1985 until 1990. Prior to Harvard, Rowe served as Director, School of Architecture at Rice University. Rowe has extensive research and consulting experience on subjects ranging from cultural interpretation and design to the relationship of urban form to issues of economic development, historic conservation, housing provision and resource sustainability. He has served as an advisor to cities like Beijing, Incheon and Barcelona on matters of urban design and planning.



Dr Limin Hee

Centre for Liveable Cities

Dr Limin Hee is the Director of Research at Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC), a nexus and knowledge centre for liveable and sustainable cities, where she focuses on research strategies, content development and international collaborations. CLC research is premised on a deep understanding of urban systems and how to derive integrated solutions for cities. She played similar leading research roles at the National University of Singapore School of Design and Environment, as well as at the Centre for Sustainable Asian Cities and the Asia Research Institute.



Dinesh Naidu

Deputy Director
Centre for Liveable Cities

A Deputy Director at the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC), Dinesh Naidu leads teams responsible for curating and delivering CLC’s World Cities Summit, lecture series, magazines and digital platforms. Prior to joining CLC, Dinesh was a researcher-writer and activist in the field of architecture and urban heritage. His past roles include Executive Secretary of the Singapore Heritage Society and Deputy Editor of  Singapore Architect magazine. Dinesh has been published in several journals and books, served on various public committees, and been interviewed in media like the International Herald Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Wallpaper, Business Times and Channel News Asia.


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