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Gardens by the Bay chief wants more youths involved in nature conservation

SINGAPORE — He coined the term “City in a Garden” and is the prime mover in transforming Singapore into an island criss-crossed with seamlessly connected parks, but Gardens by the Bay chief executive officer Tan Wee Kiat considers efforts to engage youths among his most important over his three decades in the public service.

Gardens by the Bay chief wants more youths involved in nature conservation

Dr Tan Wee Kiat, Gardens by the Bay chief executive officer. TODAY file photo

SINGAPORE — He coined the term “City in a Garden” and is the prime mover in transforming Singapore into an island criss-crossed with seamlessly connected parks, but Gardens by the Bay chief executive officer Tan Wee Kiat considers efforts to engage youths among his most important over his three decades in the public service.

“(Engaging the youth) is key. We make sure that when we tailor our programmes and activities, we look at it with the eyes of youth … Everybody is stuck to their computers and iPhones. How can we bring forth, through nature, and say, look at what is real,” said Dr Tan, who is one of the six awarded the Distinguished Service Order this year.

Speaking to the media at the Ministry of National Development’s (MND) National Day Awards Investiture yesterday, Dr Tan, 72 — who served as founding chief executive of National Parks Board (NParks) from 1990 to 2006 — said outreach to schools was one of NParks’ priorities from the outset. “(The students) are now the voters of the present. They are now the public opinion leaders of the present. We started right with the young, and we have to sustain it,” he said.

Recruiting a new generation of leaders who value “life other than humans” is a challenge.

“How to get people with the passion and aesthetic sense to come into our profession, that to me, is one of our biggest challenges. Because it is not a material gain,” he said.

Another topic he feels strongly about is the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, which he said should be preserved at all costs, even as he acknowledged the perennial contest between the preservation of green spaces and building infrastructure.

“The day I see it being criss-crossed with highways and so forth will be the day I think we have lost our green soul … because (it is) the largest piece of environment where local animal species that we are losing can still find sanctuary.

“These are the true pioneer populations of Singapore and we need to have these spots to harbour them. (This is) the biggest oasis,” he said.

An environmental impact assessment is ongoing to study the impact of the Cross Island Line on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Among Dr Tan’s achievements is his role in helping revitalise natural areas, such as building boardwalks through MacRitchie Reservoir Park and the Tree-Top Walk at Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Dr Tan, who inherited his love of botany from his parents, also pioneered initiatives to introduce streetscape greenery — which has seen a wide variety of new plant species introduced along Singapore’s roads — and skyrise greenery.

The Republic is now moving towards cladding man-made structures with pieces of nature, said Dr Tan, who added that proposals for the future Rail Corridor at Choa Chu Kang exemplify this approach.

The project must be handled sensitively, he added, such that nature will be allowed to thrive without being “overly planned and overly planted”, and serve as a reminder of the kampung days. “I think if we handle this right, our green railway stretches will be a key component in our garden fabric,” he said.

187 public service officers from the MND agencies received the ministry’s commendation, efficiency and long-service awards yesterday. The investiture also recognised another 26 officers, who were earlier conferred the National Day Awards.

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