A Special Tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew
The Man Behind the Greening of Singapore

Many tributes have been, and will be made about Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s transformative role in making Singapore what it is today. Central to his vision for Singapore was to make our city a green oasis for citizens and visitors. He wanted Singapore to be more than prosperous, peaceful and safe. He wanted Singapore to be beautiful, and to be the best home possible for all Singaporeans. 
 
Mr Lee planted a Mempat Tree at Farrer Circus in June 1963, kickstarting a national effort for tree planting. He sowed the seed that a green Singapore with well-designed and maintained parks and open spaces should be the birthright of all Singaporeans.  
 
Since the 1960s, the Parks and Recreation Department and then the National Parks Board have been the custodians of this vision.  
 
In 1970, the Garden City Action Committee was set up by Mr Lee as he felt it was important for various government agencies to work closely together and make greenery an integral part of the country’s infrastructure.
 
Mr Lee’s legacy is all around Singapore, in every tree, leaf and flower alongside our roads and in our gardens, parks and nature reserves. Our City in a Garden is both a monument and memorial to his vision.
 

NParks is honoured to be one of the recipients of the artillery shell casings from the 21-Gun Salute for Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The casing is on display at the Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Museum

 


1963 
On 16 June 1963, Mr Lee Kuan Yew planted a Mempat tree at Farrer Circus. This marked the launch of an island-wide greening movement that has continued for more than five decades.  

Mr Lee was a strong supporter and advocate for Singapore’s greening efforts. He envisioned Singapore as a tropical Garden City. He also recognised that the introduction of greenery would soften the harshness of urbanisation and improve the quality of life in the city.

1973
Despite intense urban development, Mr Lee made it clear that greening was a priority. He wrote in his memoirs, “One arm of my strategy was to make Singapore into an oasis in Southeast Asia, for if we had First World standards, then businessmen and tourists would make us a base for their business and tours of the region.”

 

1976

For the greening of Singapore to succeed, the whole of government had to be committed to it. Ensuring this was, and still is the job of the Garden City Action Committee. The minutes of the meeting were read by Mr Lee who provided his comments to the Committee from time to time. Mr Lee felt that the process of turning Singapore into a garden city needed a boost. By 1980, the budget was nearly 10 times what it had been in the early 1970s. 

1976
Planting a Broad-leafed Mahogony at the National Stadium East Entrance.
(Photo credit: MCI Collection, National Archives of Singapore)


1977
From early on, the community was involved in the greening campaign. In 1971, the first annual Tree Planting Day was held. Tree planting became a tradition that continues to this day as part of the Garden City Fund’s Plant-A-Tree programme and during the annual Clean and Green Singapore campaign.

 

1981
In 1980, Mr Lee said, “Singapore can become a green shady city filled with fruits and flowers, a city worthy of an industrious people whose quest, progress is matched by their appreciation of beauty, of nature. The harshness of tarmac, concrete can be softened by the natural trees, flowers, and birds.”

1981
Planting a Mango sapling at Everton Park.
(Photo credit: MCI Collection, National Archives of Singapore)


1983
The initial mandate given by Mr Lee was to green up the island as quickly as possible and to cover up bare concrete structures. Plants were grown on retaining walls, pedestrian overhead bridges, viaducts and surface car parks. Few may know that it was a requirement for road viaducts to be split in the middle to allow sunlight to reach the plants below.
 
 
1983
Mr Lee Kuan Yew planting a Black Olive sapling at Clementi Woods.
(Photo credit: MCI Collection, National Archives of Singapore)


1985
There was a conscious decision to add colourful flowers and foliage in our garden city in the ‘80s. In 1984, nearly two-thirds of all the new plantings in Singapore were flowering shrubs.
 

1985
Planting and watering a Chiku sapling at Spottiswoode Park.
(Photo credit: MCI Collection, National Archives of Singapore)


1989
Mr Lee also brought in Japanese landscape architects to provide creative expertise. One such architect headed many successful projects in Singapore, including redevelopment of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Pasir Ris Park. Today, local parks are designed with as much care as the bigger regional ones.
 

1989
Planting a White Gutta at Telok Blangah Hill Park.
(Photo credit: MCI Collection, National Archives of Singapore)


1993
Greening efforts moved beyond the greening of infrastructure towards a greater focus on recreation. Parks were further developed along different themes to provide more recreational options for park users. Sculptures were also installed within parks to promote an appreciation for the arts.
 

1993
Mr Lee planting a Weeping Ru at Telok Blangah Crescent.
(Photo credit: MCI Collection, National Archives of Singapore)


1997
At the opening of the National Orchid Garden in 1995, Mr Lee said, “Singapore today is a verdant city, where abundant greenery softens the landscape. This was no accident of nature. It is the result of a deliberate 30-year policy, which required political will and sustained effort to carry out.”
 

1997
Watering a Weeping Ru at Commonwealth Crescent.
(Photo credit: MCI Collection, National Archives of Singapore)


2003
Why is it important to have nature in a highly urbanised city like Singapore? In 2003, Mr Lee explained, “Because birds need trees, need natural vegetation to make their nests, and so on. And you can’t use insecticides, if you use insecticides you kill the insects and the birds won’t live. So we have to maintain an ecological balance. So in the midst of a densely populated city, we have pockets where nature is preserved.”
 

2003
Mr Lee Kuan Yew planting a Common Pulai at Jalan Bukit Merah.



2009
Greenery is everywhere in Singapore. This sense of pervasive greenery is evident on our roads, in parks and park connectors, and also on buildings. In 2009, Mr Lee said, “Green is soothing to the eyes. The more greenery you have, the more people are soothed and the cooler it is. So I said look, try to build it up every wall and every building – greenery, creepers, like the creeping ivy or put the framework over it.”
 

2009
Planting a Malayan Crepe Myrtle at Henderson Road.


2011
Singapore is evolving from a Garden City to a City in a Garden. The City in a Garden vision is one of Singapore as a city nestled within a large garden, compared to having gardens in a city. In 2011, Mr Lee said, “I urge all Singaporeans to work together with the Government to build our City in a Garden, and continue to improve the quality of our living environment.”

2011
Planting a Bintangor Bunut at Holland Drive.


2013
In 2012, Mr Lee said, “Without the greening effort, Singapore would have been a barren, ugly city. There would have been a few trees, planted haphazardly here and there, but there would have been none of the planning or the care and maintenance that sustain our greenery today.” 
 
On 16 June 2013, Mr Lee marked the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s greenery by planting a Rain tree at Holland Village Park.

2013


2014
Mr Lee said, “It is a fight as we learnt this and this goes on all the time but we must try and preserve as much greenery as possible and water areas. The pictures and diagrams they show described the relentless battle to preserve as much greenery and water areas. But they got to keep it up and it is a constant fight. When trees with roots across roads are covered by new roads expanding space, they must learn to trap the water and bring it down to the roots where the road now is. It can be done.”

2014

 

 

"I have always believed that a blighted urban landscape, a concrete jungle destroys the human spirit. We need the greenery of nature to lift our spirits." 

- Mr Lee Kuan Yew, 1995

 
 
Photo Sources: 
MCI Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

Last updated on 02 July 2016

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