From a sleepy quiet post-independence island-state to a busy noisy city-state

The remnants of Tengah forest facing a housing estate on the opposite side of the road, where the melodious sounds of bulbuls could be heard on some days.


I remember when Singapore transited from the 1980s to the 1990s under a new national leadership, one of the key words used for a vision of Singapore’s future is “vibrant”.

“Vibrant” means full of energy and life.

As an example, the popular Music Television (MTV) culture was translated into Swing Singapore mass dance events that were held from 1988 to 1992.

The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) network began in 1987 and continued to expand around the island, while passenger loads grew over the years to the point where the carriages are often full during peak hours these days.

Crowds in a train station on a typical weekday in 2016

Singapore also began to market itself to visitors around the world as a vibrant city with exciting nightlife.

These days, it is not uncommon to hear Singapore described as “the city that never sleeps”.

The 1980s period also saw a peak number of public housing construction projects all around the island, where secondary forests, former farms and plantations were cleared to make way for roads and buildings.

I remember when I was travelling around Singapore on a bus back then, I would often pass by a construction site with loud pounding noises of the huge machines.

Since then, Singapore has transformed from a relatively quiet, laid-back post-independence island-state to a fairly busy, noisy city-state.

Is that a sign of human progress or regress?

I suppose it depends on how one sees it.

For many urbanites, extroverts and adrenaline seekers, silence is often unwelcome, as it means boredom, lack of excitement, or even a reminder of a cemetery.

But for many nature lovers, introverts and empaths, silence is seen as a means to get in touch with ourselves and heal from the various trauma of life that has been repressed.

Fast forward to today, we are seeing some signs of fallout that have resulted (directly or indirectly) from the increase in the noise and stress levels.

Mental health issues are on the rise, partly because many of the cases have been unacknowledged and/or under-reported, and so are suicide cases.

Human-wildlife conflicts also become more common, partly because the wildlife are stressed from losing their forest homes and being near noisy traffic, and partly because many humans are ill-informed or wilfully ignorant on how to respect wildlife that invariably wander into gardens and housing estates.

Other than yoga centres and meditation centres, one is hard pressed to find quiet, uncrowded spaces for emotional healing and recovering from stress in Singapore, since many parks and gardens tend to be frequented by residents living nearby.

The Covid-19 pandemic since last year has also prevented many from travelling overseas to attend nature retreats or relax on beaches in other parts of Southeast Asia, such as Bali or Phuket.

Due to restrictions for oversea travels in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people in Singapore decided to visit local nature places during public holidays. During Good Friday holiday on 2 April 2021, crowds were seen along Green Rail corridor. (Source: MustShareNews)

This is where the few remaining secondary forests in Singapore come into the picture because they can serve as healing sanctuaries for the soul.

These forests also serve as buffers to protect the fragile nature reserves from being trampled by too many human visitors.

Do you think a “City in Nature” should have more forests while seeking to recycle previously developed lands for redevelopment in order to better optimise our land space?

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