Hougang/Lorong Ah Soo secondary rainforest: Then and now

Winds of change: The former secondary rainforest at Hougang Avenue 1 was probably around 8-10 ha in size (equivalent to 10 football fields).

Almost 10 years ago, I took an aerial picture of the secondary rainforest next to Tai Keng Gardens from an apartment block along Hougang Avenue 1.

Back then, I had no idea that it would be cleared for housing development one day.

I discovered the forest in the backyard of my office building at Upper Paya Lebar area around 2013.

That was when I decided to go for lunch on my own and take a walk around Tai Keng Gardens.

The lush greenery and fresh air along the forest fringe provided a respite for my soul.

However, by early 2018, bulldozers came to raze the forest to the ground.

That same year, I left the company and became a self-employed writer, editor, photographer, videographer and food delivery rider.

Thanks to my flexible working hours, I was able to explore other forests, such as Bukit Batok hillside park area and Tengah forest, and advocate their conservation.

After all, the relentless pursuit of development-at-all-costs has resulted in the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and health crisis facing us today.

I had the opportunity to visit this formerly forested area again while passing by Hougang / Lorong Ah Soo recently, and I saw how much has changed.

Gone were the densely growing trees and shrubs, with only a few token ones remaining in the margins.

One might say that change is inevitable, as the only constant is change.

But I believe we can have nuances in our narratives and ask ourselves who benefit and who do not benefit from the changes in land use.

How about those who have been displaced or disadvantaged by the deforestation and cannot speak up for themselves?

It is not known how the loss of the forest at Hougang Avenue 1 may affect resident and migratory birds that may have used it as a stopover and/or core habitat. Hopefully, an ecological profiling exercise will be conducted for the remaining forests, including Paya Lebar airbase forest buffer before any development begins.

How would the existing residents in Hougang Avenue 1 and Tai Keng Gardens feel about the loss of ecosystem services in their neighbourhood?

Can we consider state land as public commons since the forest is interconnected with the air we breathe and the fauna we depend on for pollination, seed dispersal, food security, etc?

A drainage area was dug beside the significantly large fig trees next to Tai Keng Gardens, possibly to prevent flash floods during heavy rains. I am not sure if it was built only after a flood occurred nearby at Hougang Avenue 3 in November 2020.

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