Home Climate Crisis Rise of Eco-cities – An Asian model of sustainable development

Rise of Eco-cities – An Asian model of sustainable development

Rise of Eco-cities – An Asian model of sustainable development
Singapore's planned Eco-town Tengah

In response to the rise of megacities, Asian architects have called for provision of “green lungs”, such as parks, gardens, nature reserves, beaches and rivers, and preservation of heritage sites and public squares for the people’s enjoyment.  

By Ivan Lim

The search for an Asian eco-culture is in line with the international discourse on a new global ethical agenda for the New Millennium, focusing on religion, language, values and rights of minorities and indigenous people.

It is marked by out-of-the-box thinking that embraces both – the local or national and glocal features, or what is termed the global approach. (The word is modeled on the Japanese dochakuka, meaning adapting farming techniques to local conditions)

Already, Asian economies are striking out with their own glocality, away from free-wheeling capitalist systems that led to extremes of wealth and poverty and urban blight.

In a break from convention, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, for one, has initiated a Gross National Happiness Index to measure its success in non-material terms.

In turn, countries like India and China have pioneered the concept of Green National Product that is measuring a country’s output of goods and services after accounting for the price of resources and degradation of the environment.

In response to the rise of megacities, Asian architects have called for provision of “green lungs”, such as parks, gardens, nature reserves, beaches and rivers, and preservation of heritage sites and public squares for the people’s enjoyment.

Will this lead to a return to traditional mores, customs and folk wisdom that underlay Asian civilizations for centuries?  How do we integrate an eco-friendly ethos in the countryside and cities?

A number of Asian cities linked to the Western capitalist development model are also relying on clean technologies to do the trick but also applying sound management and strict social habits.

Look at the city-state of Singapore which has been teaming up with China to pioneer eco-cities.as practical models for building townships with eco-friendly features. The showpiece Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city (TEC) boasts a business park, residential apartments, complete with schools and shops that are served by renewal energy and green transport network. Due for completion in 2023, the TEC will pave the way for green development in other Chinese provinces.

Seen as a unique hybrid model, the island-state of 728.3 sq. meters lacks a hinterland to ensure its sustainability. The First World metropolis of 5.45 million people has thrived by dint of its strategy of tapping into the rich eco-systems and diverse resources of its South-east Asia neighbors and the rest of the world.

Yet Singapore, with its huge petro-chemical installations, shipping and aviation industries, has been planned for having one of the highest per capital CO2s emissions. Its CO2 emission is 8.56 tons based on a population of 5.65 million in 2016. Or 0.14 per cent of world share.

Up to 95 per cent of Singapore’s energy needs come from natural gas, a low-carbon fossil fuel –and has turned to tapping solar power.

With space and energy limitations, Singapore has much to commend itself for its eco-ethos, reflected in its extensive tree-planting, conservation of nature parks (Bukit Timah Forest Reserve, Sungei Buloh and Labrador nature parks) even with land space at a premium.

Not giving hostage to its ecological limitations, the growth-driven First World nation has used micro-membrane filtration technologies to milk potable water from sewerage discharges.

Called New Water, the reclaimed water is produced at high-tech factories in Bedok, Kranji, Ulu Pandan and Changi.

The new Changi plant increases Singapore’s Newater capacity from 30 to 40 per cent of the Republic’s water demand of 430 million gallons per day.

Apart from obtaining fresh water supplies from neighboring Johor reservoirs, the island is also drawing freshwater from the sea from four desalination plants.

The efforts to overcome natural adversities go hand in hand with together with education to inculcate eco- virtue. This typically takes the form of public campaigns to Keep Singapore Clean and Green, Stop Littering and Save Water. Those who litter can be fined, earning the Republic the “Fine City” epithet.

The value of thrift and conservation is taught by making those who use more water and electricity to pay more.

To be sure, the authorities have been pushed towards more conservation by the civil society lobbying, especially by the Nature Society of Singapore (NSS). In the latest episode, the government has, in July, acceded to NSS and residents appeals to scale down its clearance of a 33 hectare Dover Forest site for public housing.

The western half of the forest, adjacent the Dover mass rapid transit station, will be left untouched, for 40 years. Owing to its unique trees, and varied species of bird, mammals, reptiles, fish, snails and insects.

Such concessions are in keeping with the country’s Garden-in-the-city credentials and will enable it to capitalize on green business opportunities.

Singapore is tapping into the global carbon market worth billions under the Clean Development Mechanism projects.

It aims to be the regional hub for research and development and marketing of renewable energy technologies.

As pragmatic as ever, Singapore can be said to have the best of both worlds by applying Asian traditional value and Western scientific technologies to create a

Climate change and ecological degradation has highlighted the need for us to take a closer and fresh look at the relationship between Society and Nature as well as Culture and Environment.

According to Associate Professor Victor R. Savage, a retired geographer from the National University of Singapore, indigenous people hold some secrets to self-sufficient living through their knowledge and understanding of the eco-system and staying in harmony with Nature.

“In doing so, we may find the ways and means to adapt and achieve sustainable living,” he said.

Prof Savage has done extensive research on native cultures in relation to the environments of South-east Asia.

Of interest to sustainable living are such “secrets” as folk medicines; shifting cultivation, hill slope or terraced farming; divination methods, such as geomancy or Chinese feng shui for ideal location of their houses, temples and cemeteries; and calendars and cosmic based architecture and urban planning.

With its abstract concepts and academic jargon, the subject of Asian eco-culture may be considered “hard news”.  Those well-versed in cultural studies can get across easily to one another.

The layman may need a little help to absorb cultural ideas. Here is where media practitioners, from playwrights, dramatists and artist to writers, and journalists enter the picture. We have to popularize the ideas or turn them into “soft new” to reach across to ordinary folks.

[author title=”Ivan Lim ” image=”https://sindhcourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Ivan-Lim-Singapore-Sindh-Courier.jpg”]Ivan Lim is a senior journalist of Singapore and former President of South-Korea-based Asia Journalists Association (AJA). [/author]