‘Nature should always give way to the forces of urbanisation.’ How true is this of your society?

Singapore has made a quantum leap from a poor fishing village in the 1800s to the stunning cosmopolitan city that it is today, frequently topping global indices for our prosperity and quality of life. This commendable success can be largely attributed to the forces of urbanization, where Singapore has opened its doors to globalization and modernization, prioritizing the urgent need for economic growth and development to feed the demands of its people. However, this economic dynamism has come with a price to pay – Singapore often struggles with the dilemma of compromising our nature to suit the urgent requirements of our modern society. As such, while many Singaporeans may demonstrate a seeming apathy in bulldozing our nature for the sake of pragmatism and economic growth, I believe that nature should not always be sacrificed for urbanization in our society because nature brings about extensive benefits and can always be incorporated in our modern society to complement urbanization.

The unfortunate reality of the situation lies in the fact that pragmatism trumps the sentimental overtures of the preservation of nature. This is especially prominent in Singapore, a geographically small island which battles with insufficient land and scarcity of resources, in conjunction with a high population density. More often than not, nature, which is inadequate in fulfilling the demands of urbanization, poses as an obstacle to the progress and development of our society, hence calling for its need to be eradicated, or at least sidelined. Its secondary nature is evident during the construction of the Cross-Island Line on our Little Red Dot. This transport line, which sought to reduce travelling time, provide greater convenience and alleviate traffic congestion, resulted in the sacrifice of part of the Bukit Timah Central Catchment Reserve. This nature reserve, located near MacRitchie Reservoir, was a home to a wide range of flora, fauna and frondescence. Despite the cries of protest of many local environmentalists, it is inevitable for the government to prioritise the economic and social benefits of the Cross-Island Line over the protection of our greenery. In addition, Singapore’s government was presented with an alternative solution to ameliorate the deleterious impacts on nature – to construct a longer transportation line alongside the Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, due to the additional costs involved, it is evident that urbanization and the need for a robust infrastructural economy still has a stranglehold over our nature today. Many hold on to the stand that functionality trumps nature. Therefore, due to our limited geographical size and urgent need to address other pressing demands like urbanization, it is justified and true that nature should give way for the sake of pragmatism, in order to put our scarce land and resources to a more productive use.

However, this does not mark the metaphorical nail in the coffin for nature as many Singaporeans adopt a more sanguine attitude towards its development and value. Naysayers decry that nature is an indispensable and precious way of life that will bring about catastrophic consequences if it were to be replaced with brick and mortar. Alluding to the previous dilemma of the Cross-Island Line, the construction unfortunately resulted in the death of many animal and botanical species. The clearance of natural land was for construction and necessitated deforestation, which not only deprived many animals of their homes, but also unfortunately caused soil erosion and changes to the composition of water streams in the forests. Another prime example is the issue of the haze that not only plagued our neighbouring country Indonesia, but impacted our Little Red Dot extensively as well. In order to accommodate the needs of the modern world and the increasing demand for palm oil, Indonesia resorted to ‘slash-and-burn’ techniques in Kalimantan forests. Singapore, however, is not entirely an innocent party as our consumption of seemingly-harmless everyday items like toothpaste, largely contributed to the demand for palm oil. As a result, Singapore battled with poor air pollution with PSI levels inching to dangerously high levels for weeks on end. Evidently, nature cannot always be sidelined for urbanization because the disadvantages may greatly outweigh the benefits. Singapore has experienced the cataclysmic impacts of the complete eradication of nature. In our attempt to increase our supply for palm oil to suit our economy at the expense of nature, we unknowingly exacerbated the problem. Hence, nature should not always give way to the forces of urbanization due to the potential harms involved.

Lastly, I hold strongly to the belief that nature should not always be sidelined to accommodate to our modern society because nature can always be incorporated to complement urbanization. Admittedly, the increasing need for a progressive and robust infrastructural economy is a reality in the face of globalization and modernity. Yet, we should not neglect the essential value of nature as it is ultimately an important aspect of our lives. With the advancement of technology and surplus of innovative entrepreneurs, it is possible for nature and urbanization to come hand-in-hand. Singapore’s very own Zero Energy Building serves as a prime example, as evident from our incorporation of nature into its infrastructure. It boasts a magnificent Green Wall, where botany had been introduced not simply for aesthetic appeal, but for pragmatic functions like keeping our building cool in our unbearable heat, as well as raising awareness about the importance of the preservation of nature. In addition, nature also complements urbanization, as evident from our utilization of natural wind to produce wind energy to meet the demands of people. While I understand the prevalence of urbanization in our 21st century, I am inclined to believe that nature and modernity are not mutually exclusive. Singapore boasts impressive technology and advancements, and is all the more capable of introducing elements of nature into urbanization, therefore gaining the best of both worlds by neither compromising on pragmatism nor preservation.

 In conclusion, the forces of urbanization are especially essential for the progress and prosperity of our island. Due to our high population density and the urgent need for survival on a global scale, it is inevitable for Singapore to constantly revamp and revitalize our nation, eradicating impediments to growth and converting lands for more productive and efficient uses. As such, it is no secret that some Singaporeans are merely paying lip service to the charms of nature. However, these people are but dissentients as many still support the preservation and protection of nature, as it should not be a secondary priority even in the face of urbanization. Hence, my belief that nature should not always give way to the forces of urbanization still stands in my society.

Cherilyn Lee (18-I1)

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