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16 May 2022

How high-tech city state Singapore became an eco metropolis

How high-tech city state Singapore became an eco metropolis

I pinch a delicate mint leaf from a row of potted plants. “The restaurant next door uses our herbs in their dishes,” my guide, Sarah, tells me. I’m on a rooftop seven floors above a busy shopping mall, but the garden is as abundant as anything on the ground.

The urban farm approach to growing food in confined spaces opens my eyes to the possibilities of sustainable living in a big city. But it’s no surprise that my moment of clarity strikes in Singapore, a self-proclaimed ‘city in a garden’.

In a city-state where plants and skyscrapers collide, rooftop farms might not sound like a revolutionary idea, but the brains behind Edible Garden City have started a small movement of horticultural high-rises.

The team has created 260 urban gardens in just 10 years. The purpose-built plant-based pantries are designed to completely revolutionise the country’s food supply. Currently, Singaporeans grow 10% of the food they eat, a figure the government hopes to change to 30% by 2030.

Sarah is proud to let me know that the garden I’m visiting at Funan features in the plans for the building, and other farms can be found at Raffles City and Queenstown. Both are open to volunteers Monday to Thursday. Tours and workshops are also available through ediblegardencity.com.

Intrigued by the progressive green thinking, I wonder what other eco-friendly surprises are hidden behind Singapore’s high-tech façade…

A hotel in a garden


My accommodation, the Parkroyal Collection Pickering (starting at S$320/£180 per night; panpacific.com), in Singapore’s Downtown Core takes the concept of urban nature to the next level. Plants in the tiered gardens cover more than twice the hotel’s total floor area, a striking image that demands to be featured on Instagram feeds.

Walking from the lobby to my airy and modern room, I notice the open-sided corridors that negate the need for air conditioning. The narrowness of the building, I learn, is intentionally designed to maximise the amount of daylight reaching internal spaces – no energy-sapping light-fittings needed – and I’m fascinated to hear that the hotel was the first in Singapore to use recycled plastic as a building material, to reduce the use of concrete.

The combination of glass and greenery is extremely common here. At first glance, it may look like mother nature has reclaimed the skyline, but it’s all part of a bigger plan to build a greener city-state; one where whole neighbourhoods are temperature-controlled without using air conditioning, thanks to the world’s largest fully underground district cooling system.

Clean wheels and rails

When it comes to exploring the city, Singapore provides plenty of clean transport options. There’s the Mass Rapid Transit system, or MRT, where the network map provides a fascinating snapshot of the different cultures that have shaped the region. A Singapore Tourist Pass or STP offers unlimited travel from S$10 (£5.60) a day.

If you really want to take green transportation up a gear, there are plenty of cycle lanes to pedal through. Plans to build 1300km of safe cycle routes will triple the current network’s coverage by 2030 – not bad for a nation 50km across and 27km from north to south. SG Bike, a dock-less bicycle sharing scheme, charges S$1 (£0.56) for the first 30 minutes and S$0.03 every minute after.

Eco attractions

You needn’t travel far to see the country’s green spaces. In fact, some of Singapore’s most iconic city-centre buildings help to make it the eco-friendly holiday destination it is today. At Gardens by the Bay (gardensbythebay.com.sg) in the shadow of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, it’s possible to see plants from far-flung destinations.

The largest greenhouse in the world, the Flower Dome (entry starts at S$20/£11 for adults) envelopes guests and plants alike, from a scenic spot looking towards the Singapore Flyer observation wheel (S$33/£19). Next door, a second shell-like structure, the Cloud Forest, hosts the world’s second tallest indoor waterfall, where visitors scramble for the perfect photo while protecting their phones from a light refreshing mist.

Beautifully presented and unexpectedly practical, the greenhouses collect rainwater which is circulated in a cooling system connected to ‘Supertrees’. The 25 to 50-metre-high forest at Supertree Grove is designed to disperse heat and harvest solar energy, all while lighting up the skies. Nothing says “I’ve arrived in Singapore” quite like viewing the super structures during the free evening light shows. Pay S$8 (£4.50) to stroll along the 22-metre-high Skyway and get up close to the action.

Putting greens on your plate

Filling up your plate is surprisingly sustainable too. For a high-end dining experience, Labyrinth ( restaurantlabyrinth.com) is a must. The world’s first one Michelin-starred ‘new Singaporean’ restaurant sources 70% of its ingredients from Singapore; the figure sat at 90% before the pandemic and the manager was enthusiastic about his plans to return to local suppliers very soon. A 15-course tasting menu costs S$218 (£123).

Dishes include the signature chilli crab ice cream, Ang Moh chicken rice and my personal favourite, Rojak; twelve herbs grown by Edible Garden City and served in a cross between a tree trunk and half a coconut.

Native (tribenative.com) cocktail bar is the go-to destination for responsible drinking with alcoholic concoctions all made from regional ingredients and starting at S$25 (£14).

Mastering holistic health

Your final stop simply has to be Singapore’s only garden spa, Aramsa ( aramsaspas.com), situated in a bustling public park where runners and yogis share the great outdoors with bathing otters.

My treatment room faces a well-maintained garden, used to grow pandan and ginger for teas. And after I change into a comfortable robe, my masseuse works her magic on my upper back using organic oils and a firm, soothing grip. The Aramsa Touch massage starts at S$148 (£83) for 60 mins, the perfect end to a sustainable escape.

How to plan your trip

For more information on the destination, visit go to visitsingapore.com.

For the latest updates on Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL Flights) and entry requirements go to safetravel.ica.gov.sg.

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