In November, the first part of a substantial garden project in Singapore, Gardens by the Bay, will be completed, the Flower Dome. In the news recently, a 2.5 hectare Healing Garden laid out in the shape of a human body opened at the Botanic Garden. There's also the Park in the Sky, the green roofed Nanyang University and more. Without doubt this is a city determined to not only be true to it's moniker 'garden city' but also actively innovating in the area of public urban garden spaces.
A while ago I visited another such space, the National Singapore Library and had an insight into how the citizens of a modern Eden enjoy a well thought out green public space. It wasn't the internationally acclaimed design or the technology, like movement triggered escalators or light triggered blinds that impressed most, it was what the people were actually doing in that space.
First, it might be important to point out that six out of ten Singapore phone users have an iphone. I actually looked that up because I was surprised at how many I was seeing out and about in the city. Of course, I would see them as I would in any big city, in a very urban context particularly while waiting for a train or bus, but at the NSL, it was more about a kind of private reverie. Perched on a low wall quietly engaged in a text conversation or on benches that were cut into the planted borders with overhanging branches plugged into their ipods.
Inside, huge windows kept the plantings, including huge trees, constantly in view even when you got to the basement where the windows looked out to a bamboo grove. Between the buildings, a space not usually given any thought was where the cafe was housed - literally, a green oasis, the acoustics of the concrete space amplifying the pleasant social sounds of laughter and conversation.
All this seems the antithesis of urbanity, cramped hostile spaces jammed with anxious urban dwellers. It also wasn't a public 'garden' as such, where people tend to have a different set of behaviors like jogging or taking photographs or having a picnic. This was a 'city' space that did what a garden should do, encourage you to slow down, sit for a while, gather your thoughts, engage in a quiet activity or chat with a friend.