Cheong Suk-Wai – Straits Times
Having never visited Singapore, New York City’s parks and recreation chief Adrian Benepe expected to land on an island crowded with tall, grey buildings.
But a weekend jaunt on the Forest and Canopy Walks linking Henderson Waves with HortPark off Alexandra Road left him struck by how green Singapore is.
“We don’t have anything that spectacularly beautiful and fun in New York, so it’s spurring me to want to do the same,” he said. “The only thing is we worry about people doing dumb things, like jumping off tall structures while high on drugs, which we unfortunately have to deal with.”
Benepe was no less impressed by the newly opened Gardens by the Bay, which he found “astounding.”
The 55-year-old, who started as a park ranger, took in these sights before he received the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize on behalf of New York City last night from Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at an awards dinner held in conjunction with the ongoing World Cities Summit.
The award, for cities transformed into epitomes of sustainable living, was given to New York City for its nifty use of abandoned industrial and wharf land.
Among other things, Benepe and his team transformed a disused elevated railway that was an eyesore into a popular sky park 30m above the ground.
Still, he envied Singapore”s commitment to green spaces.
“There is even greenery on your bridges. Back home, they would be horrified because they’d say all that soil from roots overhead would dirty everything.”
He was also impressed by “the sense of energy and entrepreneurialism” in the streets of Singapore which mirror that of his home. But, he added: “Singapore”s extraordinary changes in the last 40 years dwarf those of New York.”
Like his city, he and his team are not standing still.
They are creating Freshkills Park on what was once the world’s biggest rubbish dump.
It will have an amphitheater and community seed farm that will “use goats as lawn mowers” to eat up the weeds.
He is also encouraging New Yorkers to plant vegetables and fruit on the roofs of their apartment blocks, to add to the city’s 600 community gardens today.
But what can Singapore adopt from New York City?
“I think Singapore should be more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. I found it hard to walk safely in the downtown area here,” he said.
Still, he said: “It makes me very happy to see so many young families in Singapore out having a great time; that tells me this is a happy, healthy and safe city.”