Eye on Singapore: Urban Gardens May Cool Cities, Among Other Benefits

Growing potted plants
Amidst the concrete high-rises of Singapore and other Asian cities, apartment dwellers are finding ways to grow plants in and around their homes.

A growing culture of urban gardening in Singapore and other major cities in Asia may hold the key to reducing city temperatures, Reuters reports. Apartment dwellers who tire of endless rows of concrete buildings have resorted to planting vegetables in boxes, trees in troughs, and even lawns on concrete yards. Gardeners boast of the visual aesthetics of the gardens, but the vegetation itself has the added benefit of blocking the sun’s rays and lowering temperatures through evapotranspiration, according to experts.

The high-rise gardening movement started small but is growing, participants say. “I thought I was the only one—the only odd nut, the only crazy person interested in growing vegetables,” said Wilson Wong, a Singaporean who started a website where fellow urbanites can share advice and arrange nursery shopping trips and plant swaps. Furn Li, who transformed his concrete balcony into a garden featuring aquatic life, giant tropical ferns, and white pebbles, won Singapore’s first “apartment gardener of the year” award last year. And Hong Kong resident Arthur Van Langenberg has written the book Urban Gardening, documenting his lush urban garden that showcases hundreds of plants and several tree varieties.

The government of Singapore is recognizing the importance of urban gardens as well. In April, it unveiled its first “green” housing estate, integrating walls of vegetation into the architecture itself. “From the scientific point of view, every plant produces a cooling effect,” explained the walls’ designer, Professor Nyuk Hien Wong with the National University of Singapore. “If you look at it as one individual unit doing that, it may not be that significant. But if everybody is doing it, there may be a very big impact,” he said.

But cooler temperatures and pleasant surroundings are not the only benefits of urban gardens. “While climate change is on everyone’s minds right now, it’s not the only reason we should make our cities greener,” notes Danielle Nierenberg, a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute. Besides reducing air and noise pollution, Nierenberg says, “urban farming can create community through farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture groups, and improve public health by providing more fresh vegetables for the poor.”

More Resources:

"Farming the Cities", Chapter 3 in State of the World 2008: Our Urban Future

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.