Tampines Green Community Gardens in Singapore

Sau Pau Ming Community Gardens in Hong Kong 

Gardening as a social process

Collective gardening is a huge trend in the city. There are rooftops, vacant land and underutilized spaces that can be used for gardening. In other words, there are lots of opportunities. But why it is in Singapore, that framing is still somewhat an architectural fantasy? After visiting several community gardens in Singapore and Hong Kong, I wondered, what makes a successful community garden? I came to learnt that at the community gardens, it’s the community that’s the hard part. Gardening techniques on what grows where, and which plants and foodstuffs are best adapted to which type of urban environment; that is easy to teach. No one will ever be hired or formally assigned to take on the most vital problems and meaningful inquiries of a community gardens. The most promising and humane community gardens will come from the collective, unpaid imaginings of wandering, curious, and self-driven individuals, creating possible alternative scenarios in a much more powerful way than any hired professional could ever do on his own.

An example is an award-winning community garden situated at a precinct park at Tampines Green which is under the NParks Community in Bloom Scheme launched in May 2005. It has won a Platinum award under the Community-In-Bloom awards held by NParks held once every two years.  A panel of judges, made up of individuals from various organizations such as the Singapore Gardening Society, will select which gardens deserve platinum, gold, silver or bronze awards. At Tampines Green Community Garden, I was impressed with the vast variety of plants, some of which I have never seen or heard of before. If you take a walk in the garden, you cannot help but notice that recyclables have been used quite extensively. Tampines Green Garden has been used countless of times for educational tours conducted by the neighboring schools. The sole reason for its success is that a passionate resident had step forth and volunteered to run the garden along side with a group of dedicated resident gardeners.

Bottom-up vs. Top-down approach

The main challenge is, how do we empower residents to create new commons and shared green spaces and built a socially sustainable community garden? How do we create spaces that encourage participation? When we talk about a bottom-up approach, counterposing it to the top-down, how do we balance between them and which approach is more effective?

A brief comparison is made between Singapore and Hong Kong, on how top-down gardening scheme is being implemented in the public housing estates for both cities. Community gardens in Hong Kong, run by Leisure and Cultural Services Department, had launched the “Community Garden Programme” in February 2004 and implemented it at selected parks or tree banks in all districts by phases. A visit to Sau Pau Ming Community Gardens, revealed that the residents had to apply and ballot for a 1.5 by 1.5sqm plot that can be used to garden, thus the community garden is divided up into individual plots. As a result, most of the community gardens in Hong Kong look alike. It seems like the Singapore method is more effective to a certain extent in creating the value of social exchange and the shared enjoyment of pubic space. To engage people with communally shared issues, it is essential that people envision themselves as part of the urban fabric, and understand that their individual actions make a difference to the common good.

Concluding with a quote taken from Ebenezer Howard’s classic Garden Cities of To-Morrow, he suggested that an ideal city could be created by integrating all aspects of production and consumption – including agriculture—into the city. To think further, what is the place for food production in the city? How do we  as designers and architects create innovative spaces for gardens and wildlife, fostering new connections between residents and the natural world?