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Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20:277291

DOI 10.1007/s11252-016-0592-7

Singapore as a long-term case study for tropical urban

ecosystem services
D. A. Friess 1

Published online: 24 August 2016

# Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Abstract Ecosystem services have gained rapid interest for the globe. Consolidating and understanding case study cities
understanding urban-environment interactions. However, such as Singapore is important if we are to understand how to
while the term Becosystem services^ is relatively novel, their incorporate multiple ecosystem services into large scale plan-
principles have influenced urban planning for decades. This ning frameworks, and provides an important tropical example
study assesses the wealth of urban ecosystem services re- in a research field dominated by western, temperate case
search conducted in the tropical city state of Singapore, in studies.
particular their historical local use and implicit and explicit
incorporation into land use planning, and shows how Keywords Carbon . City biodiversity index . Cultural
Singapore is exporting their experiences to other cities around ecosystem services . Garden city . Urban heat island
the world. Singapore is an important model for urban ecosys-
tem services research, as the nation has experienced rapid
urban development and has a 100 % urban population. Introduction
Singapore also historically utilized ecosystem services in ur-
ban decision making long before the concept was popularized. Urban and peri-urban areas continue to expand in extent and
For example, forests were conserved since 1868 for climatic impact, with more than 50 % of the worlds population now
regulation and for the watershed protection services provided living in urban areas (UN DESA 2015). Urban areas may
to Singapores first reservoirs, and green spaces have been expand by an additional 1.2 million km2 by 2030, predomi-
conserved for cultural ecosystem services since the 1920s. nantly in the tropics (Seto et al. 2012). Urbanization has myr-
Urban ecosystem services were formally incorporated into iad impacts on the surrounding environment from local to
national planning in the 1960s through the BGarden City^ regional scales, including habitat loss (Li et al. 2010), poor
urban planning vision. Singapore is now a leading case study environmental sustainability (Estoque and Murayama 2014),
for tropical urban climatology and carbon sequestration, air and water pollution (Wang et al. 2008; Zhao et al. 2015)
exporting its experiences globally through bilateral agree- localized extinctions and reductions in biodiversity (Brook
ments and the construction of eco-cities in China, and the et al. 2003) and shifts in biodiversity towards urban exploiter
creation and promotion of a global City Biodiversity Index species (McKinney 2002; Taylor et al. 2013). The influence of
to assess urban ecosystem service provision in cities across urban development on the global environment is so great that
urban areas are now considered a key and increasing contrib-
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article utor to global climate change (Grimm et al. 2008), with their
(doi:10.1007/s11252-016-0592-7) contains supplementary material,
own chapter in the most recent assessment report by the
which is available to authorized users.
International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2014).
* D. A. Friess
Academic and applied research has increasingly addressed the conflicts between environmental concerns and urban de-
velopment, with a recent emphasis on integrating or reconcil-
Department of Geography, National University of Singapore, 1 Arts ing aspects of the natural and built environments in order to
Link, Singapore 117570, Singapore utilize the benefits, or ecosystem services that natural habitats
278 Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20:277291

can provide to human populations. This has led to a rapid rise case study through which to study tropical urban ecosystem
in interest in Burban ecology^ and Burban ecosystem services^ services, as it has experienced rapid urbanization in recent
research (Fig. 1), with 88 % of articles on Web of Science decades, though its structured urban planning framework has
containing the phrase Burban ecology^ being published since put urban ecosystem services central to decision making for
the year 2000. This recent uptake has been credited with almost 150 years. There are also secondary reasons to high-
mainstreaming environmental concerns into decision making light Singapore as an important case study for urban ecosys-
and policy processes (Gmez-Baggethun et al 2010). tem services; Singapore provides an alternative case study in a
While there has been recent interest in aspects of urban research field that is heavily dominated by a focus on temper-
ecology and ecosystem services, these are to some extent Bold ate ecosystem services in western urban locations (Haase et al.
concepts reworded^. Ecosystem services were popularized by 2014; Ziter 2016); and the variety of research conducted in
agenda-setting publications such as Costanza et al. (1997) and Singapore provides a large-scale integrated and multi-service
the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA 2005), though case study in a field that is dominated by single ecosystem
were previously known as Benvironmental services^ in the service studies in single cities (Ziter 2016).
1970s, where they were used as metaphors and a communi-
cation tool for the public and policy makers (Lele et al. 2013).
In the decades prior to this, ecosystem services were also Singapore as a case study for tropical urban
implicit in many examples of urban planning, such as the ecosystem services
provision of green spaces in cities (Swanwick et al. 2003).
Thus, the recent interest in urban ecosystem services does Rapid urban development in Singapore
not fully acknowledge the historical efforts that researchers
and decision makers have made to incorporate (the often im- Singapore is a tropical City State located close to the equator
plicit) aspects of ecosystem services into urban planning and (1.3000 N, 103.8000 E; Fig. 2) in Southeast Asia. At the
design. time of the founding of colonial Singapore in 1819, the island
This review considers the tropical city state of Singapore as was predominantly forested. However, rapid agricultural de-
a case study for historical and contemporary urban ecosystem velopment soon led to rapid deforestation (Hassan 1969).
services research. In particular, this review focuses on a) the Agricultural development transitioned to rapid urbanization,
historical use of ecosystem services in Singapore, and the especially after Independence in 1965. Urban areas now cover
scope of their implicit and explicit incorporation into national 39 % of contemporary Singapores land surface (Yee et al.
planning; b) contemporary research across the breadth of ur- 2011; though most other green spaces are either underlain by
ban ecosystem services in Singapore; and c) the export of urban surfaces or otherwise disturbed or modified), and 100 %
urban ecosystem service knowledge gained in Singapore to of Singapores population is considered urban (UN DESA
other tropical and temperate cities. Singapore is an important 2015).

Fig. 1 Recent increases in the

use of the terms Burban ecology^
and Burban ecosystem services^
in the peer-reviewed literature.
This graph was constructed using
a keyword search in the scholarly
database Web of Science in
December 2015
Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20:277291 279

Fig. 2 A map of planning

regions in Singapore, with the
Central Planning Region (main
Central Business District urban
area) highlighted in grey. The
central locations of Singapores 4
Nature Reserves are also shown

Rapid post-Independence urbanization has led to the severe provision began during the beginning of the post-
loss of terrestrial habitats in Singapore (Corlett 1992). In 2007, Independence period, when a national tree planting campaign
only 1.57 % of Singapore remained covered by natural habi- along roads and new urban developments was initiated (Yuen
tats such as primary lowland dipterocarp rainforest, freshwater 1996; Fig. 3). In 1967 this transitioned towards the BGarden
swamp forest, freshwater marsh and coastal mangrove forest City 1 ^ vision (Yuen et al. 1999); a long-term, cross-
(data from Yee et al. 2011). The loss of most of Singapores government planning philosophy with the aim of transforming
natural terrestrial habitats has led to catastrophic rates of ex- Singapore into a clean environment with abundant urban
tinction of up to 87 %, depending on taxa (Brook et al. 2003). greenery. This initiative required the planting of more than 5
Singapores coastal environment has also experienced rapid million trees in the 1970s1980s alone (Khan 1988; Kuan
and substantial change (e.g., Yaakub et al. 2013; Lai et al. 1988). This vision was implemented through top-down con-
2015). As a land-challenged, small island nation, Singapore trol on land use planning, such as the establishment of the
has conducted extensive land reclamation around its coastline, cross-government Garden City Action Committee, which co-
especially in the post-Independence period in order to accom- ordinated planning responses across multiple government
modate increasing populations and industrial development, agencies with a mandate for urban development (Ooi 1992).
such that Singapores land area has increased by 33.5 % be- Top-down control was also implemented through legislation,
tween 1957 and 2007 (De Koninck et al. 2008). This has for example the 1975 Parks and Trees Act required large con-
required the direct conversion of intertidal and subtidal habi- crete urban areas to be comprised of 3040 % green areas (Ooi
tats, causing a reduction in intertidal mangrove area from 1992). The Singapore Governments integrated and cross-
63 km2 in 1953 (Hilton and Manning 1995) to 6.59 km2 in government green space planning philosophy led to a marked
2007 (Yee et al. 2010). Reclamation has continued up until the increase in publicly accessible green spaces since
present day, reducing coral reef extent by 44 % between 1993 Independence (Table 1), and the Garden City continues to play
and 2011 (Lai et al. 2015). a key role in shaping national identity in contemporary
Singapore (Henderson 2013).
Planning philosophies such as the Garden City attempt to
Urban planning of the BGarden City^ resolve urban-environmental conflicts under the emerging
paradigm of reconciliation ecology, where biodiversity is con-
While Singapore is considered 100 % urban (UN DESA served in highly altered anthropogenic habitats (Lundholm
2015) and only ~1.5 % of Singapores natural ecosystems and Richardson 2010). Importantly, urban ecosystem services
remain, approximately 61 % of Singapores current (2007) were implicitly at the heart of Singapores green space urban
land area is vegetated in some form (Yee et al. 2011). The planning in the period after Independence, even if the
provision of managed green spaces (e.g., parks, street trees)
within the dense urban matrix has been an intrinsic feature of
the planning and development of post-Independence 1
While originally named the BGarden City^ vision, government agencies
Singapore (Ooi 1992). Most notably, a focus on green space now refer to this as the BCity in a Garden^.
280 Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20:277291

1. Pre-Independence (from the time of the British colonial

government in 1819 to Independence from Malaysia in
2. Post-Independence (1965 to 2000, covering the launch
and development of the Garden City vision)
3. Contemporary (2000 to 2016. While this also encom-
passes the Post-Independence period, the last 16 years
of research are differentiated to highlight recent develop-
ments in ecosystem services research and
4. Future (2017 to 2061, encompassing the longest time
scale of Singapore government planning documents).
Fig. 3 A government Minister officiates at a tree planting event for the
Garden City development vision, March 1964. Source: Ministry of
Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of
Provisioning ecosystem services
ecosystem services concept was not yet formally articulated.
One of the key drivers for the Garden City vision was to Freshwater provision
increase the provision of cultural (e.g., recreational,
wellbeing), watershed protection and microclimate regulation Freshwater provision is important in Singapore due to varying
ecosystem services (Ooi 1992). These ecosystem services in- patterns of extremes in rainfall (Ziegler et al. 2014; Chow et al.
crease the liveability of rapidly urbanizing cities (Henderson 2016a) linked to regional scale climatic drivers such as the
2013; MND 2013) by increasing thermal comfort, securing Southeast Asian monsoons and El Nio-Southern
water supplies and providing opportunities for health and Oscillation; extremes that have been measured regularly in
recreation. Singapore since the mid 1800s (e.g., Wheatley 1885). Water
scarcity in Singapore and the wider region is correlated to such
climatic events; rainfall in Singapore was more than 50 %
lower than the long-term average during the 1998 El Nio
Urban ecosystem services research and usage event (NEA 2016), and Singapore experienced a 2 month me-
in Singapore teorological drought in early 2014 that caused major water
rationing and a State of Emergency in nearby countries such
While multiple definitions of Becosystem services^ exist, the as Malaysia and Thailand (Ziegler et al. 2014). Extreme low
framework posited by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment rainfall patterns continued in early 2016, with a strengthening
(MEA 2005) is most commonly used (Fisher et al. 2009). The El Nio causing Singapores driest March since records began
MEA categorized ecosystem services into the various roles (Straits Times 2016). Thus, Singapore is ranked as one of the
they provide to human populations, broadly defined as provi- most water stressed countries in the world due to its exposure
sioning services (products obtained from the ecosystem), to large-scale climate phenomena, a relative lack of natural
supporting services (ecosystem services that support the pro-
duction of other ecosystem services), regulating services (ben- Table 1 Singapores increasing Park Provision Ratio (area of parks per
efits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes) and 1000 people) between 1955 and 2012
cultural services (non-material benefits people obtain from Year Park Provision Reference
ecosystems) (MEA 2005). Research in Singapore has contrib- Ratio (%)
uted to our understanding of a range of ecosystem services
deemed important in the urban context (sensu Bolund and 1955 0.14 Ooi 1992
Hunhammar 1999; Gmez-Baggethun et al. 2013), particular- 1967 0.36 Calculated from Yuen et al. 1999
ly cultural ecosystem services (CES), various regulating eco- 1982 0.65 Calculated from Yuen et al. 1999
system services, and to a lesser extent provisioning services. 1990 0.63 Calculated from Yuen et al. 1999
The following Sections describe and analyse the various 2010 0.75 Tan et al. 2013a, b
ecosystem services that have been researched, quantified or 2011 0.73 MND 2014
utilized in Singapore (SOI Table 1). Because of the long time 2012 0.74 MND 2014
period over which ecosystem services have been utilized in Govt target 0.80 Tan et al. 2013a, b
Singapore, they are discussed over 4 distinct time periods:
Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20:277291 281

water resources and a continually increasing demand, as Food and raw material provision
Singapores population and economy continue to grow into
the future (WRI 2015). While initially surprising for what is considered a highly
Modern Singapore was founded in 1819 due to its urbanised and industrialised City State, Singapore was heavily
strategic location for shipping during the British colonial reliant on provisioning ecosystem services for food and raw
period (pre-Independence period), which in part relied on materials during the pre-Independence period, though the use
freshwater resources close to the southern coast that of these services declined substantially during the post-
allowed the rapid resupply of fresh water supplies for Independence and contemporary periods.
passing maritime traffic. However, Singapores limited Natural ecosystems were utililzed heavily in the pre-
freshwater supplies were quickly over-exploited by ship- Independence period for the extraction of provisioning ser-
ping and a rapidly increasing population, leading to the vices (e.g., timber; poaching of plants and animals for food).
impoundment of Singapores first reservoirs, such as the However, the extraction of these services on public lands by
Thomson (later renamed Macritchie) reservoir in the the local population is prohibited in contemporary Singapore
1860s. Freshwater in contemporary Singapore is now pro- by legislation such as the 2005 Parks and Trees Act.
vided by 17 reservoirs, with the majority developed in the Food provided by agriculture relies on a range of
1970s during the post-Independence period (Ziegler et al. supporting and regulating ecosystem services from natural
2014). Reservoirs were most commonly created by dam- ecosystems, such as pollination, pest control and nutrient cy-
ming small estuaries and converting them from brackish cling, though agricultural areas can also be considered ecosys-
to fresh water, leading to the substantial loss of intertidal tems in their own right (Power 2010) that produce provision-
mangrove habitats across Singapore (Friess et al. 2012). ing services related to food. Agriculture covered more than
Reservoirs now cover 3700 ha of Singapores land area 50 % of Singapores land areas by the late 1930s, though
(MND 2013). agriculture during the pre-Independence period was primarily
Currently, Singapores local reservoirs are unable to pro- cash crops for export, such as rubber, coconut, pineapple and
vide enough freshwater to satisfy local demand, so contempo- gambier (Dobby 1940; Fig. 4). Thus this may not be consid-
rary Singapore pursues a 4 national tap strategy, where local ered as a locally utilized provisioning ecosystem service.
reservoirs are supplemented by water imported from reser- Agriculture for local consumption covered a relatively small
voirs in neighbouring Malaysia, as well as desalinisation and area due to poor soil fertility for repeated cropping, though
water reclamation locally (Tortajada 2006). Water agreements increased post-Independence, so by the 1970s approximately
with Malaysia expire in 2061, so plans have been created to 50 % of vegetables consumed in Singapore were grown local-
secure freshwater provision in the future with the creation of ly (Hill 1980). However, agriculture increasingly declined
new reservoirs, such as the proposed Southern Reservoir close throughout the post-Independence Period as land prices for
to the Central Business District along the south coast of the urban development outcompeted profits from agricultural pro-
main island (URA 2014). duction (Hill 1980), though its contribution to the economy,

Fig. 4 Examples of provisioning

ecosystem services used in
Singapore. Logs from trees
harvested in Singapore outside a
sawmill, 1954 (a); a postcard
showing pineapples harvested in
Singapore, early 1900s (b);
preparing land for cultivation,
early 1960s (c); fishing off the
coast of Singapore, early 1960s
(d). Sources: Ministry of
Information and the Arts
Collection, courtesy of National
Archives of Singapore (a),
Courtesy of National Archives
of Singapore (b), Primary
Production Department
Collection, courtesy of National
Archives of Singapore (c, d)
282 Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20:277291

organized and directed by the governments Primary catchment nature reserve in the 1860s. This was a new land
Production Department, was still considered important use designation at the time, showing that the colonial govern-
(Khan 1988). Now, only 661 ha (~0.9 % of contemporary ment recognized the importance of tropical forests in provid-
Singapores land area) is used for agricultural purposes, and ing watershed protection services (Webb 1998; ODempsey
only 7 % of vegetables are now produced locally (AVA 2015). 2014). Links between reservoirs and surrounding forests
Singapores coastal zone provides multiple fish and shell- meant that the Thomson reservoir at that time was seen as an
fish provisioning services, though their contribution to local environmental Bblessing and a curse^ (ODempsey 2014);
food security has been substantially smaller than agriculture. while the reservoir flooded an area of agricultural land, sec-
Nearshore fishing for subsistence use was an important provi- ondary forest and freshwater peat swamp, it also led to the
sioning service of coastal and marine ecosystems during the legal protection of surrounding secondary forests for their
pre-Independence period (Gibson-Hill 1950) and became in- ecosystem service value, and restricted their future degrada-
creasingly industrialized during the early post-Independence tion and loss. Importantly, this protected area (now known as
period before declining in importance more recently. In the the Central Catchment Nature Reserve) remains to this day,
1970s, fishing by Singapore trawlers (both inside and outside encompassing 2889 ha of predominantly secondary forest,
Singapores territorial waters) provided approximately 50 % surrounded by urban development. This forest continues to
of the countrys requirements (Hill 1980), though this is esti- provide important watershed protection services in contempo-
mated to be less than 6 % today (AVA 2015). rary Singapore, capturing runoff and buffering the (now four)
Singapores coastal and marine ecosystems also contribute reservoirs in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve from the
to aquaculture production. While wild fishing has declined urban impacts of water pollution and sedimentation.
over time, aquacultural production has increased, especially While research on watershed ecosystem services generally
after encouragement by the government through national focus on vegetated ecosystems, as in this review, the urban
planning and the establishment of research and training facil- ecosystem itself provides watershed ecosystem services in
ities during the post-Independence period (FAO 1976). Singapore (sensu Wong and Brown 2009), by collecting wa-
Aquaculture continued to increase between the post- ter. One of Singapores most recent reservoirs the Marina
Independence and contemporary periods from 84 facilities reservoir constructed in 2009 is supplied by a 100 % urban
covering 46.5 ha of land and sea space in 1995 (Chou and catchment, covering almost one-sixth of Singapores land ar-
Lee 1997), to 117 farms covering 103 ha in 2015 (AVA 2015). ea. However, urban areas are less able to provide watershed
These farms provided only 3 % of total local fish consumption protection services such as the reduction of sedimentation and
in 1995 (Chou and Lee 1997) and less than 6 % today (AVA associated pollutants into the Marina reservoir (Nguyen et al.
2015). Government policies require an increase in aquaculture 2012), so vegetation has been incorporated into the urban
to satisfy 15 % of local demand in the future (AVA 2014). fabric to enhance this regulating service. For example, tree
However, Singapore has limited sea space to increase aqua- planting events in the 1960s to promote the Garden City vi-
cultural production further, due to extensive coastal reclama- sion were accompanied by educational posters describing the
tion, space conflicts with shipping and specific hydrodynamic, important watershed protection services provided by urban
water depth, water turbidity and salinity requirements for vegetation (Fig. 5). The role of urban vegetation in watershed
aquaculture facilities (Chou and Lee 1997).

Regulating ecosystem services

Watershed protection

Freshwater provisioning services in Singapore (described

above) are protected through the promotion of associated reg-
ulating ecosystem services relating to the protection of the
surrounding catchment area, or watershed. Most commonly,
watersheds have been protected by forest buffers around res-
ervoirs, recognizing the role of vegetated areas in controlling
runoff and reducing the passage of sediment and pollutants
into waterbodies (Brauman et al. 2007). Watershed protection Fig. 5 Watershed protection was a justification for tree planting during
the formation of the Garden City vision. The sign in the background is
services have been utilized in land use planning in Singapore translated as BReplanting trees protects the water and brings the rain,
since the pre-Independence period, with the designation of prevent droughts^. Source: Ministry of Information and the Arts
forests around the Thomson Reservoir as a municipal Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore
Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20:277291 283

protection is incorporated into national law today; the 2001 2003; Wong and Jusof 2010). The urban landscape itself pro-
Sewerage and Drainage Act requires a minimum percentage vides challenges to maximising climate regulation ecosystem
of permeable (vegetated) surface for new developments, as service provision, and building design must be optimized in
well as measures by developers to reduce sediment erosion order to create the optimal biophysical conditions for urban
and peak runoff from their sites (PUB 2014). green space options to survive and continue to provide eco-
system services at required levels (e.g., Tan and Ismail 2015).
Climate regulation
Carbon sequestration and storage
Singapore exhibits a profound Urban Heat Island (UHI) ef-
fect, with urban temperatures substantially higher (>3.5 C) Atmospheric carbon dioxide sequestration and storage in bio-
than surrounding green spaces (Roth and Chow 2012) due to mass and soils are key ecosystem services provided by vege-
changes in albedo and thermal bulk properties as surfaces tated ecosystems (though biomass and soil can also be a
transition from rural to urban materials. There is a distinct source of carbon over shorter timescales, as shown by
seasonal variation in Singapores UHI, with a greater urban- Velasco et al. (2013) in a study of urban street trees in
rural temperature difference during the drier southwest mon- Singapore). The role of vegetation in mitigating carbon diox-
soon period (Chow and Roth 2006). ide emissions is especially important in urban ecosystems
Green spaces play an important role in regulating urban (Nowak and Crane 2002), which are responsible for the ma-
temperatures and reducing UHI through albedo and evapo- jority of climate change emissions globally (Grimm et al.
transpiration (e.g., Taha 1997); a role that was identified in 2008). Emissions are important in the Singapore context, with
pre-Independence Singapore since at least 1848 (Webb 1998). annual per capita emissions more than double the average for
The engineer J.F.A. Nair noted in 1879 that Ba reserve is kept the rest of Asia due to Singapores level of development and
round the principal hill [of Bukit Timah] for climatic urbanized environment (Velasco and Roth 2012).
purposes^ (Corlett 1995). Singapore has since grown to be a Due to the reporting requirements for the United Nations
hub for urban climatology research; UHI studies have been Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), car-
conducted in Singapore since at least 1964, when university bon services are high on the Singapore government agenda,
students measured ambient air temperature in several urban with a national-scale vegetation carbon accounting project cur-
and rural locations (Nieuwolt 1966), measuring a UHI mag- rently implemented (Straits Times 2013). Nationwide, coarse
nitude of 1.53 C. Importantly, this Singapore-based study estimates suggest that Singapore has a vegetated carbon density
was the first to be published in English for a tropical city, and of approximately 60 Mg C ha1 (Friess et al. 2016), which is
formed the basis of further studies in tropical Southeast Asia, substantially higher than the mean value of 100 cities across the
such as Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) (Roth and Chow 2012). globe (both tropical and temperate) assessed by Dobbs et al.
Since this study, at least twelves others investigating (2014). This is due to three factors. Firstly, Singapores urban
Singapores UHI have been published (summarized by Roth development strategy and its awareness of urban ecosystem
and Chow 2012), greatly contributing to our understanding of services has encouraged large areas of vegetated habitat to be
surface and canopy-level UHI in tropical cities. These studies conserved or integrated into urban construction. Secondly,
highlighted the importance of green space provision, showing Singapores tropical location incorporates ecosystems that can
that temperatures recorded within green spaces were consis- store higher carbon densities than their temperate equivalents.
tently lower than urban temperatures. Some studies also Thirdly, affluent cities such as Singapore are associated with
showed the differential contribution of climate regulation eco- greater demand for green space (sensu Dobbs et al. 2014), with
system services between different types of green space, with greater potential for vegetated carbon storage.
thermal spectral satellite analysis showing a reduced cooling When estimated across different vegetation types, a large
function of golf courses and defence installations compared to proportion of Singapores carbon stock is held in secondary
natural secondary rainforest (Nichols 1993). rainforest, due to the large area they cover (Table 2).
Roth and Chow (2012) describe the rapid expansion of Secondary rainforest in Singapore contains an average of
research in Singapore investigating UHI mitigation and adap- 274 Mg C ha1, with 52 % of this carbon stock found in the
tation options. These include climate-sensitive planning, and first 3 m of the soil column (Ngo et al. 2013). Relatively
the creation of eco-towns and eco-precincts that incorporate undisturbed primary rainforest in Singapore contained a
technologies and planning options to reduce UHI intensities. higher carbon density (an average of 337 Mg C ha1) due to
Many of these options incorporate climate regulation ecosys- larger trees (Ngo et al. 2013), though cover less than 0.003 %
tem services of vegetation into building and landscape design. of the area covered by secondary rainforest across the city.
Studies in Singapore have shown that options such as green Our knowledge of carbon storage in other ecosystems e.g.,
roof provision can reduce micro-scale air temperatures and coastal mangrove forests is also increasing. Estimates for sin-
reduce heat transfer through rooftops (Wong et al. 2002, gle sites have been conducted similar to Ngo et al. (2013) in
284 Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20:277291

Table 2 Estimated distribution of vegetated carbon stocks in Singapore across vegetated habitats with available data

Habitat Carbon stock Area (ha) National carbon % of vegetated Reference

(Mg C ha1) stock (Mg C) carbon assessed

Secondary forest 274.2 15,283 4,190,560 87.2 Ngo et al. 2013; Yee et al. 2011
Mangrove forest 469.3 960 450,572 9.4 Friess et al. 2016
Roadside trees Unknown Unknown 83,540 1.7 Tan et al. 2009
Primary forest 336.7 118.3 39,832 0.8 Ngo et al. 2013; Yee et al. 2011
Seagrass 138 201 27,738 0.6 Yaakub et al. 2014; Phang et al. 2015
Parkland trees Unknown Unknown 13,850 0.3 Tan et al. 2009

See also Friess et al. 2016

mangrove forests, seagrass, and ephemerally vegetated mud- Board by marketing CES in a bid to attract more overseas
flats and sandbars. Mangroves were estimated to contain an visitors (Fig. 6). More recently, Singapores large parks have
average of 497 Mg C ha1 (Phang et al. 2015) to a soil depth of been linked by linear park connectors (that run alongside
1 m, which is 181 % greater than the average estimated for the drainage canals), which are used frequently by a large propor-
secondary forest site (to a soil depth of 3 m) in Singapore. tion of local (especially older) residents, allowing regular con-
Mangroves hold significantly higher carbon densities compared tact with nature (Yuen et al. 1999). Thus, Singapore has incor-
to terrestrial forests as their anoxic soils accumulate organic porated many of the landscape ecology features promoted by
peat deposits from leaf litter and detritus (Donato et al. 2011). Jim (2013) to optimize green space geometry and connectiv-
Uniquely in Singapore compared to other vegetation types, ity, such as making use of linear features to create park con-
mangrove carbon has also been mapped at the national scale nectors that link up other green spaces. However, some have
using remote sensing. Using this approach, it was estimated
that Singapores 960 ha of mangroves contain approximately
450 000 tonnes of carbon, equivalent to the annual emissions
of more than 620 000 residents (Friess et al. 2016). Upscaling
using remote sensing (as opposed to upscaling per hectare
averages by total area) is important for disturbed vegetated
habitats that predominate Singapore, because above-ground
mangrove biomass in this study showed substantial spatial
variation in carbon density.

Cultural ecosystem services

Green spaces provide important CES to urban populations,

ranging from tangible services such as education, recreation
and tourism, to intangible services such as spiritual and reli-
gious values, aesthetics and values relating to a sense of
place (Gomez-Baggethun et al. 2013). CES have arguably
had the strongest influence on Singapores urban development
relative to other urban ecosystem services. CES were implicit
in the urban planning of pre-Independence Singapore, with
parks and open spaces created in the early 1920s to act as
the Bbreathing lungs^ of an increasing urban Singapore and
to provide respite to the densely populated urban population
(Kong and Yeoh 1996). Similarly, the provision of CES was a
cornerstone of the national Garden City campaign after
Independence, in part driven by a desire to increase urban
liveability and the health and wellbeing of residents (Lim Fig. 6 A travel poster uses the Garden City concept for tourism branding,
1976; Henderson 2013). The Garden City concept has even 2004. Source: Singapore Tourism Board Collection, courtesy of National
been used for tourism branding by the Singapore Tourism Archives of Singapore
Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20:277291 285

questioned the link between green space access and perceived The future for Singapores urban ecosystem services
wellbeing in Singapore, due to low thermal comfort in
Singapores parks due to high temperatures and humidity Continued urban development in Singapore
(Saw et al. 2015; Chow et al. 2016b).
While the focus of urban planning in the post- Singapores rapid urban development is expected to continue
Independence period was on the incorporation of CES into the future, with the population expected to increase from
into terrestrial planning (primarily through the provision 5.54 million today to a maximum potential of 6.9 million by
of terrestrial urban parks), coastal ecosystems also have 2030 (NPTD 2013). Several challenges exist to planning for a
huge potential to provide CES to urban populations in rapidly increasing population in the future, relating to land
Singapore. Coastal habitats such as beaches provide im- shortfalls and land use conflicts (Huang 2001). To address
portant services such as recreation to local and interna- these issues, future urban development is outlined through a
tional visitors, while other habitats such as mangrove for- robust urban planning framework. Strategic Concept Plans are
ests hold important spiritual and religious value, especial- created every 10 years and have a 4050 year planning time
ly for communities that used to live in villages horizon, and are implemented through statutory Master Plans
(kampongs) within the mangrove (Friess et al. 2012; that have a 1015 year time horizon and are updated every
Thiagarajah et al. 2015). Analysis of social media photo- 5 years (Meng et al. 2015). Such plans have been enacted
graphs shows that these coastal parks are used for multi- since 1958, originally to improve poor urban conditions in
ple different CES, including recreation and landscape ap- the post-war period (Huang 2001), and currently zones poten-
preciation within the same space (Richards and Friess tial land uses up to the year 2030. These plans may require
2015). Access to coastal ecosystems through waterfront additional land reclamation of 5600 ha (MND 2013) an
parks is planned to increase further by the year 2030, in increase of 7.9 % over Singapores current land area.
part because of the different CES they deliver compared Reclamation plans bring important economic benefits, but
to terrestrial parks (MND 2013). would be expected to have impacts on ecosystem service pro-
As with many rapidly urbanising locations, authors vision, especially in coastal ecosystems (Li et al. 2010; Lai
have noted a change in the type of CES valued by the et al. 2015).
local population over time as urbanization took place dur-
ing the Post-Independence Period (Thiagarajah et al. Incorporating urban ecosystem services into future
2015). Older residents in Singapore have expressed con- development planning
cern at the loss of their familiar cultural landscape and
childhood memories (summarized by Tan et al. 2016), Singapore continues to explicitly and implicitly institutional-
and younger populations perceive a different or reduced ize urban ecosystem services into land use planning through
value of CES provided by urban green spaces (Kong and several policy and planning mechanisms (Table 3). Most plans
Yeoh 1996). As populations have become increasingly explicitly focus on balancing economic growth and a high
disconnected from the surrounding natural environment, quality living environment, befitting a nation that is still ur-
a shift in perceived value has occurred. Through a survey banizing and expanding. The more recent plans explicitly de-
of newspaper archives, historical photographic sources scribe the role of urban ecosystem services in Singapore, and
and present day interview and questionnaires, some outline specific targets to increase urban ecosystem ser-
Thiagarajah et al. (2015) showed that mangrove forests vice provision. For example, the 2013 Land Use Plan calls for
are valued differently for their CES in the contemporary more green roof technologies and green space provision to
period compared to the 1970s80s (post-Independence reduce UHI (MND 2013). Similarly, the Singapore
period). Historically, mangroves were valued for their in- Sustainable Blueprint 2015 outlines a (presumably non-
tangible CES, such as sense of place, cultural heritage statutory) required increase in skyrise greenery from 61 ha
and other intrinsic attributes of liveability, as a large in 2013 to 200 ha by 2030 in order to specifically produce
group of people either lived in villages in or near the watershed and climate regulation ecosystem services (MEWR
mangrove, or had greater access to mangrove areas. 2015). The Singapore Sustainable Blueprint 2015 also pro-
However, contemporary Singaporeans have much more motes cultural ecosystem services by requiring an increase
restricted access to mangrove forests and now favour tan- in park provision ratio to 0.8 ha per 1000 people by 2030,
gible CES more strongly, especially those related to clear- and an increase in linear nature ways from 21 to 180 km
ly defined recreational, educational and tourism activities over the same time period (MEWR 2015).
that occur in clearly defined mangrove spaces Building upon the current incorporation of green spaces
(Thiagarajah et al. 2015). Such shifts in perception have into several planning frameworks across government, urban
implications for the types of CES that todays decision ecosystem services can be an important communication tool
makers may value over others. to highlight the role and value of ecosystems to other decision

Table 3 Recent national level planning documents and legislation that implicitly or explicitly target the promotion of urban ecosystem services

Plan Year Description Lead Agency Target ecosystem Time horizon Reference

Concept Plan 2001 Strategic land use and transport plan to ensure Urban Redevelopment Authority - Green space provision 20412051 URA 2001
sufficient land for economic growth and (implicit ecosystem services)
population increase while providing a good - Cultural
quality living environment
Singapore Green Plan 2002 Plan to respond to challenges of sustaining Ministry of Environment - Green space provision 2012 MEWR 2002
a quality environment while pursuing economic progress and Water Resources (implicit ecosystem services)
Parks and Trees Act 2005 Planting, maintenance and conservation of trees and National Parks Board - Green space provision unknown AGC 2016
plants within national parks, nature reserves, tree (implicit ecosystem services)
conservation areas, heritage road green buffers and - Cultural
other specified areas
National Climate Change Strategy 2012 Plan to create a climate for sustainable growth and securing National Climate Change Secretariat - Coastal protection unknown NCCS 2012
a liveable environment for the future - Microclimate regulation
Land Use Plan 2013 Plan to support a larger population while preserving a high Ministry of National Development - Green space provision 2030 MND 2013
quality living environment. (implicit ecosystem services)
- Cultural
- Microclimate regulation
Master Plan 2014 Comprehensive and integrated planning approach that ensures Urban Redevelopment Authority - Green space provision 20242029 URA 2014
social and economic needs are met, while maintaining (implicit ecosystem services)
a liveable and sustainable environment - Cultural
Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 Outlines national vision and plans for a more liveable and Ministry of Environment - Cultural 2030 MEWR 2015
sustainable Singapore, to support the diverse needs and and Water Resources - Hydrological
growing aspirations of Singaporeans - Microclimate regulation
Our Water, Our Future 2015 Water strategies and Plans to expand capacities in water Public Utilities Board - Cultural 2061 PUB 2015
supply, used water management and drainage against - Hydrological
the challenges of urbanisation, climate change and
rising cost of energy
Parks and Waterbodies Plan ongoing Classifying types and spatial distribution of publicly accessible Urban Redevelopment Authority - Green space provision Unknown URA 2015
green spaces in Singapore (implicit ecosystem services)
- Cultural
Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20:277291
Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20:277291 287

makers. A vast literature exists on the relationships between technology, as a forum to exchange knowledge and technolo-
ecosystem services and decision making, though several is- gies in the Asian region.
sues have been highlighted that impede the stronger incorpo- At larger scales, Singapores technologies and experiences
ration of ecosystem services into decision making. These in- are exported through government-level urban planning collab-
clude a lack of detailed information of ecosystem services at orations with international partners. China is seeking to be-
scales relevant to decision makers (Turner and Daily 2008); a come a world leader in ecologically-sound urbanization, and
particular problem for Singapore due to its small size and has established over 100 Eco-Cities to promote growth in
heterogeneous land cover. different regions of the country, and to develop technologies
Models of ecosystem service provision and tradeoffs with and planning methodologies that reduce pollution, though
development are useful communication and decision-making these initiatives have been criticized for representing a tech-
tools, allowing decision makers to test development scenarios nological fix to much larger societal problems (Caprotti 2014).
and understand their impacts on ecosystem service provision Launched in 2007, the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City was
at multiple scales. Ecosystem service provision models do not seen as a platform for collaboration in environment protection,
publicly exist for the whole of Singapore, though several po- resource management and energy conservation (NEA 2014).
tential tools are available to produce such models. One of the In particular, the project was driven by Chinas desire to utilize
more commonly used tools is Integrated Valuation of Singapores extensive experience in urban and resource plan-
Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST); a scenario- ning that incorporated elements such as urban ecosystem ser-
based ecosystem service assessment tool designed to identify vices to create more sustainable cities (World Bank 2009;
key management decisions and alternative strategies, and to Peng and Zhang 2012; Chang et al. 2016). Tianjin was chosen
project ecosystem services in response to such decisions as a site in part because of its need for urban ecosystem ser-
(Daily et al. 2009). InVEST has been used by governmental vices, particularly the reduction of urban pollution and the
decision makers in the US (Hawaii, Massachusetts, need to secure presently unstable water supplies (Chang
Minnesota), India, Barbados and others for uses as varied as et al. 2016). The Tianjin Eco-City is an example of
coastal zone management and forestry management (Natural Singapore exporting its knowledge and experiences in urban
Capital Project n.d.), and could be applied to Singapore as this ecosystems services in order to help other cities mitigate or
review has highlighted that a wealth of nationally-specific adapt to these highlighted urban challenges.
data on various ecosystem services already exists. Future stud-
ies need to be useful to active decision making, and their focus A Singapore framework for ranking urban ecosystem
and scale determined in collaboration with the users of such services provision
information. In particular, future studies should be conducted
in such a way that spatial information can be easily incorpo- Ecosystem services have had an implicit influence on urban
rated into larger scale modelling frameworks for use by deci- planning in Singapore for decades through the Garden City
sion makers. philosophy. However, as a City State that continues to expe-
rience development pressures on its environment, Singapore
has begun leading the development of new objective frame-
works that explicitly incorporate ecosystem services into ur-
Exporting Singapores urban ecosystem services ban decision making. Under the auspices of the Convention
knowledge to other cities on Biological Diversity (CBD), the City Biodiversity Index
(CBI) is a new framework now being trialed that evaluates
Exporting urban ecosystem service knowledge urban biodiversity, ecosystem services and conservation ef-
forts through 23 quantitative and qualitative measures of bio-
Urban ecosystem services and urban ecology is increasingly diversity, green space and governance (CBD 2012). Four of
an important contributor to Singapores economy, both at these indicators focus explicitly on ecosystem services
home and overseas. At small scales, companies are now de- (Fig. 7). These indicators, relating to water quantity regulation
signing and exporting technologies that exploit ecosystem (estimated by proportion of permeable surfaces), carbon stor-
services, such as rooftop and vertical greenery. The age and microclimate regulation (estimated by proportion of
Singapore government has established resource centres such tree canopy cover), and cultural ecosystem services (estimated
as the Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology (a joint devel- by proportion of parks and number of education visits), are
opment established in 2007 between the National Parks Board arguably the more important in the urban context, and are
and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency) to devel- broadly reflective of those discussed above.
op and support this industry further. Singapore now hosts the To ecosystem services researchers, the broad metrics used
annual Green Urbanscape Asia international exhibition and to quantify the CBI indicators may seem overly simplistic.
conference on landscape, leisure, construction and Vegetated carbon storage, for example is spatially
288 Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20:277291

Fig. 7 Examples of ecosystem

service indicators that have been
incorporated into the Singapore
City Biodiversity Index

heterogeneous (Friess et al. 2016), so will not be adequately guided national development for over 150 years. Singapore
encompassed by a simple metric such as percentage tree can- gives us a long temporal scale with which to assess how de-
opy cover averaged across an entire city. Similarly, the recre- cision makers have valued and incorporated key urban eco-
ational value of green spaces may not be adequately measured system services, especially cultural, watershed, climate regu-
through proxies such as proportion of parks per 1000 people, lation and carbon ecosystem services into urban development
because different types of parks provide different CES for and planning, and allows us to chart the understanding of such
different members of the community. Similarly, problems ecosystem services over 4 distinct time periods (pre-
were encountered when applying ecological parameters to Independence, post-Independence, contemporary and future
ecosystem service indicators in the CBI, as ecosystem service Singapore) and the role of national policy interventions such
indicators require socio-economic data to better estimate their as the Garden City vision in shaping and promoting ecosystem
benefits to human populations (Kohsaka et al. 2013). service use.
However the simplicity of the CBI indicators and their ease A long-term view allows us to see that Singapore has val-
of data collection allows the CBI to be more readily applied by ued a range of ecosystem services since at least 1819, starting
planners and decision makers, and complexity or more rigor- with the local extraction of provisioning services relating to
ous data can be added to each indicator if it is available for a freshwater, timber and food, similar to many small settlements
particular city. For example, Lisbon (Portugal) added data in Southeast Asia at that time. However, it seems that ecosys-
on carbon sequestration to their calculation of urban car- tem services were implicitly incorporated into the urban plan-
bon storage (Kohsaka et al. 2013). Emerging and novel ning of pre-Independence Singapore since at least the 1860s
ecosystem service quantification techniques, such as the (for example for watershed protection), even if the concept of
use of social media photographs to quantify cultural eco- ecosystem services, and the physical and ecological processes
system services (Richards and Friess 2015; Tenerelli et al. contributing to them, were relatively unknown by decision
2016) may also be useful tools to add city-specific indi- makers. Ecosystem services relating to liveability (especially
cators to the CBI. The simplicity and flexibility of the microclimate regulation and cultural ecosystem services)
CBI has seen its use trialed globally. Most recently, the seem to have gained much more prominence in the post-
CBI has been applied to 79 cities in Japan, allowing the Independence period through the Garden City vision as
first national upscaling of the city-based CBI (Uchiyama Singapore continued to urbanize rapidly, which have contrib-
et al. 2015). The expanded use of the CBI in different uted to the BClean and Green^ image that Singapore is
environments will allow it to be used for comparisons portrayed for today. The further incorporation of ecosystem
between cities, as well as assessing single city urban bio- services into urban planning and the mindsets of decision
diversity and ecosystem service potential. makers will be increasingly important in the future as
Singapore continues to develop, and urban-green space con-
flicts continue.
Conclusions The rapid development and environmental loss experi-
enced in Singapore is emblematic of developments in the
With the rapid recent rise in contemporary paradigms such as broader Southeast Asian region (Brook et al. 2003), with a
urban ecology and urban ecosystem services, it is important to number of tropical Southeast Asian cities experiencing rapid
reflect upon and highlight their historical foundations. rates of land cover change (e.g., Estoque and Murayama 2013,
Singapore gives us such an opportunity, where urban ecosys- 2015). Case study cities such as Singapore, where tropical
tem services such as watershed protection have implicitly ecosystem services research has been concentrated, can act
Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20:277291 289

as living laboratories, with experience and technologies now Daily GC, Polasky S, Goldstein J, Kareiva PM, Mooney HA, Pejchar L,
Ricketts TH, Salzman J, Shallenberger R (2009) Ecosystem services
being disseminated to other cities across the tropics that are
in decision making: time to deliver. Front Ecol Environ 7:2128
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Acknowledgments This study was supported by the Ministry of Estoque RC, Murayama Y (2013) Landscape pattern and ecosystem ser-
Education (R-109-000-166-112). Thank you to the National Parks vice value changes: implications for environmental sustainability
Board for their continued support for urban ecosystem services research. planning for the rapidly urbanizing summer capital of the
Thank you to the National Archives of Singapore, the Ministry of Philippines. Landsc Urban Plan 116:6072
Information and the Arts, Primary Production Department (now the Estoque RC, Murayama Y (2014) Measuring sustainability based upon
Agri-food & Veterinary Authority) and the Singapore Tourism Board various perspectives: a case study of a hill station in Southeast Asia.
for permission to reproduce their photographs. Thank you to Winston Ambio 43:943956
Chow (National University of Singapore) for assisting with the translation Estoque RC, Murayama Y (2015) Intensity and spatial pattern of urban
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