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Nurturing gardens with g-tech

The green cover is not only the ‘X factor’ that has contributed to the distinctiveness and competitive advantage of the “City in the Garden” Singapore but will have a major impact on its future economic development and growth. Tan Chin Peng discusses how geospatial technology is playing a significant role in managing this green cover

Tan Chin Peng
Tan Chin Peng
Section Head /GIS – Streetscape
National Parks Board

The green cover is not only the ‘X factor’ that has contributed to the distinctiveness and competitive advantage of the “City in the Garden” Singapore but will have a major impact on its future economic development and growth. Tan Chin Peng discusses how geospatial technology is playing a significant role in managing this green cover

Can you brief us about the activities of National Parks Board?
National Parks Board (NParks) is responsible for providing and enhancing the greenery of the City in the Garden, as Singapore is popularly known. Beyond green infrastructure, NParks is committed to enhancing the quality of life through creating memorable recreational experiences and lifestyles.

NParks manages over 300 parks and 4 nature reserves. Adding to this is the extensive streetscape, or roadside greenery, that forms the backbone of Singapore. An island-wide Park Connector Network is also being developed to link major parks and residential areas. As Singapore’s scientific authority on nature conservation, NParks monitors and coordinates measures to ensure the health of Singapore’s biodiversity. This supports the overall thrust of our urban biodiversity conservation model, which aims to conserve representative eco-systems in land-scarce Singapore for future generations.

NParks is also the lead agency in the efforts to continually upgrade the landscape industry in Singapore. It works closely with industry partners to promote good work practices and create a thriving, innovative and professional industry that will support Singapore’s aspirations of being a City in the Garden.

Singapore places a lot of emphasis on its green cover. How significant are gardens for Singapore?
Singapore’s location on the Equator brings about a climate of perpetual summer and high rainfall, key factors that encourage plant growth. This is also a region rich in biodiversity. With the foresight of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, these advantages have been weaved together with the pursuit of economic success over the last four decades, into the “City in the Garden” that Singapore is renowned for today.

This identification as a “City in the Garden” in the tropics is the X factor that has contributed to Singapore’s distinctiveness and competitive advantage. It has set in place a vibrant and sustainable quality living environment and inculcated a sense of nationhood by creating opportunities and platforms for communities to come together to partake in this vision.

Between 2008 and 2010, the Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranked Singapore first among Asian cities in providing high quality of living. In June 2006, Newsweek published an article describing how Singapore’s greening efforts had given it an edge over other cities in attracting foreign talent and businesses. In addition, other periodicals such as Time, The Wall Street Journal Asia, as well as the San Francisco Chronicle also published reports commending Singapore’s relentless efforts in promoting greenery in a highly urbanised setting.

Singaporeans also recognise and appreciate the importance of greenery. URA’s Lifestyle Survey 2009 showed that 90.9% of the local population felt that pervasive greenery is a distinctive characteristic that contributes to Singapore’s identity. NParks’ Park Usage and Satisfaction Survey in 2010 indicated that more than 70% of Singaporeans felt that the City in the Garden enhances quality of life, improves Singapore’s global attractiveness and strengthens their identity as Singaporeans.

How is NParks incorporating geospatial technology in its various activities?
NParks currently uses a Web-based management system with centralised geo-database (powered by ArcSDE) and sequel server database, known as EVE. EVE integrates all operational geospatial data such as locations of trees (including inspection record), parks development site plan, parks facilities, biodiversity data, and conservation data etc. This geospatial data is then made available to all NParks staff to access in EVE by hosting in a centralised geo-database. EVE also provides a platform for mobile tree inspection. It enhances the capabilities of GIS data collection on trees data and allows for maintenance of more attributes. NParks field crew uses ruggedised UMPCs or more commonly referred to as dataloggers, equipped with ArcPad 8.0, Esri’s mobile software, to enable the logging of data related to the species, location and health assessment of each tree. Once data is entered and synchronised, it integrates with the geodatabase to generate a unique ID to each tree and stores it in the EVE geodatabase.

When did your organisation embark on geospatial tech?
NParks embarked on its first geospatial initiative in 1999, with Parks and Greenery Management Information System (PRIME). This included the conversion of certain non-spatial data to spatial data, for instance, mapping the geospatial position of trees and its related attributes, parks maintenance boundaries, facilities management within parks etc. PRIME is a client-based application.

In October 2009, we introduced the EVE Web-based management system. NParks undertook a business process re-engineering and made a strategic decision to integrate all geospatial data and to convert other non-spatial data (eg: contract management, development regulatory etc) into spatial data onto a centralised platform that is accessible to all NParks staff. As a result, a new Web-based management system with centralised geo-database and sequel server database, known as EVE was developed and implemented. EVE consolidated all the geospatial information from PRIME and other decentralised geo-database into a centralised geo-database.

Kindly highlight major geospatial projects being undertaken by NParks?
The major project we are currently undertaking is GIS-based tree management and trend analysis system for NParks and other agencies.

A GIS-based tree management and trend analysis system can facilitate long term policy formulation of tree management for inter-agencies. Analysing the tree failure data geospatially allows for better visualisation of failure trend. This translates into the identification of tree species which are storm vulnerable. Remedial actions such as an enhanced maintenance regime can then be better implemented to manage these trees. One major application will be the geospatial analysis of tree failure hotspots by collecting and organising historical data and potentially enabling predictive patterning of tree failure. This can then be correlated with climate changes and soil profiles for a clearer visualisation of the tree failure trends. The proposed GIS system can also serve as a necessary tool for crisis management (massive numbers of concurrent tree failure incidents in violent storms, similar to what occurred in July 2010) as it can provide real-time monitoring and updates of tree failures via GPRS. Crucial geospatial information such as location of reported tree failure incidences, nearest contractor crew for crisis deployment, constantly updated weather and traffic RSS feeds can be transmitted to the smart-phones and data-loggers of the field officers to allow them to attend to incidents in the shortest possible time. Similarly, field officers can transmit real-time information back to the crisis operation room to allow quick reporting to the agency’s management, parent ministries and media. Real-time information can also be transmitted to the relevant agency for eg: reporting traffic congestion to LTA/radio due to fallen trees to better manage divert traffic and manage the situation more effectively.

Another application will be spatial planning for tree management in relation to tree preservation. For example, determining the tree protection zone for a certain construction project through spatial query and buffering. The data can then be exported or generated as a report and submitted to planning agencies for clearance.

This system can also be used for resource planning. Identifying the age and size of trees geospatially enables the forecasting and planning for the necessary resources such as tree safety inspections by arborists and contractor’s maintenance crews etc required for a horticultural estate. In addition, this GIS system can also serve as a fleet management tool where the location of the nearest contractor maintenance crew can be tracked via GPS installed on the maintenance vehicle.

What is the status of this project?
The project is in pipe-line, scheduled to be implemented in 2013. It is in preparation stage and tender has not been called yet. The role of the successful bidder will include project management, requirement gathering, system and application design, application development, software and geo-database installation, configuration and deployment, UAT testing and training etc.

The project team will consist of eight GIS specialists (4 from vendors and 4 internally from NParks GIS Office). Three branches in NParks are actively involved in GIS. These are GIS Office, National Biodiversity Centre and Central Nature Reserve. We have a total of seven trained GIS specialists.

Do you face any challenges in project implementation?
The challenges we sometimes face in project implementation include ensuring that timely deliverables are achieved within stipulated projected schedule; managing change (expectations of users to new systems) and managing resource allocation.

Are there any recent initiatives towards developing new green areas in Singapore?
One of the significant investments is the construction of the world class garden – Gardens by the Bay which comprises of three distinctive waterfront gardens in the heart of Marina Bay that will define Singapore as the world’s premier tropical city in the garden.

Gardens by the Bay epitomises NParks’ vision of creating a ‘City in the Garden.’ Gardens by the Bay will capture the essence of Singapore as the premier tropical “City in the Garden” with the perfect environment in which to live, work and help make Singapore a leading global city of the 21st century. The Gardens will put in place a pervasive garden ambience and quality living environment from which Singapore’s downtown will rise and steer Singapore to the forefront of the world’s leading global cities. It will complement and complete the necklace of attractions that have been planned for around Marina Bay.

Through plant-based edutainment, horticultural displays, garden craftsmanship and floral artistry, Gardens by the Bay will bring out the garden in our City in the Gardens. It will boost Singapore’s global standing in tropical horticultural excellence, and enhance our distinctiveness as a Tropical Waterfront Garden City. Ultimately, Gardens by the Bay will help enrich the lifestyles and recreational activities of Singaporeans and tourists alike through high-end edutainment opportunities and a sustainable green infrastructure. This will have a major impact on Singapore’s future economic development and growth.

The 101-hectare Gardens by the Bay site is made up of Bay South, Bay East, and Bay Central across the mouth of the Singapore River. Phase 1 of the Gardens, comprising mostly of Bay South, is scheduled to officially open in June 2012.

How is geospatial technology contributing to better park management?
Geospatial technology provides better visualisation and management of parks facilities, areas of interest and nearby amenities. The availability of location-based applications including mobile applications has led to the increase in parks visitorship and also awareness of programmes and activities within our parks. It also facilitates geospatial data sharing with other government agencies in Singapore via GeoSpace – the inter-agency collaborative platform hosted by Singapore Land Authority.