print this page close this page
Garden City

A tree planting campaign launched in 1963 saw the start of Singapore’s transformation from an industrialised city into a liveable one. In May 1967, then Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew set up the grand vision of “a garden city beautiful with flowers and trees, and as tidy and litterless as can be.” His legacy remains today and attracts many visitors to our shores.

Did you know that long before “clean and green” efforts began in the 1960s, communities in Singapore already enjoy a close relationship with, and curiosity for the natural environment? In conjunction with the Human x Nature: Environmental Histories of Singapore exhibition, we look at the archival materials that showcase our custodianship of our City in a Garden. The exhibition is on right now at Level 10, National Library Building from 9 April to 26 September 2021.

Audiovisual Recordings

1. How It Ticks: Water Plants
Date: 1978
Acc No. 2011000030
Ministry of Education, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

This programme, targeted at primary 5 students, is part of the “How it Ticks” series. A science programme to complement science teaching in the classroom, the “How it Ticks” series teaches students about the environment and helps students understand scientific concepts in an interesting and meaningful way. In this episode, different water plants are introduced, such as "arrowheads", "water lilies", "elodea" and other aquarium plants. Students also learn about the different characteristics of these plants, for example aquarium plants that grow fully submerged in water.

2. Garden City Campaign
Date: 1981-1982
Acc No. 1990000314
Ministry of National Development, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

Documentary showing the efforts of the Parks and Recreation Department in realising Singapore’s goal of becoming a Garden City.

3. News 5 Tonight
Date: 1999
Acc No. 1999000375
Mediacorp Pte Ltd, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

The National Parks Board has launched a National Education Programme on Singapore around the city to get the young to appreciate our green heritage.


Tree Planting by Parliamentary Secretary

1. Tree-planting started to become a thing from 1963 when the government decided to have a Tree-Planting Campaign – with the Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Chor Yeok Eng planting a tree at Clementi road on 20 Aug 1963 – before this – there were sporadic planting by VIPs. With the campaign, it become a regular activity for Ministers to regularly plant trees in Singapore.
Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

Flowerbeds Constructed On the Road

2. In 1967 we started to beautify our streets in our bid to make Singapore a Garden City – by having flowers on our roads. Photo below shows flowerbeds being constructed along Collyer Quay (11 Dec 1967).
Singapore Press Holding Collection, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

View of Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats at Marine Parade

3. In 1976 – there was an emphasis to ensure our HDB estates are designed with clean and green environment – this was exemplified by the Marine Parade HDB estate.
Ministry of Culture Collection, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

Oral History Interviews

1. Oral History Interview with James Koh, Former Chairman of HDB, Interviewed in 2008
Acc No. 2847

The work of the Garden City Action Committee.

2. Oral History Interview with Mrs Koh-Lim Wen Gin, Former Deputy CEO and Chief Planner at URA, Interviewed in 2018
Acc No. 4198

The shift from a garden city to a city in a garden

Declassified Government Files

1. A Clean and Green Singapore
Period: 1968 - 1970
File Reference: DDB 43 Pt A Vol 2
Creating Agency: Ministry of Culture file

1968 and 1969 were the years of rapid urbanisation and industrialisation in Singapore. The government had declared its objective to improve the quality of the urban environment and the transformation of Singapore into a “Garden City”. This file contains details of the radio and television programmes produced by Radio Television Singapore (RTS) in support of the objective.

2. Keep Singapore Clean, Green and Pollution-free
Period: 1970 - 1973
File Reference: DDB 43 Pt A Vol 4
Creating Agency: Ministry of Culture file

This file describes the regular radio and TV publicity given to large community efforts to keep Singapore Clean and Green, which created awareness of the campaign. The publicity had helped instil a sense of national commitment as many people from all backgrounds were seen on TV, being involved in the Cleaning and Greening of Singapore.