The day began as usual with breakfast at the lodge. The first thing on the agenda that day was the visit to the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority). We arrived a little early, and so we were ‘let loose’ for an hour to browse the galleries in the building on our own.
After a quick cup of coffee to boost our attention levels, we began our meanderings. On the ground floor we found a 3D map of Singapore with little blocks for buildings and even the topography shown. The first floor gave us a bigger surprise! We found an even more detailed map with models of all the actual buildings. The attention to detail simply blew our minds. Everything down to the plants in the balconies of apartment complexes was represented. From the mezzanine floor above, we were treated to a sound and light presentation that used the model below. The entire set-up, we were told, cost around a million Singapore dollars!
This was followed by an interview with a representative from the URA. There was a presentation after which the floor for questions was open. We learnt that Singapore was planned to the last centimeters of land available. The URA allotted separate tracts of land for industrial use, waste management and agricultural use. They enforce zoning laws around their five airports. Another interesting fact told to us was that due to the limited availability of land, Singapore had to import around 80% of their daily food from other countries. As the URA is the mother agency of the transport authorities, they also control the transport infrastructure. Being a transparent agency, they publish all their plans in a public forum like a newspaper and any citizen who objects to it can contact the authority. They also conduct surveys to ensure that public opinion does not differ too much from their own intentions.
After a very enthusiastic discussion, we dispersed for lunch in the food complex opposite the URA building. As we had some free time, we decided to go shopping in the nearby China Town. On the way we also visited a Buddhist temple. After a quick look around, we fell upon the shops like hungry vultures and half an hour later, we boarded the bus with hands full of shopping bags.
Our stop for the evening was the Marina Barrage. Surprisingly, we were a little early again. So we took a look at the green roof; the grass carpeted roof of the pump house. Along with a great view of the city, we also enjoyed the strong breeze that blew almost incessantly and a photo session broke out spontaneously. We were soon called in for a guided tour of the visitor’s gallery.
Our very amusing guide gave us a brief idea of how the dam worked. To keep it a freshwater reservoir they had to keep the sea out. If there is excess water during low tide, they simply pour the water out via the crest gates. If it is high tide however, they use pumps to empty the excess water. These pumps are so powerful that, together, they can empty nine Olympic size swimming pools in one second. He also told us the amazing story of the Singapore river clean-up. In a mere ten years, the government-initiated operation brought the river from sewage dump to a living, thriving estuarine ecosystem.
What did we learn? We learnt what our elders tell us all the time…’A little planning goes a long way’ and ‘if you put your mind to it, you can do anything’.