Singapore, a highly compact city, provides equitable access to urban green and blue spaces

Nghiem, T. P. L., Zhang, Y., R. Y. Oh, R., Chang, C., L. Y. Tan, C., Shannahan, D. F., et al. (2021). Equity in green and blue spaces availability in Singapore. Landscape And Urban Planning, 210. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2021.104083

Green and blue spaces are associated with an array of mental and physical benefits. Accordingly, the availability of these spaces is important, especially in dense or compact cities. Measuring equity of access, however, is complex. Many studies do not distinguish between types of nature (e.g., natural forest versus managed vegetation) that may provide different benefits. Studies typically leave out blue space availability, which is an important consideration for island countries, such as Singapore. Additionally, differing spatial scales of nature availability are often not addressed, which can impact use, particularly in an urban setting. For instance, residents may more frequently visit areas 300 m from home, but perhaps not those as far as 1 km. This study explored whether urban green and blue space availability was equitably distributed at different scales (500, 1000, and 1500m buffer sizes from home). It also explored possible equity issues based on the type of space (natural, managed vegetation, and blue spaces).

Singapore has one of the highest population densities in the world at 7,804 persons per km2. It is also a small island with limited land surface area, making it an interesting case study. Survey responses from 1,513 residents of Singapore allowed researchers to pair demographic data with home location in relation to three types of land cover classes (natural vegetation, managed vegetation, and water), as depicted on a land cover map constructed from remote sensing methods. They then analyzed the data to determine how these three types of spaces at 500, 1000, and 1500m distances from each home related to house type, income, education level, and ethnicity.

Results indicated that, in Singapore, around 30% of the areas near people's homes (within 500m) were green or blue space. This proportion held true farther from home as well (1000m and 1500 away). Most of these areas were managed vegetation. Access to vegetated land was fairly equal across income levels as well as across other demographic variables (ethnicity, house type, education, gender and age), although higher income areas had slightly greater access to managed vegetation and lower income areas had higher access to natural vegetation; everyone had equal access to blue space. The relationship between income and green space access around households existed mostly at the smallest buffer size, and weakened with increasing distance.

These results indicate that Singapore provides equitable access to urban green spaces, even though most residents live in high rise buildings and depend on planners to provide access to nature.  However, the notion of equitable distribution in Singapore depends on the type of green and blue spaces and the spatial scale considered. Future research could investigate a possible connection between availability of various green and blue spaces and families with children, given that the type of space may matter.

This study offers a success story of providing equitable availability of green and blue space in a major urban center. A key to Singapore's success seems to be the government's prioritization of green space and their desire to be a “city in nature,” dating back to the early 1960s. This is important to note, as many rapidly growing cities across the world face difficulties in preserving availability of natural spaces, as well as the equitable distribution of those spaces.

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