When a family of 10 smooth-coated otters appeared in Singapore’s urban downtown of Marina Bay last year, the city was ablaze with excitement and delight. Who would have thought that these otters would make a dense urban environment like Singapore home? After all, otters were thought to have vanished in the 1970s as Singapore rapidly developed into a dense metropolis.
Was this a fad? Probably. Was this a big deal? Absolutely. In a small city-state where land is considered a scarce resource, This was not the case in Singapore. Between 1986 and 2010, as Singapore’s urban population doubled from 2.7 to 5 million, its green cover also increased from 36% to 50%, all within the confines of just 710 square kilometers. The increase in green cover in urbanized Singapore was seen as a sign that the efforts by the urban planning agency, parks and water management boards had paid off, and a testament that the natural environment could be indeed be integrated effectively into the urban fabric of the city.
Today is World Environment Day. This year, it celebrates the theme of “connecting people to nature,” and invites us to think about how we are part of nature—and how intimately we depend on it.
Civil Engineering students graduate knowing at least three things: you can’t push a rope, gravity never takes a day off, and a three-legged table won’t wobble. They are now learning a fourth: You can’t build a city without civility.
Civil engineers are largely responsible for our built environment. Generally they’re a studious and busy lot; and they are about to get a lot busier – in the next twenty years they have to help build cityscapes for about 2 billion new urban residents. But today what’s needed even more than civil engineers is more civility. A few recent examples, big and small, come to mind.