Singapore’s urban landscape is dotted with numerous parks and lush nature reserves. One does not have to venture far to enter an oasis of greenery and appreciate the calm of nature. And combined with an extensive green network of park connectors and natural areas, Singapore continues to demonstrate that the infrastructure of a modern city can exist alongside greenery and nature.
Behind all these is NParks, the government agency responsible for providing and enhancing the greenery of our City in a Garden. We speak to NParks scholar Tham Xin Kai to learn how he is ensuring that Singaporeans remain in touch with the rich biodiversity of Singapore’s flora and fauna.
Tham Xin Kai
NParks Overseas Merit Award Recipient
Designation: Landscape Architect
Studied: Bachelor of Landscape Architecture,
University of Western Australia, Australia
What motivated you to apply for the NParks Scholarship?
Tham Xin Kai: I leapt at the chance to pursue a Diploma in Landscape Architecture at Singapore Polytechnic as the course combines two personal interests – drawing and nature. Over the course of my studies, my understanding of the important role that Landscape Architects play in creating and maintaining beautiful green spaces grew. This ignited in me the desire to contribute to the work of NParks, where I would be part of a team that cares for nature and creates green spaces for communities to come together.
I then applied for the NParks Overseas Merit Award which provided me with an excellent opportunity to pursue a degree in Landscape Architecture abroad. This has afforded me a greater understanding of the field and the chance to be exposed to a different learning environment and new experiences.
What is your job scope like and what are some of your responsibilities?
Xin Kai: As a Landscape Architect, I provide expert advice in matters of park design and the greening masterplan of Singapore. I also conduct strategic design initiatives that support NParks’ vision of making Singapore a City in a Garden. For example, I am currently involved in the National Cycling Plan workgroup which brings NParks together with agencies such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Housing and Development Board (HDB) to implement a nation-wide cycling network for both recreational and commuting purposes. I particularly enjoy working on this inter-agency project because it exposes me to the various issues faced by different agencies and how new ideas and solutions can be developed by synergising different areas of expertise.
I am also working on the Jurong Lake Gardens project, where the revitalised Jurong Lake Park, the Chinese and Japanese Gardens and the grounds of the new Science Centre will be integrated to form the new Gardens. It is envisioned as an endearing garden in the heartlands, promising access to the best green spaces for leisure for all Singaporeans.
Tell us more about NParks’ role in managing Singapore’s green spaces and environment.
Xin Kai: In addition to creating and sustaining the greenery for our City in the Garden, NParks aims to combine the rich biodiversity of our green spaces with recreational activities to facilitate interaction between people and nature. Once people start appreciating nature, they will want to be more involved in it. For instance, the Community in Bloom (CIB) programme has had great success in bringing people together to experience the joy of gardening. We now have more than 800 community gardens and 20,000 gardeners around Singapore involved in the programme!
In fact, many who are involved in the CIB programme will create community garden spaces to showcase in celebration of Singapore’s 50th Anniversary. I am fortunate to be working with them to design and bring to life these garden spaces at the HortPark.
What opportunities have you enjoyed as an NParks scholar?
Xin Kai: I interned at NParks’ Design office prior to commencing my studies in Perth. I assisted the Landscape Architects in designing some of the parks and increased my knowledge of plants in the process. As part of the Ministry of National Development (MND) family, I also had the chance to meet other scholars from organisations such as the URA and HDB, enabling me to significantly broaden my network.
The scholarship enabled me to travel to many different places and spend a lot of time outdoors understanding and studying the spatial quality of different environments. I have undertaken many projects in various parts of Western Australia, some of which involved helping rural communities identify problems and solve them through design. For instance, we were once involved in cleaning up a polluted river in order to restore the adjacent park to a condition fit for community gatherings.
How has NParks facilitated your personal and professional development? What do you look forward to in the future?
Xin Kai: NParks facilitates and conducts horticultural-related courses (Workforce Skills Qualification) for staff to gain basic horticultural skills. It also provides On-the-Job Training which equips staff with further knowledge to help them in their jobs. There are also many interesting courses to attend to gain new insights into our respective areas of work!
I look forward to enjoying further developmental opportunities that will help me to create more vibrant and meaningful spaces for people to enjoy and relax in. I also hope to be involved in more cross-divisional initiatives to gain more insights into NParks’ various functions. Furthermore, I want to continue to engage the community – by encouraging people to make a personal and social commitment to build up our green infrastructure, everyone will play a part in preserving the beauty of our green spaces.