Penny Low – “In this session, we have seen how many people are involved and concerned with creating better public spaces”
Founder of the Social Innovation Park Ltd analyzes urban development projects in Singapore
Coming from Singapore, reported to be the greenest city in Asia, Penny Low speaks from experience when she talks about the characteristics an eco-friendly city should have. The former parliamentarian and founder of the of the Social Innovation Park (SIP), attended Salzburg Global’s session The Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play, to share her views on sustainable urban development with a cross-sector mix of international fellows.
What are the key factors which have made Singapore an eco-friendly metropolis and one of the most livable cities in the world? Low has no doubt: people. For her, the limited number of natural resources in the country has traditionally promoted biggest levels of investment on what she likes to call “resources standing on two legs,” or in other words, human beings. Becoming independent only in 1965, the rapid growth Singapore has experienced has continued to receive international attention. According to Low, a dynamic, livable environment together with visionary leadership, have both managed to attract the international and national talent responsible for ensuring the country’s progressive development. “Singapore is built to be a peaceful, inspirational place where people want to live and stay,” Low says.
SIP, started by Low almost eleven years ago, seeks to boost the sustainable growth of the country by running multiple programs. This includes the Global Social Innovators Forum (GSIF) where social innovators and entrepreneurs share their ideas on sustainable social impact, and the SEED program – Social Entrepreneurship and Eco-park Development - a social innovator hub. The latter includes other projects such as the promotion of community farming spaces and the management of several restaurants employing marginalized communities. Each of these restaurants has a social mission, ranging from ‘Support Sustainable Living,’ and ‘Strengthen Communities’ to ‘Inspire Positive Change.’ In each of the restaurants it is possible to reserve drinks and meals for any person who might be in need of them. This green, social concept is attracting the attention of the media and Singaporeans.
One of Low’s most acknowledged works is her support in the expansion of Punggol city, a residential area located in the North-East of Singapore. Low explains how she planned to revitalize the area that was suffering from a deep crisis in the housing market. The “Punggol 21” plan was developed to build a better space that would make citizens feel engaged and comfortable. The project enhanced the creation of recreational facilities, public open spaces, and better transportation services. It also fostered the Punggol Waterway which provides waterfront spaces and extensive green areas.
Punggol is appealing to young families, which means a large number of facilities addressed to satisfy children’s demands have been built as well. Aside from numerous kindergartens, schools and childcare centers, Punggol also looks for open spaces which the elderly can enjoy too. As Low explains, the city aims to satisfy every generation, leading to an “intergenerational bonding” which allows every citizen to find their own space in the city to feel relaxed. Over the last few years, Punggol, considered the first eco-town in the tropics, has grown from 2,000 housing units to 65,000.
What makes Low feel more positive regarding the future is, again, her trust in people: “People are both the solutions providers and the challenges makers. In this session, we have seen how many people are involved and concerned with creating better public spaces. [That’s] what makes me feel very positive.” However, she is also aware of the obstacles that Singapore still has to cope.
Penny Low was a participant in the Salzburg Global program The Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play, which is part of the multi-year Parks for the Planet Forum, a series held in partnership with the IUCN. The session was supported by the Huffington Foundation, Parks Canada and Korea National Park and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/574