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The Super Green “Blue Zone 2.0” of Singapore

One of my favorite parts of Singapore was how green it was. My general practice when I visit a new place is to use public transit, try to find street murals, and check out the botanical gardens. So you can imagine my surprise and excitement when my uncle's list of most important things we had to do in Singapore included two gardens and a reservoir hike.

Many of the apartment buildings had these ridiculous two- or three-story openings for massive green structures. It was very cool. A lot of the architecture was rather impressive, all of it pretty new and accomplishing some visually exciting modern engineering feats. 

Even the airport was super green and really very cool. There were a few different massive green walls and a little forest of trees. There was also this really cool koi pond in the airport with plexiglass over it so you could walk on it. I took a little video for y'all to enjoy it with me.

What does it mean to be a Blue Zone?

But let's get into what exactly was so interesting to me about all this greenery. So, the designation of Blue Zones was invented by a National Geographic Fellow named Dan Buettner in 2004, when he was studying what factors led to living a long, healthy life. He came up with a list of nine factors including a plant-based diet, a glass of wine at dinner, having a sense of purpose, a community, and stress reduction routines. He identified five cities (Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California) where people lived the longest, healthiest lives. Note that all of these cities developed these cultural traditions over centuries or millennia. Their healthy lifestyles have been cultivated naturally and generally continue to thrive in part due to a lack of outside influence.

In October of 2023, however, Dan decided to add a sixth: Singapore. Singapore differs from the others on this list, and is rightly labeled a “Blue Zone 2.0,” in that the city-state was engineered through city planning and government policies to encourage healthy living and aid citizens in living longer, healthier lives. To understand how they achieved this, you need to understand a little about the modern history of Singapore.

When did Singapore become a country?

I’m not going to get into the ancient history of Singapore, but only the last century to explain the country’s new economic success. Starting in the mid-1800s, Singapore was claimed by the British, desirable thanks to the naturally protected port. During World War II, Singapore was invaded by Japan. When Japan surrendered at the end of the war, Britain regained control but didn’t feel inclined to keep it. Britain had been granting independence to territories around the world and continued to do so here. In 1963, Britain attempted to “merge” modern-day Malaysia, the island of Borneo, and Singapore, granting the entirety of this new Malaysia independence in the process. Naturally, this didn’t work very well: racial tension, political differences, and social unrest erupted and led Malaysia to expel Singapore from the country in 1965. The new country was granted membership to the United Nations that same year.

How did Singapore become so wealthy?

After gaining independence, leaders of Singapore created tax incentives and free trade opportunities to try to get companies interested in the country. This, mixed with its prime location and large shipping port, made all the difference. Oil companies opened refineries on the island, tech companies got involved in electronics manufacturing, and the economy boomed. Singapore invested much of these earnings back into the country, offering free housing, healthcare, and education to citizens. These remain some of the many perks of being a citizen of Singapore. Citizens enjoy a very high quality of living, in large part supported by a much lower quality of living suffered by migrant workers, who make up two thirds of Singapore residents but don’t see many of the same benefits of citizens. But that’s a story for another post. 

Why is Singapore so green?

There was greenery everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Coming back to the achievement of engineering a Blue Zone for its citizens, you can see how all this ties together. Singapore has clearly invested massively in making the city feel connected to nature. They've built gorgeous parks, including Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Botanical Garden, for citizens to enjoy (for free), and everything in the country is easy to access thanks to a very sprawling, modern transportation network.

Speaking of their public transit: they have living green walls in subway stations and the airport! I obviously loved the many living green walls that added interesting visual elements to otherwise boring walls. They even had this one with the shape of Singapore outlined by different plants.

While having plants isn’t necessarily outlined in the Blue Zone criteria, I would argue it is a major factor in Singapore’s success. Plants, trees and gardens are highly beneficial, especially in a city otherwise surrounded by concrete and steel. They reduce stress, clean the air, and encourage healthy activity like walking or jogging. Singapore has tons of designated bike lanes and pedestrian paths, reservoirs open to the public, river walks, and gardens with miles and miles of trails. It’s a truly green city, and it’s no wonder it received this unique recognition as a Blue Zone 2.0.


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