The air is crisp and sunlight filters softly through foliage punctuated by pink and yellow flowers as birds and crickets supply the soundtrack for joggers, cyclists and nature lovers.
It is hard to believe you are in one of the world’s most densely populated countries when you are standing in the middle of a former railroad land in the heart of Singapore.
A winding stretch of lush greenery runs from the shadows of skyscrapers in the financial district to the border with Malaysia, all that is left of an old railway taken over by Singapore from its neighbor in the middle of last year.
Now popularly known as the “Green Corridor,” the 25km zone runs from north to south like a spine and is the focus of a public campaign to create a sanctuary for nature — and development-weary Singaporeans.
Whether or not the government can resist the urge to develop parts of the swathe of land is another matter.
Liew Kai Khiun, an academic involved in heritage work, said the future of the railway land has become an important issue for many Singaporeans.
“Other than merely nostalgia, these concerns actually reflect the undercurrent desires by more Singaporeans for more stability, ownership and continuity in a country that they would like to call home instead of an exploitable asset,” he said.
The railway land cuts through old religious shrines, graffiti--decorated bridges, community gardens and neighborhoods where about a fifth of Singapore’s 5 million people live, Leong said.
Malaysia and Singapore separated in 1965, but the railroad, built earlier in the century during British colonial rule, remained in Malaysian hands for 46 years as the two countries sorted out a raft of issues.
This shielded the railroad zone from development until it came under Singapore’s control last year.
The former main terminal in downtown Singapore, an art deco structure erected in the 1930s and sitting on prime land, is to be preserved as a national monument.
Train services from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur now run from a modern terminal at the border area.
Avid nature and heritage groups are calling for the rest of the railway land inside Singapore to be converted into recreational spaces and nature reserves instead of more shopping malls, apartments and industrial zones.
“This area is very rich in terms of flora and fauna, especially bird life, there are easily about a hundred species,” said Leong Kwok Peng, 55, vice president of the Nature Society of Singapore.
Property analysts said it would be difficult to put a commercial value to the railway land, which runs through some of the priciest real estate in Singapore, until official policy is made clear.
All but 2km of the former railway are currently open to the public, a preserved rural zone welcomed by city dwellers.
Singapore is one of the world’s most densely populated countries, with 7,257 people per square kilometer.
“It becomes a countryside, a backyard to all these residents. There is a mix of wild vegetation and informal community gardening by the residents, which is very pleasant,” Leong said of the old rail line.
Together with allies like architects and cycling groups, Leong proposed the preservation of the corridor to the government in October 2010, when the handover of the railway land was already a certainty.
Leong likened it to New York’s High Line project, saying the movement to preserve the Green Corridor in Singapore was a “bottom-up” approach launched by the public.