LEE KUAN YEW GARDENS?
An idea whose time has come
When Gardens By The Bay was about to open some years ago, I mentioned to a few friends that I felt like writing a piece proposing that it be named after Lee Kuan Yew. They told me I’d be seen as just sucking up. Suspecting that they might be right, I shelved the thought.
Over the past few weeks, however, people have so raised the bar for eulogising LKY that, in comparison, surely nothing I say here would be seen as sycophantic.
So, here are 10 reasons why I think that that prime piece of downtown real estate should be renamed The Lee Kuan Yew Gardens.
1. Changi has been the obvious choice, but naming airports after national leaders is just so predictable. They’ve done it in Manila, Jakarta, Delhi, Jeddah, Washington DC …. We deserve something more uniquely Singapore.
2. Airport names are riskier. A terrorist attack or disaster could hijack the name – like “Entebbe”, which became synonymous with a 1970s hostage crisis. In contrast, bad news doesn’t usually happen in parks.
3. In the age of mass air travel, airports are no longer associated with prestige or glamour, but with stress and anxiety. You don’t wish for a memorable experience at an airport; you want it over and done with and forgotten. A park on the other hand, is a destination in its own right, a place you almost always leave happier than when you arrived.
4. Unless you’ve been stuck in a cave (or in a park), you know how much greenery meant to the LKYs, both husband and wife.
5. Signature projects like the airport or port would have been built with or without Lee Kuan Yew – being an international crossroads has been in Singapore’s DNA for 700 years. But without LKY, it’s probable that the Garden City and City in a Garden would never have been envisioned.
6. The Gardens, a byproduct of turning Marina Bay into a reservoir, is intimately tied to Singapore’s water security – one of LKY’s core obsessions. So, this park isn’t just some soft lifestyle venue. Few places in Singapore are more hard-truthy than this.
7. If you love LKY, you’ll love the idea of reflecting on his legacy surrounded by a First World quality of life, with the skyline before you, and only made possible through “decades of conscientious planning and commitment”, as he himself put it when he visited the park’s Flower Dome.
8. If you don’t love LKY and you are a critic of the Gardens, you’d still agree that they are perfectly matched. On one side, you’d see the hubris of a man-made garden on reclaimed land, representing the conquest of nature more than harmony with it. On the other, a larger-than-life leader who embodied control and discipline. Super Trees and the Super Man.
9. Those of us who are sentimental can also wish for Bay East, across Marina Barrage from Gardens By The Bay, to be named the Kwa Geok Choo Gardens. They would be companion parks, different in character, but forever side by side, calm waters between them, and tied to each other by a wall that resists the tides. A tribute to love in a country that prizes family values. How beautiful is that?
10. And finally, the Gardens’ two climate-controlled Domes have an ingenious eco-friendly version of what LKY called the 20th century’s greatest invention.