View of Los Angeles from the plane landing at LAX
It's been 26 days since the monkey checked in with her daily green action. Despite having been back in Singapore since Sunday, almost a week ago, I've been struggling to keep up with school, work and friends. Blame it on jet lag or just culture-lag but I'm trying to adjust back to regular programming again.
Can't say I have been particularly green while in Suburbia San Diego. It was particularly difficult and frustrating. Just about the only positive thing I noticed is that the toilet paper used is particularly environmental while back home, thick luscious toilet paper makes me cringe at the thought of virgin pulp. And honestly if I have to resort to comparing toilet paper, you know there hasn't been much else to focus on. Environmentally, of course.
While I haven't been exactly shopping my days away, drowning myself in materialist consumerism, it was particularly frustrating to drive from strip mall to box mall. Living in a suburban sprawl, visiting the sites where the San Diego fire has taken its toll, looking at burnt slopes made it very difficult for my sense and sensibilities.
Suddenly, visiting downtown Los Angeles felt like a reprieve and haven despite the fact that I've always hated it. I realize it's not the city itself that was unsustainable but the urban sprawl in the greater LA county and its commuting culture in said suburban sprawl that was critiqued.
The Lost Angels and its sprawl can be seen very clearly in this photo taken from Griffith Observatory near the Hollywood sign. Photo taken on the 2007 Winter Solstice.
Within the city itself, it was really much better in terms of walking, public transport and even mixed use housing! Unfortunately, my friend who is a LA county planner informed me that it's very much gentrified within the downtown area now. Read: expensive housing for rich executives. Pretty much the same as Singapore's downtown area I suppose.
Perhaps it is due to Singapore's space constraint that we have planned our land much better. However, this nagging thought will always lingers at the back of mind if Singapore had the land, would we also be crying out for single-family residence with a backyard for the kids and dog? In Singapore, owning a landed property is very much a status symbol. If more houses and land were available, surely we will all be scrambling for one. Sadly, who would want to live in high rise buildings then?
Perhaps after 2 generations of living in highrise apartment buildings, we have lost the call of the land. While it has disconnected us from nature, at the same time I doubt the suburban dwellers in san diego are very much more connected to nature. It's all a dilemma for me.
I tried to argue that nature should be kept apart from cities. Despite my love for nature, I rather live in the city. Not because I love living in cities. In fact, I abhor cities. However, if it means keeping myself from encroaching on wilderness, nature reserves and other rural or "wild" spaces, I would gladly suffer it.
How many people would be willing to do that? Not many I would think. If given the choice we all want the peaceful, tranquil, close to wild open spaces for our kids to run freely. I wouldn't want to raise a kid in New York City for example. It's really a headache thinking about these questions.
Yet watching the news in San Diego about cougars (mountain lions) running into the suburban towns in California made me toughen my resolve. There is a difference between living in the suburban area and living in a suburban SPRAWL. I think the motivations of planners and developers, population wanting to serve their own desires and crazy monkeys like me who cares more about the environment than my own desires are wildly different.
In Singapore, we don't have much say about suburban sprawl. In fact, we have sprawled beyond control. Jurong West extension, Punggol 21, were they not all "wilderness" before? The government says we need land for housing and goodbye mangroves and forests. Private developers (and the government that allocates land to them) continue to encroach on the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve with condominiums at the edge of the forest. Likewise, the selling point of these developments is to be "close to nature". Yet how many of these Bukit Timah residents complain about snakes coming into their homes? I know a few. Another case in point of the cougars.
So are we much different from the sprawl in US or any other countries? My only consolation perhaps is that our planning applied the key features of the new urbanism concept which is to have things within walking distance and to reduce car use and building a sense of community. Well, it's debatable. Besides there have been critiques who thought that Singapore may do a better job at conservation if we never build satellite towns scattered around the island but focused on growing the city in one concentrated space.
Do we ever think about what we are doing to satisfy our selfish desire to be "close to nature"? While we love nature, do we want to destroy nature just for us to have a piece of it? Or should we "sacrifice" our selfish desire and suffer the urban populace so that we can still have a piece of nature to go enjoy on the weekends?
And that is my monkey land dilemma and honestly I still do not know what the "right answer" is. Nor so I have an answer for myself. What do you think?