2019 World Urban Parks Legacy Award

The new Legacy Award of World Urban Parks recognises past leaders who impacted parks and park management.

Dr. Kiat W. Tan

Dr Kiat W. Tan is a pioneer in the dramatic transformation of Singapore’s landscape - keeping Singapore lush, rich in biodiversity, and catering to the leisure needs of Singaporeans. He has served over 30 years in the public service and held many senior appointments, including founding CEO of the National Parks Board in 1990, an appointment he held till 2006, and founding CEO of Gardens by the Bay from 2012 to 2018.

Singapore, the City in a Garden

The emergence of Singapore as a City in a Garden and a model city for biodiversity conservation was made possible by the work Dr Tan has done since joining the Civil Service in 1983. He was pivotal in drafting the Master Plan charting the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ redevelopment from 1989 to 2006, which aimed to restore its core roles in research, education, conservation and recreation, and to establish it as the world’s premier tropical botanical institute. In the 1990s, when Singapore needed to do more to ensure that greenery continued to be pervasive in spite of urbanisation and population growth, Dr Tan proposed the “City in a Garden” vision to make Singapore a highly liveable and sustainable home for Singaporeans. The transition from “Garden City” to “City in a Garden” proved to be visionary and rallied multi-agency and stakeholder collaborations with National Parks Board (NParks) in implementing innovative strategies to not only intensify greenery, but also to protect and enhance our rich biodiversity.

Dr Tan initiated the Streetscape Greenery Master Plan and Heritage Road Scheme, which ensured that greenery along our roads continue to form the backbone of the cityscape. The development of a Park Connector Network resulted in linear parks island-wide that connects Singapore’s nature reserves and parks in a recreational network that also links communities. Dr Tan also spearheaded Skyrise greenery which added a new dimension of integrating greenery into our urban environment by cladding infrastructure with greenery. This has resulted in Singapore having 110ha of rooftop greenery today, overtaking cities with a longer tradition of rooftop gardens. Nature conservation was also strengthened with the gazetting of two more nature reserves – Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, which was declared as an ASEAN Heritage Park in 2003, and Labrador Nature Reserve in 2002 – in addition to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Nature Reserve. 

Parks for All

Dr Tan strengthened the conservation of the nature reserves by initiating a comprehensive physical and biological survey. This enabled the identification of core areas of highest biodiversity and the designation of fringe areas where compatible recreational activities could be provided for hiking and nature appreciation through boardwalks and a treetop walk.

Dr Tan’s belief in the importance of developing groundup ownership for our green spaces allowed the community to play an active role in greening the city. He led NParks to embark on various community outreach programmes like Community-in-Bloom, which has strengthened the social bonding and rootedness amongst Singaporeans through community led initiatives. Through the many initiatives and enhancements in greenery policies, Singapore’s vast network of parks, park connectors and tree-lined roads ensures that our communities are always within short walking distances to green recreational areas. Dr Tan has set a high standard for urban parks and greenery, encouraging conservation within a cityscape and ownership of public spaces through reaching out to the masses with community engagement programmes.

Singapore Botanic Gardens - Restoring the Values of a Botanical Institution

Guided by the vision of transforming the Singapore Botanic Gardens into a leading tropical botanical institution for research, education, conservation and recreation, Dr Tan laid out a master plan for its redevelopment. He provided for the Botanic Gardens’ invaluable reference collections and ensured both its living and preserved collections were given proper facilities. He built a new herbarium and library, and strengthened research with modern laboratories. New attractions like the National Orchid Garden and Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden were added. With the firm footing provided by Dr Tan, the Botanic Gardens was successfully inscribed as Singapore’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015.

Continuing Leadership

After retiring from NParks in 2006, Dr Tan continued to devote his energies to the City in a Garden vision as Advisor to NParks where he steered the development and profiling of various projects such as the Singapore Garden Festival and other greening initiatives, and the development of the iconic Gardens by the Bay.

Gardens by the Bay, a World-Class Garden for All to Enjoy

As Project Director of Gardens by the Bay and subsequently its founding CEO, Dr Tan précis his 40 years of deep horticultural expertise and garden management experience into a revolutionary vision for a “garden of the future” – one that did not limit itself to traditional botanical conventions, but broke new grounds in the way that the Plant World was to be brought to life and presented for public enjoyment. This ground-breaking vision, which would fuse nature, architecture and technology, would reach out to a new generation of urban visitors by delighting them with floristic artistry and innovation, and demonstrate how nature could inspire our lives.

Dr Tan led a formidable team of horticulturists, architects, planners and engineers to embark on this pioneering work of transforming a once-barren reclaimed site in Marina Bay, into a garden oasis for present and future generations to enjoy and cherish. Since it opened in 2012, the Gardens has established itself as a leading attraction that has welcomed more than 50 million visitors, including many heads of states and governments as well as celebrities. Gardens by the Bay has also been key as a knowledge-sharing institution, hosting international government officials on study visits with regard to horticulture and the built environment.   

Beyond its iconic status, Gardens by the Bay remains firmly rooted as a “People’s Garden”, with home-grown events tied to floral displays, Singapore Garden Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival and Christmas Wonderland fast becoming a popular “must-go” on the local community calendar. Except for the conservatories, the Gardens’ recreational spaces and facilities – making up over 90% of the grounds – are freely accessible, reflecting Dr Tan’s commitment to creating a national garden for all. A concerted effort is made to present quality floral displays alongside wide-ranging events and activities for the public. Educational programmes closely tied to the school curriculum introduce the Gardens to children, while the Gift of Gardens programme reaches out to charities and the disadvantaged in Singapore. Under Dr Tan’s leadership, efforts to make Gardens by the Bay an endearing place for Singaporeans are bearing fruit, with 1 in 2 local residents having visited the Gardens at least once over the last 12 months.

Dr Tan became Corporate Advisor to Gardens by the Bay after stepping down from CEO-ship, playing an important role in upcoming developments in the Gardens where he will provide direct landscape and horticultural expertise and strategic vision, stewardship and mentoring to the younger leadership for the wider landscape and horticultural community in Singapore. He has continued to establish partnerships and alliances with reputable professionals and leading gardens and institutions around the world, so as to provide Gardens by the Bay with access to knowledge and plant materials, and contribute strategically to Singapore’s City in the Garden initiatives.

A Lifetime of Distinguished Service

While holding the position of CEO of NParks, Dr Tan served as a founding member of Singapore Environmental Council, board member of National Environment Agency, trustee of World Orchid Conference, and trustee of the Loke Cheng Kim and HSBC Care-for-Nature foundations. He also served on the judging panels for the Bridges of the Southern Ridges and the Sentosa Integrated Resorts design competitions, and headed the jury for the Gardens by the Bay International Master Plan Design Competition.   

In recognition of his distinguished service, Dr Tan was awarded Public Administration Silver, followed by Gold Medals by the Singapore Government. During National Day in 2007, he was decorated with the Medal for Meritorious Service. In 2011, Dr Tan received the highest environmental accolade in Singapore, the President’s Award for the Environment. For his significant contributions to Singapore’s greening journey and making Singapore a distinctive and attractive place to live in, Dr Tan was awarded the Distinguished Service Order Medal in 2015.   

Internationally, Dr Tan is the first recipient of the World Orchid Conference Trust Medal for his contributions to the orchid and horticultural world, and has also been conferred the American Orchid Society’s Gold Medal Achievement Award, Fellowship of the Orchid Society of South East Asia, and the Royal Horticultural Society’s Veitch Memorial Gold Medal for advancing and improving the science and practice of horticulture. Michigan State University conferred the Distinguished Alumni Award upon him in 2010. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, presented the Kew International Medal to Dr Tan in 2015 in recognition of his contributions to science and conservation. Dr Tan was named Garden Tourism Person of the Year at the International Garden Tourism Awards 2016 organised by the International Garden Tourism Network.