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Singapore the No. 1 tree city

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The Republic beats 16 others in global list after joint-study by MIT and World Economic Forum

When it comes to urban tree density, Singapore wears the crown.

The City in a Garden trumped 16 cities around the world, in a study by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the World Economic Forum.

Almost 30 per cent of the Republic's urban areas are covered by greenery.

This puts Singapore ahead of Sydney, Australia, and Vancouver, Canada, which are tied for second place with 25.9 per cent.

The US city of Sacramento, capital of California state, follows closely with 23.6 per cent.

Of the 17 cities, Paris has the smallest percentage of greened urban areas at 8.8 per cent.

More cities will gradually be added to the database, the researchers said in December, when the list was uploaded on a website known as Treepedia.

It was again highlighted by news site Business Insider earlier this week.

Singapore the No. 1 tree city

Researchers use data from Google Street View to measure trees and vegetation in cities around the world to form the Green View Index (GVI), presented on a scale of 0 to 100.

It shows the percentage of canopy cover for a particular location. The researchers determine this by obtaining Google Street View images in each city, then extracting green areas using computer vision techniques, which is processed to obtain the GVI.

As Google Street View shows panoramic photographs of streets and buildings, it allows the study to capture data such as vertical gardens.


But as the images are taken by cameras perched atop cars, only areas with roads are covered in the study, said Mr So Wonyoung, a data visualisation specialist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, which is involved in the project.

Professor Carlo Ratti, the director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and head of the project, said the goal of Treepedia is to get people to take action to improve urban tree cover in their cities, by campaigning for the authorities to plant more trees in a certain area, for instance.

I have concerns about whether our greenery as it is today can survive. Plant scientist Lahiru Wijedasa

Plant scientist Lahiru Wijedasa, who is pursuing a doctorate at the National University of Singapore, said the study showed the success of Singapore's long-term planning.

Indeed, the amount of high-rise greenery in Singapore, which includes gardens on roofs and building facades, is a good indicator. This had grown from 61ha in 2013 to 72ha in 2015, which far exceeded the 2009 target of 50ha the government had hoped to hit by 2030.

The most recent figures from the authorities show it has hit 100ha. The new target is now 200ha of building greenery by the same deadline.

But Mr Lahiru said climate change poses a new threat for roadside trees here, which already grapple with stressors such as having to share space with electrical cables and drainage systems.

"I have concerns about whether our greenery as it is today can survive. We have seen healthy trees die standing up during droughts in the recent years," he said.

The answer to this could lie in greater research on developing more resilient roadside trees, and developing better soil conditions, he said.