Jurong looms large in the Singapore story, and rightly so. In many ways this is where the from rags to riches turn around happened. Having said that, the industrial heartland also has an ulu image and although it figures prominently in URA’s new draft master plan for the future, in the here and now it is a bit off the radar of all who don’t live here. That means that the Jurong Lake greenery, although well-used by locals, has always felt underappreciated to me. A real shame because it is one of the largest parks in Singapore. The Western section of this area has been off-limits due to redevelopment for a long time but finally reopened with a splash last weekend. The new facilities hopefully mean that more Singaporeans will overcome their ulu fears and include the new Jurong Lake Gardens space in their list of options for a nice outdoor experience. First indications are certainly promising. And rightly so because NParks has gone overboard with this one.
One feature that stood out for me were the many ‘official’ nature trails, allowing trail aficionados to leave the hard and unforgiving surfaces of the park connectors and paved walking paths. And like nearly all other parks, this one allows you to at least double the official offer by seeking out other but pretty obvious trail-less unpaved possibilities. My guess would be that a 8.5k circuit through this park can be near 50% on soft surfaces.
Unfortunately, the official trails do yet evidence that NParks acknowledges the importance of, let alone strives to realize unimpeded unpaved pedestrian possibilities of at least a couple of kilometers (and ultimately of 10k+ and 20k+ options). All the nature trails are short bits, and do mostly not connect. So in the meantime, you’ll have to claim your birthright and leave the pavement wherever that can be done without creating obvious harm to the park environment.
During my second visit to the gardens I ran into some NParks staff assessing the use of the park, and was amazed by their genuine interest in my views on unpaved trails, unimpeded forward movement, etc. I had similar experiences talking with URA planners wandering around the draft 2019 masterplan exhibition in the City Gallery, soliciting citizen feedback. Encouraging, and I feel it is important to recognize, whatever prejudices one may hold about the ultimate priorities of Singapore’s planners, that the scale, ambition-level, and realized design of Jurong Lake Gardens is a stunning piece of work that deserves lots of praise.
Having said that my impatient self takes over again and cannot but lament the coming (end of May) closing of the Chinese and Japanese Gardens with basically means that again, for another two years, we’ll have to do with only half of the Gardens. Those were part of my exploring Southwest to central route. You can replace my meandering weave through those islands garden now by the meandering weave through the newly opened Gardens in the Western part: see the track above.
Looking at that track, you’ll notice how close Jurong Lake Gardens are to another, even more underappreciated piece of unpaved potential: Pandan reservoir (and its great 6k gravel track). It looks like in the far future, the Round the Island park connector is meant to connect these two. Which is great but also a bittersweet disappointment. That plan already requires a expressway overpass, but subsequently neglects the potential of a runners’ connection between these two by way of a boardwalk along Jurong river, a path from the river to Penjuru Rd and on to (suggest another overpass – stairs are good!) the reservoir circuit. Out and back this would make for 15+k of superb running route; it also makes for a connection to the Ulu Pandan park connector (and then the rail corridor), and, in the future (better than the current busy street hugging PC) to West Coast Park etc. What a great unimpeded running possibility, that is most likely never going to happen…
I started off with labeling this Jurong lake greenery underappreciated. Let me share a sunrise picture my wife took a couple of morning ago from the Gardens towards Jurong West:
This is so stunningly beautiful that it nearly hurts, a sensation that reminds me of how limited our everyday black and white understanding of the good and the bad is, something that music seems particularly able to transcend. May I suggest the beauty of Ry Cooder feeling bad as a soundtrack to the spectacular view above: