As at the end of Dec 08, there are 878 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 145 countries but none in Singapore. Are there really no sites in Singapore worthy of such an honour? I have visited a few hundred WHS round the world and am convinced that certain sites in Singapore deserve to be listed, for they do posses what UNESCO calls sites with "outstanding universal value".
Singapore's historic centre is one as a start. Parts of Civic District, Katong, Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street might be worthy of a WHS listing, as perhaps "Historic Centre and Multi-ethnic Cultural Landscape of the Port City of Singapore". This was once the political and economic headquarters of the British Empire in Southeast Asia. It includes a civic/colonial centre with outstanding examples of imperial architecture as well as well-planned ethnic districts intended to serve what was designed as and eventually emerged as a regional trading emporium. The melting pot, synthesis and mix of cultures in Singapore among diverse Asian ethnic groups led to the emergence of a unique Peranakan culture as well as related Straits architecture. The combination of these as well as our rich maritime heritage would constitute a unique architectural and cultural townscape worthy of conservation, appreciation and study.
Next on the list would be the Botanical Garden, which was the laboratory of tropical agricultural and floral research of the British Empire, and where rubber was first commercially planted outside South America, the result of which changed the landscape and economies of Malaysia and Indonesia forever.
In addition, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve are some of the best global examples of nature conservation in major urban environments. The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve actually contains more varieties of plants and trees than the whole of North America.
The Botanic Gardens, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Sungei Buloh Reserve can be grouped together as a single entry called "Botanic Gardens & Tropical Rain Forest Reserve of Urban Singapore" .
These are just some of the places in Singapore that can potentially be listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. WHS has become the de facto ISO 9002 for historical attractions. Having WHS could potentially help our tourism industry (although some may argue that there are way too many WHS worldwide which are of mediocre value).
More importantly, it would help boost our sense of national pride as well as help local conservation causes. Perhaps, this might even encourage more Singaporeans to feel good about our country in an era where most buildings are being torn down after two decades and everyone wonders if there is anything one could feel nostalgic over in Singapore.
For quite a few decades, Singapore was not a member of UNESCO and so the issue of WHS was merely academic. Now that we have rejoined UNESCO in October 2007, is it not time to consider applying for WHS status for our heritage sites?
I welcome all interested Singaporeans to rally together and see what can be done to get deserving Singapore sites listed on this prestigious list. Join this site to support Singapore's listing on UNESCO! And feel free to post any suggestion here.