Singapore: The Country That Never Stops Growing

Greta Samuel
Greta Samuel | © Culture Trip

Singapore Travel Writer

Singapore is often known as the ‘little red dot’, a small country that’s barely a blip on the world map. But despite its tiny size, one thing you might not know about Singapore is that the country has actually grown larger since its independence in 1965. There has been a roughly 25% increase in land mass. Singapore is almost 720 sq km today. Here’s a look at how a country can continue to grow without the help of mother nature.

Early Singapore

Early Singapore looked nothing like it does now, with its roads and tall concrete buildings. Singapore was once mostly marshes, mangroves and little villages. Land reclamation was necessary to ensure the growing population had enough room to expand, and this reclamation was one of the developments that helped transform this country into the metropolis it is today.

Land Reclamation Started a Long Time Ago

The earliest record of Singapore’s land size was 581.5 sq km in 1960. Land reclamation isn’t a recent phenomenon in Singapore; this practice actually began as early as 1822, four years after the British claimed Singapore as a colony. A nearby hillock was levelled to fill up swampy marshland at the south bank of the Singapore River to expand Singapore’s commercial district. The levelled hillock is today’s Raffles Place in the Central Business District, while the filled-in marsh became Boat Quay, then a major trading port. The area is now a nightlife stretch of bars and restaurants.

A Small Start During the Colonial Period

With Singapore’s growing importance as a trading outpost, much of the early land reclamation efforts were focused around the Singapore River and the ports in southern Singapore to facilitate an increase in commercial trade.

Memories of this early coastline can still be found today. Located quite far inland, Beach Road was once a coastal road named for the beaches that lined its shore and popular among rich Europeans who liked villas with a sea view. The diverse collection of temples, shrines and mosques along today’s Telok Ayer Street reflect both its history as a coastline and the major ethnic groups who came to Singapore; these religious institutions were the first places immigrants visited after a long, arduous journey to their new home country.

Nagore Durgha Shrine

One project of note was the filling in of mangrove swamps at Kallang Basin, an area with a reputation as ‘the worst mosquito-infested land on the island’. On this reclaimed land, Kallang Airport, Singapore’s first commercial international airport, was built in 1937. It ceased operations in 1955 when the newer Paya Lebar Airport was built, and it is slated to become a lifestyle hub called Old Airport Square in the near future.

A total of just 3 sq km of land was reclaimed during Singapore’s colonial period, up to the 1930s. This number seems small compared to later undertakings, but is no small feat given the technology of the day.

Post-Independence Land Reclamation Boom

No reclamation took place from the 1940s to the 1960s; it was a time of social upheaval in Singapore, from the Japanese Occupation during World War II to the merger and subsequent separation from Malaysia. Reclamation work began anew the year after Singapore’s independence, growing the country’s landmass exponentially by 138 sq km in just 50 years.

One major reclamation project was the expansion of the entire eastern coastline, creating new residential and commercial areas built entirely on reclaimed land, like Katong, Marine Parade, the East Coast Park and Singapore’s Changi Airport. This ‘Great Reclamation’ spanned 30 years, and one of these phases in the late 1970s set the stage for the Marina Bay area, transformed into an iconic skyline and financial hub today.

Aerial view of the Civic District, Singapore

To the west, land around Jurong and Tuas was mostly reclaimed for industrial use, like the building of shipyards and facilities for the marine and petrochemical industries. Many offshore islands in the southwest were also affected by land reclamation. Some islands were enlarged, while others were merged completely to form larger land masses, like Jurong Island, which is actually made out of 7 former smaller islands. Today, it is a major petrochemical industry hub.

Some other areas in Singapore that were reclaimed are the following: parts of Punggol and military island Pulau Tekong in the north, more of the port area around Pasir Panjang and Keppel, as well as islands like Sentosa and the Southern Island cluster.

Future Growth

Singapore is developing new technologies to make land reclamation a more sustainable process and to rely less on sand that is needed for the landfill. With little natural resources within its borders, Singapore has had to turn to neighbours like Indonesia and Malaysia to provide sand, which became an issue when Indonesia decided to ban the sale of sand to Singapore in 2007.

Land reclamation has had a significant impact on Singapore’s borders and terrain, with coastlines pushed back and hills levelled to provide landfill in other areas. With a projected increase in population over the next few decades, Singapore will continue to grow its borders and reclaim more land to make room for its new residents.

landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article