Urban Planetary Health: Relocating to the Concrete Jungle
story | Shawn Kit, Contributing Reporter
photos | Pan Jia Qi
Let’s face it – if you have been favored by the Week 7 algorithm, the last thing you would want to see is an email saying “we have decided to relocate the Learning Across Boundaries (LAB) program (from not-Singapore) to Singapore”. Not being able to touch base with the jungle greenery in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, was a harsh blow. Although, given that the haze caused the Air Quality Index to reach 400 there, my reaction was at best ambivalent. But the need to cancel the original Week 7 plan spoke volumes about the deteriorating state of our planetary health.
Perhaps it was apt, then, that the topic of the LAB was retained, and given new life in having us understand how planetary health can be preserved here in Singapore. For a total of seven days, we interacted with various stakeholders who had a hand in the issue of food sustainability – traditional and urban farmers, social enterprises, wholesale food retailers, innovators, and researchers. We questioned them about how their efforts targeted the various issues of sustainability and the power dynamics that govern interactions between them, everyday Singaporeans, and the government.
I am going to admit that us students had barely anything to do with re-planning the Planetary Health LAB. In just three days, the LAB leaders scheduled an entire course correction, providing an experience that was immensely stimulating. We could count at least a dozen external parties with whom we interacted with over the week, participating in activities like a food rescue mission, a fish market visit at 2 am, and a nighttime barbecue on a rooftop urban farm (which boasted live chickens and ducks!).
Kei Franklin ’17 came onboard for the planning of the original Planetary Health program and stayed till the end as an invaluable mentor to us. She shared, “The external parties that came on board were all contacts or friends of Professor Brian McAdoo and Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE) coordinators Tan Yock Theng and Zhana Sandeva. Their willingness to come on board at the last minute speaks to the power of social capital and the strength of actively maintained, strong, mutual, and sincere relationships.”
“I think that the process of planning this trip was an exercise in resilience. Everyone (students, trip leaders, CIPE, and partners in Indonesia included) was disappointed that we had to change plans at the last minute, but it also felt like an opportunity to practice and model the skills like pausing, taking a step back, re-articulating the foundational values and priorities of the trip, communicating clearly, being proactive and resilient, and not being overly attached to any plan (with a capital ‘P’) or vision that we had had. As the health of the planet worsens, things are going to become even more turbulent and unpredictable. We will need to develop, practice, and hone these skills,” she said.
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