How do you rate a city? What is your personal yardstick? Is it the height of the buildings, or their architectural excellence? Is it the night spots, the city life, the ease of traffic flow or its congestion, the level of public art or its civic governance? Perhaps you avoid cities entirely, as I did for the twenty or so years that we were raising children, preferring small town friendliness to big city angst.

Having grown up in what used to be one of the world’s great cities, and longing for that elan and flair, that sense of excitement combined with a sense of security that Toronto has long since traded in for mere size, I can tell you precisely what I look for in a city: people space. Cities that make space for its people, attract and keep quality people who appreciate the respect they are given by a city that values them being there.

What you are seeing are pictures of the Botanical Gardens in Singapore, a huge park in the center of town, about five minutes from the top of Orchard Road, the Bloor Street of the city. Within the park is an outdoor concert pavilion which was setting up for a Chopin concert on the Sunday evening. Note that the concert shell looks a little like the top of a pitcher plant. Note too that while there are chairs for the musicians, the audience is invited to sit on the lawn and enjoy the beauty of the surroundings.

In addition there are sections of the park set aside for spice and herb plants, fruit trees, palms of various descriptions, banzai trees and orchids, for which Singapore is internationally famous. There are over a thousand species of orchids on display, many of the newer hybrids being cultivated right on the spot and named after various visiting dignitaries, like the Princess Diana orchid, all white of course, and the red and black Nelson Mandela orchid.

Everything was laid out with such care that you couldn’t help feeling relaxed and at peace. The walkways were clean, the plants were well looked after, the staff were courteous. Even the food, normally a problem at such places, was excellent. Cities that makes such spaces for their citizens, that care about more than just the financial well being, but the social and emotional well being of its people, attract people and keep them happy. Singapore is fundamentally a happy place.

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