After more than three years, we finally leveled up our revenge travel by booking a flight to Singapore. After exactly 10 years since our first visit, Singapore continues to fascinate us. It is no wonder why many cities aspire to be like it.

There is so much to like about Singapore apart from the usual tourist destinations. It is often associated with cleanliness and first impressions are vital for this tiny Southeast Asian country. Setting foot on Changi Airport, which was recently awarded “World’s Best Airport” by Skytrax this year, one could immediately feel the unique character of the place.

We were greeted by perfumed air with green walls as backdrops. Relaxing after a more than three-hour flight and seeing their immaculately clean, dry and fragrant restrooms served as a teaser of what to expect from this city-state.

As a tourist, it is inevitable not to admire the litter-free roads, sidewalks and public spaces. If one looks back at the history of Singapore, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew envisioned a Singapore that was going to be a “first-world oasis” after its separation from Malaysia in the mid-’60s. With a cooperative citizenry, Singapore has achieved such status.

The high-density living in the country could not be felt as public open spaces are abundant. In a 2013 study conducted by Dr. Limin Hee and Dr. Scott Dunn, they pointed out that one principle concerning liveability present in Singapore is its ability to relieve density through varied developments and by adding “green boundaries.” Parks between high-density neighborhoods create some sort of “social distancing” between these buildings while providing “breathing spaces” in the city.

Geographically, Singapore is very close to the equator. Thus, it can be extremely hot at times. However, it is refreshing to walk into green pockets and seek refuge from huge canopies of trees inside a busy urban environment.

Speaking of trees, we revisited the Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay in Marina Bay Sands. This time, we went there in the late afternoon. These trees come “alive” at night as they dazzle visitors with a light and sound show, making people troop to this open space. More than just tourist attractions, these modern-looking structures have become vertical gardens with diverse flora and have become symbols of environmental sustainability in Singapore.

Its wide sidewalks lined with well-manicured landscaping assure pedestrian safety. These sidewalks and open areas provide a fitting foreground to awe-inspiring architecture that is not just eye candy to architects like me but also boasts of the best examples of “green design.” Among many found in this city is the 2023 ArchDaily Building of the Year, CapitaSprings by Bjarke Ingels Group. This 280-meter-high mixed-use building has 80,000 plants in addition to sky gardens and a rooftop park. There is also the durian-looking Esplanade Theater, which has an external shading system composed of triangular louvers that adjust themselves according to the sun’s position during the day. In Singapore, the built environment is not just indicative of progress but also the attainment of its goal as a first-world garden city.

We cannot blame other cities for making Singapore a benchmark of their sometimes utopian dreams. Though we can never “photocopy” Singapore, striking a balance between economic advancement and environmental sensitivity is something that could inspire other cities to initiate positive changes. Through many years and rising from the pandemic, Singapore is the quintessential clean and progressive “first-world” city worth your next visit.