“But what about Singapore?”
… having lived in the beautiful red-dot city state for two and half years, and seeing up close the experience of public housing in Singapore, one is struck by elements of the Singapore housing experience that are striking for its foresight and, yes, its replicability! …
How has Singapore succeeded where so many other countries have failed dismally? At the risk of over-simplification, there seem to be four essential ingredients to this astonishing success story:
1. The importance of neighborhoods.
… the careful bottom-up design of neighborhoods matters a lot! …
Singapore got this fundamental fact right early on. Housing estates are carefully designed with mixed-income housing, each having access to high-quality public transport and education, and the famous Singapore hawker centers where all income classes and ethnicities meet, socialize, play, and dine together on delicious and affordable food. …
The apartment blocks are designed to encourage the “kampong” (social cohesion) spirit with the “void decks” (vacant spaces on the ground levels of the HDB blocks) and common corridors (common linked spaces that provide access to individual units on the same floor) that foster interactions between neighbors.
2. The smart use of urban density.
This has been done by carefully designing the height and proportion of buildings in relation to one another. Dr. Liu Thai Ker, the legendary Singaporean urban planner, compares this to a chess board where no two pieces are of the same height. …
Buildings are also interspaced with high quality green open spaces.
3. An integrated approach to housing—from planning and design, through land assembly and construction, to management and maintenance.
The Housing & Development Act (1960) gave the Housing and Development Board, as the apex housing agency, the lead role across the housing value chain. In most countries, access to land for affordable housing is a critical constraint. In Singapore in 1967, the Land Acquisition Act empowered the country to acquire land at low cost for public use.
Today, 90% of land is owned by the state as opposed to 49% in 1965. Great emphasis is placed on standardization and efficiencies in construction management. …
They are immaculately maintained. In 1989, Town Councils were introduced to empower local elected representatives and residents to run their own estates. Today, there are 16 Town Councils managing the HDB housing estates in Singapore.
4. Long-term and strong political commitment.
The popular and political support for public housing in Singapore is strong and stable. And this has meant a high level of public subsidies to HDB (in 2017 this was S$1.19 billion).