So I recently went on a trip to Singapore (where my parents lived when they first got married) and we went on a nostalgia trip one afternoon. This entailed us passing by my dad’s bachelor pad, with him excitedly pointing it out from our seats on the Metro. The highlight of the entire afternoon was a visit to the apartment they first lived together in as a married couple. It is a modest 2 bedroom apartment in the housing Board, away from the city center and while I was partly appreciating the memories they’ve had together, I couldn’t help but have one very important observation.
Singapore’s Housing leaves everything else in the dust. By leaps and bounds.
Our housing boards pale in comparison. And it has been this way for the last 25 years and continues to do so. Yes, I mentally winced when I thought/wrote this. But it was an important comparison to make. Because we need to understand why there’s such a big disparity despite having similar conditions. A large population in a country that broke away from British Colonisation; A relatively poor country (30 years ago, yes) and a very heterogeneous population.
So what did the country get right ?
It gets the basics right. Water, Trash, Electricity and Parking. They were not trying to be innovative/different/symbolise waves of change, which in hindsight, I personally think they viewed as secondary to their agenda. They were simply trying to get it right and move people off the streets.
The planning is extremely straightforward and as efficient as it could get. Yet, it is informed design, one with such forethought that lifts are easily being fitted externally to existing buildings. The construction quality and maintenance of these structures over decades cannot be faulted.
ST FILE PHOTO: ALI YUSOFF; Singapore Press Holdings via http://www.straitstimes.com
It helped that they are a much smaller country (!) and that they had a visionary leader in Lee Kuan Yew. His seemingly dictatorial reign as the Prime Minister is the reason why Singapore is a ‘fine’ country today (Yes, pun intended).
Once the housing crisis was stabilised, then people can graduate into private houses. But the government laid a strong foundation to give them shelter. It continues to deliver. The upkeep of these apartments in the last 30 years, coupled with their proximity to transit lines make them marketable till date. It saves one the worry for basic infrastructure and give safe ground to stand on. Another important realisation from this trip – You cannot sustain development in the form of buildings if it isn’t supported by infrastructure.
PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES, DESMOND FOO via http://www.straitstimes.com
Featured Image: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES, DESMOND FOO via http://www.straitstimes.com
Secondly, Lee Kuan Yew had immense forethought and sensitivity to the quality of life spent in those apartments, as opposed to merely existing. Green spaces, walkability, community spaces with something as basic as a bench and table to play cards at are impressively integrated into their most basic offering of the dwelling.
The icing on the cake for me personally were signboards which read “Speak softly and be considerate” or “This is your toilet, keep it clean” at a metro station. Constant reminders of a place making of ownership – You need to feel like you belong to take care of it.
While the government had a very clear agenda, it had FORETHOUGHT – easily enough to sustain three decades and to instigate an offspring’s curiosity. And that just may be why Singapore has the upper hand and will continue to do so for the forthcoming years.