1923 – 2015
There must be a sense of playing fields, and recreational areas for children and old people – a sense that this is a full country with all the facilities which you expect of a large country but in a confined space.”
By any measure, Singapore has done well. The vast majority of people live in affordable and good quality public housing (83%). 90% own their own homes. The city buzzes with nightlife and activities, playing host to major international events. When we want to relax, we can step out of our homes and enter a comprehensive network of parks, greenery, and activated waterways, all bustling with biodiversity. But half a century ago, Singapore was a very different place.
Building up a sense of nationhood and unity was of paramount concern when Singapore separated from Malaysia. Providing a good quality living environment for all, regardless of their status, coupled with universal home ownership, was a fundamental principle on which all policies were based. Building public housing on such a scale was a massive exercise. In its first five years, the HDB built 50,000 units. The HDB housing programme proved a resounding success. By 1976, half of the population lived in HDB flats. A decade later (1985), it was 80%. But it was not just a numbers game. The public housing programme aimed to get Singaporeans to own their flats, instead of just renting them…