SINGAPORE: Housing and urban plans in Singapore must continue to push back against the growing pressures of inequality and social stratification, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said on Thursday (May 17).
An outstanding city is not just economically attractive but also inclusive, a place that embraces diversity, where different social groups mix and have equal opportunities to participate, he added.
He said Singapore has worked hard to avoid problems faced by other cities such as the deterioration of areas outside of the downtown core, and segregation of neighbourhoods- between the rich and poor, ethnic groups and young and old.
Every HDB town has a balanced mix of residents across different ethnic groups and backgrounds, a mix of public-private developments, as well as different HDB flat types catering to diverse needs, Mr Wong said.
There are also common spaces where residents of different backgrounds can socialise and amenities like shops, hawker centres and playgrounds where people can get together no matter who they are, he said.
TAKING CARE OF THE LOWER-INCOME AND ELDERLY
Singapore cannot just leave things to chance, but deliberately plan for a more equal and inclusive society. This is why the Government has been building more rental flats with newer, better designs, alongside the sold flats in various HDB towns.
“This means that families grow up in the same neighbourhood, and the residents share the same common areas and facilities,” he said. He added that the Government is going one step further to integrate rental and sold units within the same HDB block.
“We’ve done well in the last 50 years, but more still needs to be done,” he said.
He pointed to almost 1,000 households moving out of rental flats to become homeowners as a result of efforts to help families in such residences.
To improve the situation further, his ministry will be working with the Ministry of Social and Family Development, Social Services Office and Voluntary Welfare Organisations to explore how it can support the families, help them solve their issues holistically and get back on their feet.
In order to take care of another segment of society, the elderly, especially those living on their own in studio and 2-room flexi apartments, MND is putting a “lot more emphasis in the way we design our HDB flats and estates”, he said.
This means more shared public spaces, like civic plazas and community gardens, for them to stay active, and more community services and amenities under one roof, for convenient access
“We don’t want them to feel isolated and disengaged,” he said.
INCLUSIVE DEVELOPMENT INCLUDES CONTINUAL RENEWAL
Another aspect of inclusive development is to continually renew buildings and infrastructure, Mr Wong said.
“We don’t want a situation where certain parts of Singapore are left to degrade and we end up with deteriorated neighbourhoods or towns, inhabited largely by lower-income or elderly residents,” he said.
However, he said this is not just a matter for the Government, but a shared responsibility. Town Councils need to ensure proper maintenance and upkeeping of the estate, and residents need to take care of the neighbourhood, he said.
MND has put in place several programmes for estate renewal, such as the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme, he said.
Addressing calls for the extension of these programmes, Mr Wong said upgrading projects are expensive, and span many years
“We have to study this carefully to make sure we have the resources to follow through on any future commitments,” he said.
RESILIENCE IN URBAN DEVELOPMENT
Besides being more innovative and inclusive, the Government also has to incorporate resilience in urban development, Mr Wong said.
A big unknown is whether the planet can continue to sustain economic activities.
“If the world does not do enough to tackle climate change, Singapore will be at risk of coastal inundation due to sea level rises,” he said.
Speaking about preparations to strengthen Singapore’s resilience against climate change, he highlighted the polder development in Pulau Tekong. The dike system in the polder is designed to cater for a sea-level rise. The dike can also be raised and upgraded more easily compared to traditional reclamation.
The Government is also studying how best to safeguard Singapore’s long-term coastal protection needs by undertaking detailed modelling and engineering studies and recommending appropriate protection strategies, he said.