Singapore / “Breaking the back of the housing problem”¹

The first ten years of the Housing and Development Board were to prove pivotal to Singapore’s history. Housing was used as a conditioning tool one could say. Small one bedroom apartments had no space for utilities so the communal kitchens and toilets forced people of different backgrounds to interact regardless of cultural and religious differences. The fixing of rent at $20 and provision of adequate subsidies also ensured the new construction was for the benefit of lower income groups, unlike those built by the SIT which were largely out of the reach of the common man with rents between $25-50.

Housing does not only serve to shelter people but is a physical reminder of how much Singapore had achieved. The tangibility of buildings make for a strong presence in the memory of the people. Furthermore, by concentrating large farming communities into new ‘towns’, the government could focus on redeveloping the rest of the island in a controlled manner. The resettlement of those whose land was acquired provided another opportunity for the authorities to control the population. In addition, the rapid building program of the HDB also spurred the development of public transport networks as residents would have to commute to the downtown area.

The creation of open spaces in the Garden City ideal further promoted community cohesion. In the revised plan of the Queenstown neighborhood Duchess Estate, for example, long slab blocks which were originally parallel to each other were rearranged to form quadrangles. This was especially important for a multi-ethnic society like Singapore, with three different races and four different languages being spoken. Public housing thus proved to be an ideal tool to integrate what easily could have become a racially-polarized state.



1. Asad Latif., (2009). Lim Kim San: A Builder of Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

2. Lim, Kim San. (1997). Economic Development of Singapore.[online] Available at:

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