Housing and Social Cohesion in Singapore


On February 26, speaking at the inaugural Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore mentorship program for students, Mr. Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Social and Family Development said that “While the Government might build flats, achieving the aim of greater mixing across social divides called for more than this, as it entails people being willing to interact and foster strong community ties. Good design and careful planning can help foster this.” During the event, housing and social cohesion issues were discussed by the Minister, architects and real estate developers, as reported in an article in the Singapore newspaper, The Straits Time.

According to the 2010 Singapore Census of Population[1], ethnic Chinese constitute the majority of the population with 74.2 per cent; ethnic Malays 13.4 per cent; ethnic Indians 9.2 per cent; and other ethnic groups, including Eurasians, represent 3.2 per cent. Due to his, the Government introduced the Ethnic Integration Policy in order to prevent the formation of ethnic enclaves and, more generally, to promote racial harmony. Under this policy, each of the main ethnic groups has a maximum quota of homes that may be rented or purchased by them in each public housing block and neighborhood. Once the maximum quota has been reached for a particular ethnic group, no further sale or rental of apartments to members of that group will be allowed, unless the transaction is between members of the same ethnic group.

On March 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance published a report about Singapore in which it was stated that “common spaces and shared facilities such as playgrounds or fitness corners enable all communities to regularly interact and to gain entrance into each other’s world of food, festivals or social customs.” In particular, the Special Rapporteur’s attention was drawn to the “void decks” situated on the ground floor of each public housing block. These shared open spaces, where weddings, funerals or group games frequently take place, were highlighted as representing an important element of multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural life in Singapore.

In addition to this, the United Nations Human Settlement Program, UN-HABITAT, noted in a report published in 2011 that “As Singapore is a multi-racial, multi-cultural society; social harmony is a very important factor for stability and growth. Thus, the Ethnic Integration Policy has been established to ensure that racial enclaves are not formed within public housing developments”, adding in conclusion that “public housing policies in Singapore are convenient, efficient and effective tools by which the government could employ to achieve its social and economic goals.”

This public policy shows the benefits of working with planners, architects and academics identifying how our physical environment impacts on social cohesion. This is one of the commitments (Number VI) and fundamental components of the Shared Society Project. As reinforced by the different reports, the Singapore Housing Policy encourages mixed communities, enabling local authorities to ensure opportunities for building Shared Societies..

[1] http://www.singstat.gov.sg/

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