All about Singapore

Topics: Chinatown


1. Introduction

Singapore is a small city-state located in South East Asia (Figure XX). The country name “Singapore” was combined by two Malay words “Singa” (lion) and “Pura” (city) which means “Lion City” even though studies have shown that lions have never inhabited Singapore (Hawksford, 2019). Thanks to its strategic location at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, Singapore became a British trading post along the spice route by Lieutenant General Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. Subsequently, Singapore turned out to be the most important commercial and military center of the British Empire and was politically administered by a governor under the jurisdiction of the Colonial Office in London (Hawksford, 2019).

Singapore was once occupied by the Japanese army during World War II and gained its self-governing state from the British Empire with Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015) as its first Prime Minister who is recognized as Singapore’s founding father today. He is the man behind Singapore’s miraculous transformation from a Third World colonial entrepôt into a First World nation (Tan, 2008).

With 5.6 million inhabitants within 720 sqm of land area (Department of Statistics Singapore, 2018, Singapore has a serious land constraint that makes the city planning pragmatic for both economic development and housing policy (Phang, 2018)

The ethnic profile of the country comprises Chinese (74.3%), Malay (13.4%), Indian (9.0%), and Others (3.2%) (Department of Statistics Singapore, 2018) with four official languages including Malay, Mandarin Chinese, Tamil and English (Seah, 2018). Except for the iconic ethnic neighborhoods such as Chinatown for the Chinese Singaporeans, Little India for the Indian Singaporeans, and Kampong Glam for the Malay ethnic group, there are no segregated residential areas across the island due to the government housing policies which has been in place since the 1960s (StudyCountry, 2019).

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In terms of religion, Buddhism and Taoism have the largest followers with 43.2% of the population (Singapore Department of Statistics, 2015). Islam which is the official religion of the Malays made up 14% of the population. Christianity, Hinduism, and others are also observed to be practiced.

Almost one-third of the population are foreigners with different languages and cultures contributes to the diversity of the city.

  • Singlish
  • Public holidays

2. Literature review

“Diversity” was defined by several meanings in literature for urban designers, planners, sociologists, or cultural analysts (Fainstein, 2005). In Singapore’s context, “diversity” mainly indicates the differences in ethnicities, cultures, religions, or social status (such as income) within a defined space which was recognized as “the biggest challenge” to build the nation by the founding father Lee Kwan Yew from the first day of the sovereignty (Khoo, 2017). With the influx of migrants came to Singapore to compensate for the country’s aging population, Singapore has become a “super-diversity” in terms of immigration status, restrictions of rights disparate experiences in the labor market, various gender and age profiles, geographical distributions as well as different resident attitudes towards these immigrants (Vertovec, 2007).

3. Overview of Singapore’s housing policies

4. Research question

  • How does the Government of Singapore manage the country’s diversity in terms of housing policies?
  • What are the significances and setbacks of the existing policies?
  • The relevance and transferability of the Singapore housing policy to other countries?

5. Research methodology

In this paper, a case study was adopted as a research methodology. Information was collated through secondary sources namely academic journals, articles, books as well as internet data sources.

6. Analysis: Diversity planning policies in housing

Housing Mix Policy

Social homogeneity had never been supported by the UK government as described by Wood and Laundry in the book “The Intercultural City: Planning for Diversity Advantage”. Segregation was discouraged when building new housing developments to achieve mixed and balanced communities (Wood and Landry, 2008). It is interesting to know that Colonial town planning in Singapore is divided based on allocations of housing areas for each ethnic community like Europeans, Chinese, Indians, Bugis, and Malay. Furthermore, Chinatown was separated from southern China dialect-speaking groups such as Teochew, Cantonese, and Hokkien in the nineteenth century (Phang, 2018). In 1965, Singapore gained its independence and became the Republic of Singapore. Understand the diverse profile of the nation, the newly born government worked towards a society with equal rights and opportunities, and racial and religious harmony. This was reflected in the National Pledge:” to be one united people, regardless of race, language, or religion“. July 21 was chosen to be Racial Harmony Day for schools to celebrate across the country.

Debated in the UK and other parts of Europe, people first have to live together to do things together. Not only about ethnicities, but it is also important to create mixed neighborhoods where the housing tenures, social class, and income levels of all the residents are diverse (Wood and Landry, 2000).

HDB is designed to integrate various income groups within a housing block. There is a policy to include all flat types (ranging from 1-room to 5-room flats) in public housing estates and new towns. This is to ensure that the low-income ghettos will not be developed in the slum-free city. In the book “Policy innovations for affordable housing in Singapore: from colony to global city”, Phang described the careful planning mix done by HDB planners in a way that succeeding flat types 2- and 3-room, 3- and 4-room, and 4- and 5-room are adjacent as they have a high likelihood of socio-economic compatible to facilitate interaction and social cohesion. On the other hand, 1- and 3-room or 2- and 5-room flats will not be mixed as with greater socio-economic divergence, social cohesion will less likely to be achieved.

Ethnic Integration Policy

Before its independence, Singapore had experienced several conflicts in terms of race and religion. During the merger with Malaysia, two ethnic violence incidents occurred in 1964 between the Chinese and the Malays which led to subsequent racial tension and disagreements regarding the Malay privileges. As a result, Singapore was expelled from Malaysia and became an independent republic in 1965. However, communal riots between the above two races broke out again left 4 dead and 80 injuries which emphasized the important role of racial and religious harmony in national security and stability.

In the built environment, this has been translated to the HDB’s mission:” promote the building of active and cohesive communities” that all the new flats will be allocated to different races within the estate compounding. The policy was explained by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as “prevented them from congregating, as they had been encouraged to do by the British” (Centre for Liveable Cities, cited in Phang, 2018, p. 117)

Community space design

In addition, the communal space design within the common areas such as corridors, lift lobbies, and void deck (empty common space at ground level) where the residents meet and interact were also taken into account by HDB planners. This was done with the help of sociologists as the government had taken into consideration people’s way of life which was interactively affected by the surrounding environment. Access to public spaces and public infrastructures are equally distributed such as shops, markets, parks, and public transportation for social fairness.

Hawker center design: It is undoubtedly that cuisine is a crucial element reflecting the culture the food is made from.

It is worth mentioning that for Singapore has a great advantage to create socio-economical mix thanks to the constitution of the HDB which is a 100% owned by the government, unlike other countries whereby social housing development is in the hands of private developers.

Cite this page

All about Singapore. (2022, Aug 15). Retrieved from

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