Friday 27 February 2015

Bridging social divide calls for more than HDB flats on prime land: Chan Chun Sing

Minister for Social and Family Development calls for designs of facilities that foster social mixing
By Rennie Whang, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2015

THE rich-poor divide in society cannot be bridged simply by building more Housing Board flats on prime land, said the Minister for Social and Family Development yesterday.

While the Government might build such 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, said Mr Chan Chun Sing. Good designs and careful planning can help foster this, he added.

He was responding to a question on whether the Government would consider increasing interaction between the haves and have-nots by building HDB flats on prime land, like Marina South.

Real social mixing goes beyond buildings, but more importantly, it is about the more successful people reaching out and "giving their time, talent, treasures", he said.

Mr Chan was speaking at the inaugural Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore (REDAS) mentorship programme for students.

Architects, he said, could play a role in fostering greater social interaction across social groups. They would have to tackle issues such as balancing the need for privacy against the need for people to have access to a social support network in an age where family sizes have shrunk.

Mr Chan told the 50 students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University at the event that, ideally, good

design can guard against the worst of Singaporeans' self-preserving nature - the "not in my backyard" syndrome.

"As architects and real estate developers... (we) can mitigate and minimise the syndrome, if we design according to the needs of the community or emerging community, if we have a good feel of the needs."

A void deck, for example, has many social uses. Instead of infringing on these spaces, childcare centres can be designed upfront into the second storey or carparks, said Mr Chan.

He appealed to students: "As you develop your skills... may you consider carefully how living spaces are designed, and be architects of communities."

Mr Chan cited The Pinnacle@ Duxton HDB complex, noting that apart from potential capital gains, residents paid lower conservancy fees than at a private condominium.

He said rental flats could be included in blocks of Build-to-Order flats, but asked if Singaporeans would want this: "Many people would wax lyrical about (solving the rich-poor divide), but we must touch our hearts (and ask ourselves), will you look down on someone because he stays in a rental flat in the same block?

"Will you shake your head and wonder why we are mixing with these people... Will they affect my flat value?... If our hearts and our answers are different, it says something about us as individuals and as a society."

NUS student Ho Wen Feng said the dialogue on social integration gave him more to think about. "We learnt it is a constant challenge... And we can see the Government is hearing our views, putting in effort to solve the problem of the divide."

Building social inclusiveness through property design
By Eileen Poh, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Feb 2015

Building rental units next to new Build-to-Order flats and getting real estate students to also study social sciences - some of the ideas raised by Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing to have more social inclusiveness in Singapore.

Mr Chan was speaking to 50 engineering and real estate students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) at a dialogue on Wednesday (Feb 25).

Homes today provide greater privacy - for instance, common corridors are no longer seen at newer blocks. Flat owners can have greater privacy this way, but it can have social implications, said Mr Chan.

"In short, today's privacy will be tomorrow's social isolation,” said Mr Chan.

“That common corridor doesn't just serve a functional role to allow people to get from the lift lobby or staircase back to their house – it allows mixing, it allows people to get to know their neighbours, it allows people to walk past and greet each other,” he explained.

“When we take away that in the name of privacy, then we have to ask ourselves the next design that we need to incorporate that will allow people to have privacy and at the same time, not create a situation where in 20 to 30 years' time, we will have an aged population with a social problem."

Mr Chan said in fostering social interaction, those in the real estate industry have an important role. Developers could consider building different types of flats, including rental units, in a single project to bring together people of different social and economic status.

“Perhaps it's important, in our whole society, to have social mixing whereby the rich grow up understanding that there are poor people in this society, that we will count our blessings, that in this society it's our responsibility for those who have been more blessed to extend a helping hand to the poor,” he said.

Mr Chan added that in cases of the “not-in-my-backyard” syndrome, designers and architects can also help to mitigate the situation through careful design.

But for the property sector to play that role well, those in the industry, and real estate students, need to have a good understanding of social needs. That is still lacking in the curriculum of some universities in Singapore, said Mr Chan.

"If you want to be a good architect, a good real estate student, beyond architecture and real estate, you should really study sociology, demographics - you should study social sciences," he said.

When asked if the government will consider building HDB flats at prime locations such as downtown Marina to improve social interaction, Mr Chan said he is sceptical it would work, as there are other issues to consider.

For instance, buyers can purchase HDB flats in prime areas at "artificially low prices", only to flip them in the resale market and enjoy a windfall.

"Who is cross-subsidising them? The Government? Actually the Government has no money to cross-subsidise,” he said. “The real answer is the rest of the people - the three-room flats and the four-room flats are cross-subsidising them. That comes to another point which is then, is this a fair system? So there are complex considerations on where we want to build."

Organisers of the dialogue, the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore, said it hoped to foster a better understanding of the real estate environment amongst youths.

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