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

Residents bonding over their shared interest in birds in a void deck in Yishun. A void deck has many social uses, said Mr Chan Chun Sing, and instead of infringing on these spaces, childcare centres can be designed upfront into the second storey or c
Residents bonding over their shared interest in birds in a void deck in Yishun. A void deck has many social uses, said Mr Chan Chun Sing, and instead of infringing on these spaces, childcare centres can be designed upfront into the second storey or carparks. -- PHOTO: ST FILE 

Minister for Social and Family Development calls for designs of facilities that foster social mixing

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 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."

wrennie@sph.com.sg