Forum: Redesign housing estates to encourage mingling

HDB blocks in Toa Payoh.
HDB blocks in Toa Payoh.PHOTO: ST FILE

Gone are the days when someone could live all his life in one place, with few things changing during his lifetime.

Rapid and affordable mobility permanently altered the landscape of human settlement.

Immigration brings people from diverse places and backgrounds to become instant neighbours. Multicultural societies are the norm for cosmopolitan cities.

Ironically, we do not get to know new neighbours like in the past by looking across the backyard.

Modern architecture of high-rise dwellings that segregate people is a significant inhibitor in developing a cohesive multicultural community.

Such segregation in housing allows people to make little effort to get to know others around them.

Acculturation in cosmopolitan places is minimal. Instead, the perpetuation of isolation and alienation tends to be the norm.

A major change must involve the redesigning of dwellings and neighbourhoods for more accessible spaces for socialising.

Present provisions of so-called communal spaces, such as void decks, playgrounds and even community clubs, attract only a small group of users.

The challenge is to create connective social spaces that attract people naturally to congregate and interact, without them having to make a special effort to do so. This would certainly require creative and innovative ideas that are informed by a deep understanding of the psychology and social behaviours of residents beyond the usual discipline of architecture and town planning.

Can our architects, developers, the Housing Board and town planners do that?

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2019, with the headline 'Redesign housing estates to encourage mingling'. Print Edition | Subscribe