Chan Chun Sing: Build Social Cohesiveness Through Property Design

SINGAPORE: 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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