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“But what about Singapore?” Lessons from the best public housing program in the world

Abhas Jha's picture
Also available in: Mongolian | Chinese
 
Photo of Singapore by Lois Goh / World Bank

 
As we approach the 9th World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur next week, one of the essential challenges in implementing the New Urban Agenda that governments are struggling with is the provision at scale of high quality affordable housing, a key part of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 of building sustainable cities and communities.
 
When I worked on affordable housing in Latin America, one consistent piece of advice we would give our clients was that it is not a good idea for governments to build and provide housing themselves. Instead, in the words of the famous (and sadly late) World Bank economist Steve Mayo, we should enable housing markets to work. Our clients would always respond by saying, “But what about Singapore?” And we would say the Singapore case is too sui generis and non-replicable.

[Learn more about the World Bank's participation in the World Urban Forum]
 
Now, having lived in the beautiful red-dot city state for two and half years, and seeing up close the experience of public housing in Singapore, one is struck by elements of the Singapore housing experience that are striking for its foresight and, yes, its replicability!
 
Singapore’s governing philosophy has famously been described as “think ahead, think again and think across.” Nowhere is this more apparent than how the founding fathers designed the national housing program, and how it has adapted and evolved over the years, responding to changed circumstances and needs.

It is hard to believe today but in 1947 the British Housing Committee reported that 72% of a total population of 938,000 of Singapore was living within the 80 square kilometers that made up the central city area. When Singapore attained self-government in 1959, only 9% of Singaporeans resided in public housing. Today, 80% of Singaporeans live a government built apartment. There are about one million Housing and Development Board (HDB) apartments, largely clustered in 23 self-contained new towns that extend around the city’s coastal core.
 
How has Singapore succeeded where so many other countries have failed dismally? At the risk of over-simplification, there seem to be four essential ingredients to this astonishing success story:

E-justice: does electronic court reporting improve court performance?

Georgia Harley's picture


More and more courts are going digital. But does this improve judicial performance?
 
Legal literature on ‘e-justice’ seems to think so. So too does the World Development Report, ‘Digital Dividends,’ which highlights the potential for ICT to improve the transparency and quality of government service delivery.
 
As electronic court reporting is one key aspect of this trend, we want to take the opportunity to look at the pros and cons of improving judicial performance in different contexts.

GICA: Connecting the dots on global infrastructure connectivity

Kara Watkins's picture


The term “connectivity” is familiar to most of us, even if we don’t think about it much. When we bemoan the shortcomings of the mobile network in our neighborhood or thank the barista for the free and unexpectedly fast WIFI at our favorite coffee bar, we’re acknowledging the place connectivity has in our lives.
 
But connectivity also plays a larger, global role—one that links communities, economies, and countries through transport, trade, communications, energy, and water networks. In this broader form, it’s known as global infrastructure connectivity, and it boasts a special super power: the ability to catalyze infrastructure development.

2017 in review: The top ten World Bank education blogs

Anne Elicaño-Shields's picture
Celebrating education. (Photo: World Bank)


As the editor of the World Bank’s education blog, I get weekly submissions from our education experts from all corners of the globe. Provocative and informative, our bloggers write about some of the education sector’s most hotly debated issues today.

Here are 2017’s most-read blog posts:

#10 There are cost-effective ways to train teachers

Teachers are the single most important factor affecting how much students learn. However, talent and heart aren’t enough to make a good teacher- as in all professions, one must train (and continue to train!) to be truly effective. This can be a big challenge in countries with fewer resources for education. Read about how 8,000 teachers in disadvantaged districts in Ghana upgraded their skills while simultaneously teaching in schools.

In Singapore, exponential technologies flourish and forward-looking policies are being established to address development challenges

Paramita Dasgupta's picture
Singapore delivers for its talented entrepreneurs by extending assistance, financing, and incentives. In the last decade, Singapore has invested more than US$22 billion into helping companies develop and test new products and solutions. As a result, the number of start-ups in Singapore multiplied from 24,000 in 2005 to 55,000 in 2014.
 
Photo Credit: Mike Behnken

The innovation imperative: How Asia can leverage exponential technologies to improve lives and promote growth

Amira Karim's picture
Singapore: Global Innovation Forum

Robots will take over our jobs, disrupt our industries and erode our competitiveness.
 
Such were commonly expressed fears about advances in automation, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing – key representations of exponential technologies – during the inaugural Global Innovation Forum that took place in Singapore.
 
While robots continue to bear the brunt of public skepticism, participants at the Forum also expressed optimism about the emergence of innovations that could dramatically transform the quality of life for the poorest people in society, particularly in Asia, the region that was acknowledged by many participants as leading the pace of innovation around the globe.

The experience dividend for PPPs

Darwin Marcelo's picture


Photo: Gustave Deghilage | Flickr Creative Commons

Does experience in implementing Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) reduce a country's chances of contract failure?
 
In a recent study entitled Do Countries Learn from Experience in Infrastructure PPPs, we set out to empirically test whether general PPP experience impacts the success of projects—in this case, captured by a project's ability to forego the most extreme forms of failure that lead to cancellation.

One-stop shops and the human face of public services

Jana Kunicova's picture
Graphic: Nicholas Nam/World Bank

Delivering pension or disability services may sound mundane, but if you have seen the recent award-winning movie, I, Daniel Blake, it is anything but. As the film poignantly demonstrates, treating citizens with respect and approaching them as humans rather than case numbers is not just good practice -- it can mean life or death. In the film, Mr. Blake, an elderly tradesman with a heart condition, attempts to apply for a disability pension. In the process, he navigates a Kafkaesque maze of dozens of office visits, automated phone calls, and dysfunctional online forms. All of this is confusing and often dehumanizing.

PPI Database users leave their mark on the new resources section

Deblina Saha's picture


Photo: yuttana Contributor Studio / Shutterstock.com

Most of us carry out research and report our findings with the expectation—or at least a hope—of an audience.
 
Yet fewer amongst us are familiar with our audience, even though their feedback may help us improve our work.
 
We, the team behind the Private Participation in Infrastructure (PPI) Database—the most comprehensive database of private investments in infrastructure in the developing world—continue to strengthen the database and our ensuing analyses. Learning more about our audience is an important component of these efforts. 


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