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January 2018

“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:

How to capture public life in public spaces?

Fen Wei's picture
Photo credit: Lois Goh/ World Bank
Urbanization and economic growth go hand in hand.  Cities are turning into centers of attraction in developing countries and their population is rising constantly. In such cities, we often see in a city a mix of old and new, slow and fast: Street vendors hawking their wares by luxury shopping malls; highways segmentizing parks and walkways; high-rise crowding out traditional neighborhoods, etc. However, we do not often see a well-balanced mix that serves all urban dwellers with a wide array of needs, economically and socially.
 
What are the ingredients of a good urban life, or rather, what does it take for a city to make the public happy? The answer to this is multifaceted. Cities need to be accessible, vibrant, and create safe public spaces to meet public needs.
 
As UN-Habitat’s Charter of Public Space states, public spaces are a key element of individual and social well-being, the places of a community’s collective life, particularly in situations of poverty and limited public resources, such as those in the developing countries. The Charter also highlights that participation of citizens and in particular of communities of residents is of crucial importance for the maintenance and management of public spaces. While there might be no objection to this statement, it is also true that it has been easily overlooked, especially in developing countries, for the sake of “economic efficiency.”

World Bank at the World Urban Forum: Three key ways to implement the New Urban Agenda

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Over a year ago, national and city leaders from around the world gathered at the Habitat III conference in Quito to endorse the New Urban Agenda, which sets a new global standard for sustainable urban development and guides global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the era of climate change.
 
In just three weeks, early February 2018, representatives of the world’s countries and cities will convene again to discuss “Cities 2030, Cities for All: Implementing the New Urban Agenda” at the world’s premier conference on cities – the Ninth Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Kuala Lumpur, co-hosted by UN-Habitat and the government of Malaysia. 
 
 
In the video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG) and Director Sameh Wahba (@SamehNWahba) share the World Bank's three priorities at the World Urban Forum.

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World Urban Forum:

As the world’s largest financier on urban development, the World Bank will focus on three issues at the World Urban Forum that are essential for implementing the New Urban Agenda toward the Sustainable Development Goals:

The secret sauce for making the New Urban Agenda a success

Luis Triveno's picture

Also available in: Español | 中文

Credit: Lois Goh/ World Bank


Modernity’s most common story spanning national, cultural and religious borders is about people moving from rural areas to the cities. By 2030, 80% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas, following the dream of better jobs, education, and health care.

Too often, however, that dream risks remaining an urban daydream, due to natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods, as well as climate change. Those of us working to help these families find a better future must focus more on ways to support efforts to protect their lives – and their livelihoods.
 
In the 40 years since the launch of Habitat I, governments and municipalities throughout emerging and developing countries have been proving that their cities can be not only inclusive and secure, but also resilient and sustainable. However, unless they increase their speed and scale, they are unlikely to achieve the goals of the “New Urban Agenda” and its Regional Plans, launched at Habitat III in 2016.
 
From our perspective helping governments in Latin America and the Caribbean, and ahead of the World Urban Forum taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in February, let us share three key ingredients necessary to achieve that goal: