Why is Singapore so poor

The scent of peanut satay wafts through the air from the left, a breeze of roasted soy duck wafts in from the right, and the fresh coriander rises from the soup bowl into your nose. The intense mix of exotic scents in the Hawker Center not far from the Rochor Canal in Singapore is accompanied by a concert of Asian languages ​​and the angular sound of Indian English. A lot comes together here that defines the character of the metropolis on the equator: its ethnicities, wealthy people, poor eaters, their food cultures. Visitors have a wide choice of local specialties. For the city, these traditional snack bars, there are hundreds of them, are an integral part of social cohesion.

Public life takes place on the ground floors. That promotes cohesion

In the Hawker, people from all walks of life meet to enjoy their favorite dishes for little money at one of the unpretentious plastic tables. Because customers simply take a seat where something is free, rich sit next to poor, old next to young, East Asian next to South Asian. Singapore's Vice Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam emphasized the importance of the centers for the city at a conference organized by the think tank The Brookings Institution in Washington: "Individual owners who run the small stalls and everyone eats there: different ethnic groups, different social groups. That's Singapore's secret recipe, the neighborhoods. " It is a recipe for the cement that has to hold a metropolis together in which the Chinese, Tamils, Malays and people in suits from all over the world live together in a small space.

The population of Singapore has grown enormously over the past 60 years: from less than a million people in the 1950s to almost six million. The population growth poses a particular challenge. However, the city-state has succeeded in mastering this without any noticeable social or ethnic tensions.

"How do you explain this success that was withheld from other large cities?" Asks Abhas Jha from the World Bank, who deals with financing and risk management in urban development. Jha has lived in the city since 2015 and is fascinated by "the expertise and foresight in Singapore's housing construction". He knows about challenges that developers elsewhere in the world have not been able to cope with. "Badly designed public housing, such as in New York or Paris, resulted in the creation of ghettos of poverty that intensified inequalities and social unrest." Singapore was spared these negative effects.

It is often puzzled why this is so and whether the Singapore model can be transferred to other metropolises. Jha thinks that's it. It just needs to be followed consistently. Others doubt it because the city-state, despite an outwardly democratic structure, shows authoritarian traits and the authorities can implement their housing policy without compromise. For example, sales prices for new buildings are below their market value. The size of a family depends on how big their apartment can be. Single people have to reach a minimum age in order to be able to buy at all.

The basic principles of social housing in Singapore consist on the one hand of a targeted development of local infrastructure. The residential complexes are well connected to local public transport, so that even workplaces that are further away are relatively easy to reach for the residents. On the other hand, within walking distance, the facilities usually offer everything that makes life easier for a family: schools, kindergartens, medical care, shopping and local recreation. Often the ground floors of high-rise buildings are intended for public use; instead of apartments, there are meeting places, leisure facilities or parcels for dealers and service providers. In this way, independent communities emerge within the individual districts, in which people can meet again and again and in which their social ties are strengthened.

More than 80 percent of all Singapore residents live in a building that originates from social housing.

The nearest park is often only a ten-minute walk away

However, if you live in one of the private apartment blocks, access to buses and trains is more complicated. Because of their greater exclusivity, the plots are often somewhat isolated. The real estate developers also assume that buyers of one of these apartments have enough money to buy a car and are therefore not dependent on other means of transport.

Playgrounds, parks and walking paths are another indispensable building block of the neighborhoods. Eight out of ten households in the metropolis can reach a park within a maximum of ten minutes on foot, around 400 meters away. By 2030 it should be nine out of ten households. "These are rooms that mean quality of life and that are not far from your home, no matter what social class you belong to," enthused politician Shanmugaratnam.

In order to prevent disputes over competence, the responsible authority HDB has decentralized the authority over the development of new public building projects. The city is divided into 16 districts, which independently decide how the facilities are built and managed. Residents can actively intervene in the planning and have a say in decisions. The principle here: the residents of a district know best what is good for them. The districts are also responsible for ensuring that no ethnic ghettos are formed. When selling apartments, the authorities make sure that all ethnicities have the same role, not meticulously according to quotas, but so consistently that no group can completely isolate itself. In this way, the administration removes the breeding ground for threatening racial hatred.

The government also makes sure that the residential complexes are not ugly buildings. Internationally renowned architecture firms compete against each other in the tenders. One of the most spectacular residential complexes is The Interlace by German architect Ole Scheeren. The facility was also created under the umbrella of public housing. In 2015 it was named Building of the Year at the prestigious World Architecture Festival in Barcelona.