Cities That Are Not New York: Singapore, Cont’d!

Earlier today Mike concluded that “Singapore is not the answer” but I don’t know, Mike, are you sure? Yeah, it is authoritarian-socialist, not democratic-socialist, like the warmer and fuzzier Scandinavian countries. Artists and gum-chewers alike may find themselves feeling creatively stifled. Normal people can afford to live there, though, in part because housing is considered a right, not a privilege:

Singapore seems to have handled massive urbanization while keeping things relatively affordable. The country also is generally well regarded for its emphasis on urban design.

What does Singapore have going for it? Massive public investment in housing, at levels that are frankly unthinkable in North America. More than 80 percent of the population live in their version of public housing. Which, since it’s occupied by the large bulk of the middle class and not just the poor, doesn’t carry the same connotations as public housing does in North America.

We build housing too! Just not, generally, affordable housing, especially not in our boom towns. Could we get behind the idea that everyone deserves a place to live, as a culture? Doubtful: it’s hard enough to get everyone to pitch in to fund public schools. Still, the situation over there in East Asia seems pretty enviable.

The most basic thing Singapore got right is building a massive amount of housing—120,000 new units between 2000 and 2008, which is comparable to the number of new units built in Toronto in the same years. And that was a slow period for Singapore. Meanwhile, Canada’s largest provider of public housing has less than 60,000 units in total and a $751 million repair backlog on a good day—and hasn’t had a lot of good days lately.

Public investment can work, in other words, if you’re willing to commit to something that’s basically hallucinatory in a Canadian or American context.

It wasn’t always hallucinatory, though the Co-op City moment does seem to have passed. Could we get there again? Would you want to?



Show Comments

From Our Partners