Public housing, social integration go hand in hand: DPM Tharman

Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has suggested the the country’s experience with fully-integrated public housing can help other nations that are struggling to achieve equality and inclusivity.

He was speaking in Washington on Monday (Nov 30) at a specially-convened symposium that comes at the end of a year of racial and ethnic tensions in several key American cities.

Places like Ferguson, Missouri served as the dramatic backdrop for the DPM’s visit to Washington. The riots that convulsed the St Louis suburb earlier this year following the police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown are widely seen as symptomatic of broader problems in the US.

As such, The Brookings Institution in Washington hosted a day-long symposium aimed at finding ways of improving equity and opportunity in some of the country’s most polarised and impoverished neighborhoods.

“This conference and other things that can follow from it can can live up to the idea that we can make our country truly equal not just in racial equality or gender equality or religious equality, but also in housing equality. That is a very important thing that I hope we can get out of this conference,” said Mr David Rubenstein, Duke University.

The keynote address was made by Mr Tharman, who said that through careful design of public housing and ongoing rejuvenation, Singapore had avoided the pitfalls that beset many other developed nations.

“The secret sauce is our neighbourhoods, the composition of them and the way they are designed so as to maximise interactions and give us the best chance of achieving and integrated community. They are designed for that purpose,” said Mr Tharman.

The Deputy Prime Minister argued that housing assets in Singapore appreciate in value through careful stewardship that promotes not just flats themselves, but schools, parks, and tolerance of all faiths.

Public housing that avoids any kind of segregation is, he said, at the core of social policies that have promoted cohesion and economic vitality in Singapore.

In the United States, many people harbour a deep distrust and suspicion of government and want to limit – not expand – its role in the daily lives of citizens. But Mr Tharman’s message was that any country failing to build fully-integrated, socially-conscious housing is only creating problems for itself further down the road.


Mr Tharman said a country like the US is paying the price for housing policies that are disconnected from any kind of social integration.

“You either do something upstream that is meaningful and provides the right incentives, or you deal with the problems downstream – which are typically more costly to individuals, as well as to the public purse,” Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister said.

It is a question that engaged conference attendees, many of whom expressed disappointment in not hearing similar proposals from America’s elected politicians.

Despite the breakdown in places like Ferguson, one audience member told the DPM that America’s politicians pay “nothing but lip service” to the goal of creating opportunity in the country’s most challenged neighbourhoods.

Source : Channel NewsAsia – 1 Dec 2015

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