SESSION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
FOR AN OVERALL REVIEW AND APPRAISAL OF THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE OUTCOME OF THE UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE ON HUMAN SETTLEMENTS (HABITAT 11)
H.E. MR KISHORE
PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE CHAIRMAN OF THE DELEGATION
OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE
8 JUNE 2001
By our rough count, this Assembly has already heard over 160 speeches at this Istanbul + 5 Meeting. Most of the major points have been made: We live in an urbanised world. 200 years ago, only 2 per cent of the world's population lived in urban areas. Today, more than 50 per cent of the world's 6 billion people do so. But 1 billion of these are housed in slums or squatter communities.
2. 50 years ago, metropolitan New York was the only urban centre with a population of more than 10 million; today, there are 19 such cities. During the same 50-year period, the number of cities with more than 1 million inhabitants increased more than fourfold - from 80 to 365. Singapore is one of these cities.
3. We therefore believe that the most helpful contribution we can make at this late stage of the discussion is to briefly describe of our own experience in urban management. There is a common romantic view that city living is inevitably inferior to rural life - less healthy, happy and morally grounded, more isolated, selfish and dangerous. We have done our best to prove this conventional wisdom wrong.
4. Singapore is the most densely populated country in the world. We are also the world's only city-state. On a small island of only 680 square kilometres, we have to provide homes for 4 million people. At the beginning of our existence as an independent state, it was decided that housing had to be a priority of the new government. We therefore initiated a major building programme, which continues in modified form today, and will probably never be terminated. At present, about 86 per cent of our population now lives in public housing, principally apartment blocks in discrete housing estates, while the remainder lives in private housing. Among the residents of public housing, 92 per cent own their homes while the remainder live in subsidised rented accommodations.
5. This high percentage of residence in public housing, which
in Singapore's case always means government-built housing, has made it
necessary for us to pay great attention to the standards and conditions
of public housing. To encourage home ownership, Singapore developed a compulsory
social security saving scheme, the Central Provident Fund (CPF) scheme,
which enables workers to buy their own homes. Home ownership has made each
citizen a stakeholder in the nation's development, and gives everyone a
strong interest in both social harmony and a healthy physical environment.
As our population has grown and developed, we have tried to adapt our policies
to take changing attitudes and needs into account. Housing estates are
now designed with all the necessities and amenities of daily life, and
we have tried to encourage some industries and firms to relocate away from
the city centre, so as to achieve a more balanced distribution of settlement
and employment within our territory.
6. Singapore is probably the most land-scarce country in the world, relative to its population. To ensure optimum utilisation of land, Singapore has a land use blueprint called the Concept Plan. First developed in 1971, the Concept Plan is reviewed once every ten years to keep up with changing trends and the aspirations of the people. The current review is expected to be completed in late 2001. From the Concept Plan, the planning intention for individual plots of land is translated into a
detailed Master Plan. The Master Plan is reviewed and updated every 5 years. It is a gazetted, public document backed by the law. As the Master Plan forms the basis for all development control decisions, it provides businesses with the certainty crucial to business ventures and investments. The Master Plan also provides transparency and stability in
the planning system.
7. However, we are acutely aware that in any society, there exists a
bottom 5 to 10 per cent of low income earners who need assistance in housing.
Singapore's public housing authority, the Housing Development Board, has
an array of housing assistance schemes designed to give the lower-income
groups a chance for upward mobility, including housing subsidies to help
lower-income households own their first home. For instance, the authority
buys flats back from the open market to sell to
poorer families at subsidised prices, and allows its tenants to purchase their rented apartments at a discount proportional to their duration of tenancy.
8. Singapore's housing programme began, and continues, out of necessity. Because of the environmental constraint of a large population relative to available land area, we have always had to take an active approach to urban planning. Laissez-faire has never been a viable option for us. The constraints that we face have also had their positive side. Since we lack a hinterland, the problem of rural migration to urban areas is not a difficulty that we had to face. Our small land area has made the management and control of the environment easier. Feedback from our population is immediate, and problems can be identified and dealt with relatively quickly.
9. Because of our unique and peculiar circumstances, we could never presume to suggest that our own experience could be a viable model for larger cities and countries. In the case of smaller-scale urban environments, however, we may have some valuable experience to share, not least in avoiding the many errors and problems that we have made and encountered along the way. The management of urban environments can never be more than a work in progress. Practices and policies have to evolve along with the individuals, and the society, that they serve. Adaptability, determination, perseverance and the careful husbanding of resources will continue to be our watchwords in this endeavour.
10. Thank you.