SINGAPORE- For a number of years, the quality of HDB flats and estates, especially in new towns such as Sengkang, Sembawang and Punggol, has seemingly been on the decline.
The spaces between blocks have been reduced significantly, leading to a pervasive "walled city" look.
Multi-storey carparks reach seven to eight storeys, becoming large and inert obstructions to views and street activities.
In building viable cities, the spaces between buildings are as important as the buildings themselves.
The same housing density can be achieved by removing one block and redistributing the floor area to other surrounding blocks to create more "porosity" at the ground level.
In earlier-generation new towns such as Tampines and Boon Lay, there were purpose-built lower-density areas such as market squares and shopping streets - nodes of activity and gathering spaces that promote the idea of a community.
In newer estates such as Sengkang, the blocks seem to be squeezed tightly together with green spaces at the periphery. While recreation is still possible, the inter-block spaces, where people spend more of their daily lives, have become rather soulless.
And unlike older estates, which are better connected (multiple linkages and accesses) and have more decentralised amenities and dining options, new towns tend to concentrate almost all functions in a big shopping mall cum transport hub. While this offers convenience, residents are left with little choice and limited variety.
The use of too many prefabricated components, and fewer natural materials such as brick, reinforces the idea of blandness and makes blocks look like factory units.
I understand the limitations that the HDB faces - land costs, flat prices and the need for density - but the issues I raised can be addressed, possibly with little or no cost increase.
A strong culture of innovation is required, coupled with the belief and investment in good design.
Those who have lived in older estates would probably know that the newer ones are simply not of a comparable standard.
I hope the HDB will look into these issues, to make estates feel like homes rather than places that one seeks to leave behind by "upgrading".
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