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The housing problem in a modern city

 

Whenever national economy permits, whenever commerce and industry flourish, cities are nowadays passing through a process of modernization. This is a world wide trend. In the 'older' countries, this process is steady, almost gradual, except in Europe, where the inhabitants of Germany, Italy and France, and Britain to some extent, had to take bold and swift measures to reconstruct vast areas devastated by bombing. In the 'newer' cities, the process has been ever faster, and of these, Singapore, which we will examine later, is a typical example. But in all cities, the tendency has been to convert city residential areas to other purposes, and the result has been the proliferation of problems; housing shortage, and the resettlement of large groups of workers to suburban areas; the social changes involved in such moves, and so on. Generally, the residential areas in the centre of cities have become neglected, giving rise to overcrowding and the creation of slums, while the wealthier professional and managerial classes have steadily moved out to suburban or country houses. So, whether the changes have come about through government policy or were made necessary by war-time destruction, they have been changes for the better.

If a modern city is to play any real part in the modern world, its central areas must exclude dwelling places, except perhaps those which are preserved for historic and cultural reasons. The needs of civilized life have to be met, and there simply isn't room unless 'skyscraper' blocks of flats are built - and on the whole, these can be built in suburbs, when there is pressure on space, as in Hong Kong. Secondly, land values in the centre of cities are very great, and rents therefore, become uneconomic, or have to be subsidized by the government. It is not difficult to see why these land values are so great when the competition to build 'at the centre of things' is so great. The list of the various kinds of public buildings, all competing for space, is enormous. To quote but a few, space has to be found for government buildings and offices, police and fire stations, hospitals, office blocks, shops, sometimes factories, hotels, a wide variety of places of amusement, churches, car parks and garages, museums, schools, universities, art galleries, and a hundred others.

The result is that the government, or property speculators, buy land and housing property, demolish the house, and erect some kind of public or commercial building in their place. An acre of land in central London can, for this reason, be worth more than million pounds sterling.

At the same time, it is realized that you cannot run a large city, unless the workers are there to run it. or near enough to commute by bus, train, car or bicycle. So the suburbs expand - either upwards or outwards - and the position is reached that the city's ever-widening circumference has become a mixture of older and larger houses, new industrial developments, and new blocks of flats, or re-housing areas, built by the private speculator, built and subsidized by the government as council houses. Unless architecturally planned as 'satellite townships' such areas soon tend to become depressing warrens of 'living units', utterly featureless and lacking even the 'character' of the old-fashioned slums. But this is only of the problems attending on a re-housing area. New facilities in the home mean changed ways of life. The lost 'community spirit' has to be re-created. Clubs, churches, temples, shops and sporting facilities have to be introduced, if the new area is to have any individuality, if the older people are to be saved from boredom and the younger people from delinquency. Internally, there are 'teething troubles' in the early days. It is not only the housing shortage in a modern city, which is the problem - it is the featureless house in the featureless area.

The age-long housing problem in populous Singapore has been solved by the Government in recent years. Since 1963 the Government, through the Housing and Development Board, has completed thousands units of flats and shop-houses, for the lower income groups. As an example of our previous remarks, it may also be noted that consultant engineers from the U.S.A. have been engaged to advise on transportation by monorail, dual rail or electric train. Traffic congestion has always been a problem, but Singapore is on the way to solving this by road-widening and double-tracking projects, and by building multi-storey car parks.

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
 
 

 

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