Singapore, an urban model for the French suburbs?

One of our Observers in Singapore wonders if the urban set-up there — which he says preserves an almost crime-free society — could also work in the French suburbs.

Gautier describes himself on his profile page as "a Frenchman in Asia; a tolerant traveller but not without values".

In Singapore, 81% of the population lives in "HDB", social housing which is similar to what's known in France as HLM (housing at moderated rates), although in Singapore the flats can not only be rented but also bought with aid from the state. There are 23 HDB zones, each of which houses between 50,000 and 230,000 people (on average 150,000). A one bedroom flat is around 45 square metres and is rented at €536 per month, and a four bedroom is 110 square metres with rent of €976.

Singapore is a country with a low crime rate: 715 offences per 100,000 residents in 2007 (in France for example, there were 3,600 per 100,000, and that included only crimes against property). There were only 19 murders and 750 robberies reported by the city state in 2007, while the population, 25% of which are immigrants, is 4.8 million. It's an interesting statistic in a country where, while the majority of people are of Chinese origin, there's a strong Malaysian and Indian minority (42.5% people are Buddhist and 14.9% Muslim). There are four official languages (and eight commonly spoken).   

So how does it work? I live in Bishan, a relatively small HDB zone (67,400 residents). Letterboxes are intact, there's no graffiti on the walls, no burnt-out cars, no security guards in the supermarkets. This peace and quiet is a big part of the local landscape.

Next to tall buildings, there are grassy islets. There are plenty of small businesses nearby, rather than being grouped in big shopping centres, although they also exist. Everything you need is on your doorstep — the doctor's surgery, pharmacy, bank, library, leisure centre, mosque and temple. The police station (which has two or three officers) closes for the night between 10 pm and 6 am. But the "zero tolerance" principle is not forgotten — every criminal act faces punishment."

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A different kind of "banlieue"

Photos by Gautier.


not true

i stayed in singapore my whole life and do not find anything nice about it, public transport is thrid world standard during peak hours and my housing estate is being invaded by legions of china/india/philipines migrant workers.

i used to leave my shoes at my doorstep, but have recently lost a few pairs since i noticed the migrant workers moving in. my mum lost a pot of expensive bonsai as well.

low crime doesn't mean no crime :D

perhaps the grass look greener on the other side.....

Bamboo canes, anyone?

Perhaps if the French began beating the shit out of anyone who committed deliberate acts of vandalism such offenses would disappear.

Some people just need a hefty dose of Confucianism, don't they?

Oh no, but then all the lefties will get upset and claim that those poor unfortunate banlieue people (who, by the way, get free housing, health care, education, job training etc...not that many of them care to take advantage of the latter two) just need more taxpayer's money. More studying, more birth control people.

Majullah Singapura for sure!

Hi Gautier, Thank you for

Hi Gautier,

Thank you for your article, it is very interesting. I've also been in Singapore and it is a very nice place to live indeed!
I agree with you when you talk about the architecture, the way the Singaporean government built its social areas. It is definitely nicer than in France and better to live in these areas.
However, concerning the low crime rate I am not sure that it is linked to the nice environment where the Singaporean are living in. In fact, there are one very important attribute of the Singaporean society :

Its culture

When you take the train in Singapore. It is very peaceful, also I don't think they have nicer train than the French have.

In my opinion, the low crime rate in Singapore is due to the Singaporean culture but also to the government policy (e.g. if you carry some drugs in Singapore, death penalty).



Singapore and French Ghettos

I think that as great as public housing is in Singapore, it could never work in a European Society as liberal and free as France. The crime rate in France amonsgt the immigrant poor is the result of decades of neglect. Singapore has never turnded her back on the poor population. It is no secret that all EU governments do not care about their poor immigrant populations. They do not take care of them like they do the rest of their people. Wether it is the Morrocans or Turks in the Netherlands, the Algerians and Morrocans in France, they are all treated similarly by EU governments, as second class citizens. If you eliminate this prejudice, the crime rate will surely drop as well. Newer and better designed housing will be like putting a banage around a will help....but the scars will remain...and the wound will be opened again.

Two main factors: 1/ The

Two main factors:
1/ The sky is blue, the weather is warm all year round; it sounds banal, and naive, but were you to transport Singapore's HDB to grey winter France, and you would see the same ugly buildings with no greens around.
2/ There are no unemployed unqualified workers in Singapore; all the manufacturing jobs are imported from outside and unemployed people will be deported the day they are not required anymore. Low skill workers cannot bring there families, are forbidden from marrying a Singaporean; you get the picture.

The prices of the HDB should be an indication: unlike the HLMs the HDBs are only subsidized, they are not "low cost".
The HDB are sold at 10% less than the market price; that is still often reaching towards more than 100 thousand euros all the way up to 200 thousand euros, depending on location, features.
Such high prices are of course paid on 25 year loans.

HDBs are also profitable to the state, who owns the land.