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.