Travel Guide


HDB homes in the Singapore Heartland

If you're a first-time visitor to Singapore and want to avoid the usual tourist traps, you may want to visit the island's 'heartland', where the majority of Singaporeans live, work and play.

The first thing you'd see are rows and rows of apartment blocks. Most of these are homes built by the Housing Development Board (HDB), a statutory board under the Singapore's Ministry of National Development.

Some 84% of Singaporeans live in these government-built flats, which are kept affordable and well-maintained through an extensive system of subsidies and grassroot organisations.

The words 'public housing' may conjure up images of tenement buildings or ghettos in some parts of the world but, in Singapore's case, they represent a tremendous feat in nation building and social engineering, as an entire generation of Singaporeans was transferred from laid-back kampungs (shanty villages) into homes equipped with modern plumbing during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Another key difference between these HDB flats and similar types of public housing in other countries is that the vast majority of the HDB homes are owned by its occupants. Public-housing policy in Singapore runs on the belief that people who own their homes are more likely to take pride in them, and would feel more motivated to keep their residences well-maintained. So far, experience of most Singaporeans seems to support this belief.

HDBs in Singapore

Public housing in Singapore is divided into 'housing estates', each of which typically boasts a 'town centre' where you can find a train or bus interchange that serves as the estate's transport hub, along with one or more neighbourhood shopping malls. In some older estates, you may even find traditional 'wet markets' that continue to sell fresh produce – an increasingly rare sight in today's Singapore.

And, more often than not, you'd find a major 'hawker centre' in most of these HDB estates. A uniquely Singaporean invention, these hawker centres typically house several tens of stalls selling a variety of hawker fare that was once sold along Singapore streets. Almost all Singaporeans love food, and most would definitely have a favourite hawker centre or two serving their best-loved dishes.

So, if you're intent on 'going native', you can try asking a Singaporean about the best neighbourhood hawker centres to visit for great eats!

Still interested? Well, to visit a HDB housing estate from downtown Singapore – say, Orchard Road, for example – all you have to do is hop on board a northbound MRT train on the red North-South Line. You'll get to Toa Payoh or Ang Mo Kio, two of the oldest housing estates in Singapore, before long.

Or, you can alight at Bishan MRT station, which is located right under a major neighbourhood shopping mall. From there, you can also board bus service 410, which would take you to the nearby Bishan Park, one of the prettier neighbourhood gardens scattered around the island.

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