From Kampongs to HDB – Singapore Through the Years

Singapore is quickly approaching its 56th birthday this August. How has the country progressed since its early days and how have we as Singaporeans changed the ways we live as the country advanced rapidly from a fishing village to a first world country in 50 odd years?

Read on to find out!

The Housing Crisis

With more than 80% of the population living in HDB houses now, it is a stark contrast to how most of our grandparents from the pioneer generation grew up in villages or Kampongs then. Back in the 1960s, most families lived in unhygienic slums and were living in overcrowded squatter settlements. Only 9% of the population owned a flat and it was quickly becoming a housing crisis that gained the attention of the government.

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) was then set up to solve this crisis swiftly, and they did. In a matter of three years, 21,000 flats for public housing were built and 54,000 in five years. Slowly, HDB relocated people living in the Kampongs to newly built high-rise flats with accessible running water and electricity. By 1969, HDB was resettling 6000 families per year. The relocation process usually involves government officials measuring land to calculate compensation for the owners, before allocating them a unit in a HDB flat in the same estate and notifying them of their resettlement period.

Getting Used to The Change

While most families were initially reluctant to move to HDB flats, they soon changed their minds after moving as they realised how much living conditions were improved at flats.

In the past when people used to live in villages, doing the laundry involved drawing water from the well. After moving to flats, doing household chores were much easier since water was readily available from taps at home in flats. Grocery shopping at the nearest market no longer took a one and a half hour bicycle ride, and there was no longer a need to rear livestock at home at HDB flats.

Other major improvements include having sheltered concrete walkways that linked blocks to bus stops. Gone are the days where paths would become streams of mud whenever it rained! Roofs no longer leaked during rainy nights and sleeping on straw mats on the floor became a thing of the past when comfortable mattresses became readily available in flats.

The Last Kampong in Singapore

Fast forward to 2021, most Singaporeans are now living in HDBs, with Build-to-Order flats rising in demand as more couples are looking to have their own homes. However, one last Kampong still remains in our midst – Kampong Lorong Buangkok.

Kampong Lorong Buangkok is a village that has been around since 1956 and still retains most of its original facade and old school rustic charm – exposed electrical signs and 4-digit postal code street signs included. Until today, there are still about 30 or so families living in this Kampong, keeping the Kampong Spirit very much alive. Gates are left open and children are left to play freely in the streets.

Being the last of Kampongs in Singapore, Kampong Lorong Buangkok is reminiscent of how our pioneer generation witnessed and worked for the rapid progress of Singapore, which explains why plans of urbanising the area were put on hold in 2015 to conserve the area.

From a dirty fishing village to a first world country, Singapore has made significant progress to improve housing for all Singaporeans, and to make owning homes possible for the population. Let us all take a moment this National Day to celebrate how far we have come as a nation!

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