Founded as a trading post of the English East India Company during the expansionist phase of British mercantile capitalism at the beginning of the nineteenth century (1819), Singapore has always been a planned city. Its land-use pattern had historically concentrated on developing trading and port facilities. The trading economy had by the late 1950s resulted in high rates of unemployment and underemployment. The immediate task of the newly elected government—initially charged exclusively with management of domestic affairs in 1959 and subsequently as a fully independent government in 1965—was to industrialize. The colonial land-use pattern had to be reordered to accommodate the projected needs of an industrial economy and a rapidly growing population. The entire island had to be brought into the planning process, and spatial allocation for all the activities, including public housing, that are essential to a ‘nation’ had to be rationalized. For a sense of where and how the public housing programme fits into the comprehensive concept plan of the island as a ‘nation’, this chapter will briefly chart the planned transformation of the island.
Singapore was a location for the exchange of merchandise from Europe, India and China, and a market for the produce of the Malayan Archipelago, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia (Wong, 1961:160). The early entrepot trade (Chiang, 1963) of colonial Singapore spawned a sophisticated merchant community with the requisite banking and finance facilities and a high level of entrepreneurial skill. This was reflected in the eightfold expansion of trade between 1824 and 1872. By