Evolution of a settlement to an urban paradise

January 3, 2017

Singapore today is flush with affordable housing and an ordered urban plan. You will find open spaces between clumps of buildings that allow citizens to relax and unwind. There are pavements adjoining streets where people can walk without interfering with the traffic. The roads are wide and course through each and every part of the island nation. There are districts for shopping, eating, and for the vibrant nightlife.  

It was, however, not always like this.  

Crowded Chaos

Singapore’s success as an open port in the 18th century meant that the British colony attracted settlers from neighbouring Asia as well as Europe. The result: a boom in population and commerce. This led to a haphazard development of housing and commercial establishments, often side by side. But there was also a glimmer of natural beauty in the midst of a rapidly growing city-state.  

The kampongs, or villages, were tight knit communities located in the rural patches of Singapore. These localities provided an idyllic contrast to the urbanization that was spreading all over. The pace of life was much slower and there was no real development taking place in the rural settlements.  

All this would change with plan put into effect by Sir Stamford Raffles.  

The Jackson Plan

The founder of modern Singapore was unhappy with the way a prized colony of the British Empire was flourishing. Sir Raffles then decided to initiate a complete overhaul of the landscape with an urban initiative known as the Jackson Plan. The ‘Plan of the Town of Singapore’ marks the first effort to bring a sense of order to the chaotic island nation. It was based on grouping population along ethnic subdivisions in a grid-like pattern, which would form the skeletal structure of the present megapolis. 


The focus of the plan was on creating ordered residential areas that were divided into four zones. The first one consisted of the elites such as the Europeans, the Eurasians, and some rich members of the Asian community. Then you had a zone where the Chinese formed the majority of the residents. To the north of the second zone lay the Indian settlement. The fourth zone consisted of Malays and Arabs who had settled in the island nation for trade and commerce.   

Public Housing

The 20th century witnessed Singapore experience the upheaval of the World War II, and then the separation from Malaysia. An update was required on the Jackson Plan. The new independent nation set about its task with the Housing Development Board (HDB) planning and constructing affordable homes for the poor. The city-state had to deal with the squatter settlements that had mushroomed. These crowded settlements lacked basic utilities along with hygiene and sanitation. The Bukit Ho Swee Fire of 1961 that left more than 16,000 people homeless launched the civic authorities into overdrive. Dilapidated buildings were demolished and squalid residential areas were torn down to make way for high-rise housing.  

An Urban Paradise

In the new millennium, the city-state has shed its old skin of squalor and chaos, now reflecting the very best of modern architecture and urban planning.