Singaporean politicians are best known internationally for being forced to take legislator-specific exams or constructing a state that according to some resembles ‘Disneyland with the death penalty’, but the dominant reality remains that the dynamic Asian city-state of 5.3m people continues to punch far above its weight across countless sectors. And with new guidelines promulgated by the republic’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (‘URA’) prohibiting the construction of new ‘shoebox’ apartments in suburban areas, Singapore is demonstrating admirable insight in an area that it has not traditionally been feted for.
The guidelines – which came into force on 4th November 2012 – stipulate that new suburban apartment developments must have a minimum gross average per unit floor space of no less than 70 square metres. This is in itself bold enough, but what we at Mediolana found particularly interesting were the justifications given for such a rule: the Singaporean government, keen to boost the nation’s low birth-rate, seems acutely aware that small apartments are anathema to family life and can lead to excessive stresses on a city’s infrastructure – colonies of lone, stressed and uniform commuters clog up bus stops and metro lines far more than neighbourhoods with a more varied population mix.
Low birth-rates are also a huge concern in the European Union, with immigration to an economically stagnant bloc increasingly unlikely to be able to fund the EU’s liabilities gap; with the internationally-minded members of the global labour force instead heading for economies in (somewhat ironically) ASEAN, Mercosur and the OIC, the EU will probably need to generate its own taxpayers. That means prioritising family life – and some Singapore-style housing regulation would surely help contribute towards this end. In the 1990s and 2000s, affordable living spaces in many large cities in the EU – London and Barcelona spring to mind – became preposterously small, and minimum floor space laws are either not on the statute books (as in the UK) or ultimately ineffective. For the sake not just of conviviality, mental health and creativity, but the very future of Europe itself, the EU should analyse this particular Singaporean law – and implement its own version prontissimo.