Affordable. Unaffordable. A Tale of Two City States, Singapore & Hong Kong

street in Hong Kong
Hong Kong

City states have a unique advantage over cities that exist within a hierarchy of governments, where they seem to inevitably occupy a position of authority towards the bottom.

City states are able to concentrate all their resources and political will towards the betterment of the city, without compromising with regional or national interests that do not necessarily further a city’s interests.

When it comes to affordable housing, two modern, thriving, capitalist city states provide a striking contrast to each other.

Hong Kong is at its peak of wealth, power and influence, or perhaps drifting slightly past it how, as its future becomes cloudy. The city’s status as a quasi-nation is slipping as China, having promised the Hong Kong a hands-off autonomy, seems to be at work imposing its authority.

Singapore, by contrast, remains firmly in control of its own destiny.

Regardless of their current status, both have had the luxury of a century or more to focus on their own destinies. Within the boundaries of their capitalist societies (and their limited territories), these two city states have pursued quite different ways to shelter their populations.

Hong Kong allowed a largely been free market approach. Its reward? Uncontested status as the most expensive place to live in the world, with only parking-space sized housing affordable to much of its population. How could a city state be so firmly in control of its own destiny for so long, and yet so poorly treat its own population?

By contrast, the government of Singapore, equally capitalist in its focus, has exercised a firm hand in developing the city’s housing, using principles that would be derided and rejected as ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’ in a country such as America. Unlike Hong Kong, the fruit of Singapore’s housing efforts is a citizenry which largely enjoys secure, affordable housing.

Are the pathways chosen by these two modern megacities useful models for large cities everywhere? The question is particularly significant as housing movements in strongly capitalist societies are everywhere facing affordable housing crises.

Movements such as YIMBY (Yes, In My Back Yard), reinforced with housing industry support, tout more free-market enterprise, unshackled by burdensome regulation, as the way for nations to build their way out of trouble.

And yet Hong Kong, able to channel its resources in a free-market direction, has created a nightmare of micro-housing occupied by a disgruntled population. Read more in ALJAZEERA: A Lack Of Affordable Housing Feeds Hong Kong’s Discontent

Is it time for cities everywhere to demand a firmer grip on the creation of affordable shelter for its population, brushing aside those fears of the commie-loving bogeymen who live under every capitalist’s bed? For an appreciation of the scope of Singapore’s success in the social (not socialist!) management of its housing, read more in The Conversation: A Century Of Public Housing: Lessons From Singapore, Where Housing Is A Social, Not Financial, Asset


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