Housing Development Board flats, or more informally known by most people living in Singapore as the ubiquitous HDBs, have been the essential part of Singapore. Being the most economical form of housing in this land-scarce country, HDBs are the homes for almost 85% of Singapore’s population. Hence, it is also crucial to ensure that the less fortunate and disabled are able to live in these high-rise flats with no difficulty whatsoever.
HDB was established in 1960 when Singapore was facing immense economic crisis and was facing the insurmountable task of housing its population into properly sanitized homes, majority of whom were poor and living in derelict slums. After acquiring vast pieces of developable land under the WHATEVER scheme, HDB proceeded to build around 54,000 flats within five years of its initiation.
In case study on HDB flats, we decided to investigate on 3 types of flats, representing each type of flats chronologically – old flats (30 years and older) which have not been upgraded, old flats which have gone through major upgrading works especially lift upgrades and the newer flats (10 years and younger).
Old, Upgraded Flats – Toa Payoh
For the old flats that were upgraded, we chose flats located in the Toa Payoh district. This group of flats was constructed in the 1960 era and was the first few batches of flats in Singapore. Since then, most of these flats have been upgraded with lifts that stop at every floor to facilitate more convenient movement for the people living there, majority of whom are the elderly.
We observed Block 150, Lorong 1 of the Toa Payoh district and noted that the corridor walkways adjacent to the apartment units were rather narrow – not more than an arm’s length, barely able to accommodate an individual on a wheelchair. The apartment units were also positioned in such a way that tthe tenants had to place their footwear on the corridors, and hence adding to the already minimal space. What we noticed was also that many people had placed potted plants and bulky items along the corridor. This will in turn contribute to the obstruction already present.
However, features such as the lifts on every story aided much in the movement of people who are disabled or older in age. The flat encompasses two lifts, one which serves every floor and another which only caters to alternate floors. In such, the able-bodied person will be able to use the lift which serves alternate floors in the occasion when a needy person comes along. Furthermore, having two different types of lifts would definitely cut down on the budget yet not compromising on facilities catered for the disabled, needy and elderly.
Another handicapped-friendly measure noted was the flat's seamlessness, ensuring that there are no curbs or steps directly leading to the flat. Though seemingly trivial, this slight adjustment in the building's structure and position actually plays a key role in ensuring that the handicapped, especially those on wheelchairs are able to enter the flat easily. This advantage can be mainly attributed to the relatively flat ground which Block 150 and the adjacent flats are built on which do not require any elevation of the ground. Despite these measures, the walkway on the ground floor was rather narrow since they were mainly being occupied by hawker centres and various shop houses.
Newly Developed Flats – Punggol
Flats in the Punggol district were constructed and developed around 2000 to cater to the ever growing population of Singapore and vast undeveloped land on the north-eastern part of the country. Though new, these new flats have relatively smaller apartments compared to their older counterparts due to the ever prevalent issue of land constraints. Even though most of these flats are high rise (erected more than 15 stories up), the lifts serving these blocks stop at every floor and hence are rather convenient for the people staying there.
Regarding the accessibility for that district, we realized that the flats there had rather wide corridors and walkways, wide enough for a person riding a wheelchair to pass through with ease. The lifts were also located in the centre of the floor area, hence minimizing the need for the disabled and elderly to walk or manoeuvre a long distance before reaching their apartments.
However, a major setback in the design of the flats was the curbs in front of the apartments which raised the gates higher. Such design perhaps would be the greatest inconvenience for those on wheelchair since they would not be able to negotiate the curb to enter their homes. This difficulty is increased when they need to unlock the gates since the presence of the curb has caused the gate to be too high for them to reach it.
Another major flaw in the Punggol district flats would be the absence of sheltered walkways for people especially those on wheelchair in the event of heavy rain. Located near to the Light Rapid Transport (LRT) station, flats in the area that we were investigating had access to and fro between the flats and the LRT station. However despite all the handicapped facilities in the station that allowed the people on wheelchair to manoeuvre, there was no ramp to link the pavement to the flats but rather a curb before it, adding to the problem already present. Furthermore, the ramp that built was also too steep for the wheelchair to negotiate.