Sunday, 10 June 2007

HDB Flats and the nature of Civilisation

While some may say kiasu is the defining Singaporean characteristic, others may cite the slightly overlapping issue of elitism but for me, it's maintenance of public amenities. The Romans figured out early that civilization meant good public services and toilets. London at the time of Queen Elizabeth I ruled the seas with barely disguised state-sponsored pirates keeping things in check, yet the city itself was a stinking, fetid mess with open sewers until the Victorians came along and Joseph Bazalgete created the underground cathedrals of the modern sewerage system.

Singapore is designed as a best-in-class place. It benchmarks itself against the world and picks the best ideas for implementation. One of the things it decided early on was that public infrastructure is vital, but they had the wisdon to understand it needs to be maintained constantly and given periodic re-investment. The million HDB flats are the prime example of this with the UIP bringing new lifts, walkways, play areas, replacement water tanks and park features. [Note the later has a twinge of pretentiousness; I was walking towards Khatib the other day and a newly opened corner feature proudly proclaimed the area as Khatib Vale. Nice, except it's dead flat in every direction.]

Concrete pavements are ripped up every 10 years or so (seemingly whether they have been damaged by tree roots or not) and relaid. HDB blocks are repainted every 5 - 7 years. Mold, peeling paint and tired looking blocks just aren't tolerated.

Today, my block's corridor lights were still on an 10am. Strange as they are auto timed to come on around 7:15pm -7:15am daily. I was actually considering 'phoning it in as a fault when I heard the clanking of an aluminium ladder on the concrete and sure enough, a chap was visiting every light fitting and not just checking its operation, but replacing every single one of the fluorescent tubes with a new one. They don't wait for them to fail here, they pre-replace.

I impressed even if I also realise the tubes are full of mercury and will end up in a landfill somewhere.