HDB move to bring communities together timely, say experts

SINGAPORE — Property experts lauded the Housing Development Board’s (HDB) S$6 million collaboration with the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), calling it a timely move that will improve the use of communal spaces and promote inter-generational interaction.

Mr Chris Koh, director of property firm Chris International, said the research tie-up could result in building the “right pavilion” — a common space that serves both the elderly, who prefer open and wheelchair-accessible spaces, and younger people with different needs such as a conducive place to study.

“Design has to be robust to meet both (sets of) needs in the same pavilion,” he said.

Mr Koh said the HDB’s idea of Wi-Fi-enabled workspaces for residents is an exciting one.

“One day, at all void decks, we can possibly see students studying and the community coming downstairs, befriending one another rather than making their way to some library 45 minutes away,” he said.

Mr Bernard Lee, director of business and research at Huttons Real Estate Group, however, said the idea of rolling out Wi-Fi infrastructure is “passe”.

He urged the HDB to go a step further in its collaboration with the SUTD to look into “additional services that can be loaded on an infrastructure that taps on the Wi-Fi”.

These may include the integration of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies — connecting sensors and devices, including everyday objects such as cameras and healthcare instruments.

Mr Lee added there is great potential in the HDB’s idea to bring communities together through the use of apps and gamification.

Residents who share a common interest in an area can come together — with gardeners making better use of community gardens and skateboarders enjoying a skate park, for example.

“A customised approach for each neighbourhood will certainly help ensure adoption and usage,” he said.

Meanwhile, some Singaporeans such as Mr Yak Chin Hua, a quantity surveyor who lives in Bukit Batok, are struggling to understand the need for HDB to collect big data using sensors dispersed around the neighbourhood to introduce simple changes.

He asked if the investment on such research serves as a justification to raise the prices of HDB flats.

“It’s not necessary to count the frequency a space is used (with the sensors) … What has it got to do with building communal spaces for stronger community interaction? What are you going to do with the data collected? What is the end goal of the study?” asked the 56-year-old.

The HDB also inked a S$4.7 million collaboration with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to better integrate construction processes.

Mr Koh said: “When we have productivity, it means we lower future costs with less wastage during the construction process or needing to upkeep under-used spaces. If they balance out, then I see no reason why the consumer needs to pay more.”

The HDB told TODAY the research is “in the early stage”, and any discussion on the potential impact on pricing is premature.

“The outcomes of the research will need to be studied for cost-efficiency and technical feasibility, before considering wider implementation,” said a HDB spokesperson, who added that flat prices take into account the location, design features, individual flat attributes, and the prevailing market conditions at the time of offer.

Asked about the uncertainty over how the research results will be used, HDB chief executive Cheong Koon Hean, said: “Innovation — sometimes you don’t have a lot of answers. It is about trying out, and so let’s try out and see.”

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