The discourse about social cohesion in Singapore has rarely been in discussions due to its diverse social integration and multicultural society. Multiple races living together divides and creates divisions in society started to feature in the discourse (Hassan, 2013). Combined with the growing economy, increasing disagreement with the authorities and fast paced urbanisation, Singaporeans fear that social cohesion would be weakened (Hassan, 2013) (Hulse & Stone, 2006).
According to studies, the socially cohesive community is needed to achieve social sustainability (Magis & Shinn, 2009). There are many social issues are discussed under the concept of social sustainability and often defined about social cohesion, capitalism and inclusion, all of which indicate closer and longer term relationships among people of a community to achieve common goals and social harmony (Brameley & Morgan, 2009).
Social capital is regarded as an integral element of social cohesion as it is considered as the social resources inherent in the social networks and structures. Social networks and structures enable people to achieve shared and individual goals (Putnam, 1995). Putnam argues that social capital is the most efficient policy for policy makers to implement for a more cohesive country.
Countries with higher levels of cohesion tend to have bigger communities, better education system, better welfare, lower crime rates, booming economic prosperity, as well as longer longevity (Baron, Field, J., & Schuller, 2001).
Researchers also believed that social capital could be used as preventive or curative measures to resolve community problems, Problems such as social exclusion and neighbourhood arguments (Putnam, 1995).
Low-income communities are commonly know to be lacking in social cohesion. This is because low income communities are likely to involve higher rates of unusual behaviours as it reinforces a community's sense of belonging(Friedrichs & Blasius, 2003). Similarly, public housing tenants feel ashamed of their disadvantaged economic conditions, will have negative views toward their neighbours in the same block and have no interest in resolving community issues peacefully. Such actions are indicative of a lack of social bonding between communities (Han, 2010).
The image of community is also likely to be aggravated (Baliey, Haworth, Manzi, Paranagamage, & Roberts, 2006). Moreover, the hostile physical environment of disadvantaged communities seems to weaken residents' community attachment (Forrest & Kearns, 1999).
Research on housing and urban planning has emphasised the importance of government policy in building socially equal communities (Hulse & Stone, 2006). Historically, there have been numerous attempts to achieve certain social goals as part of the outcomes of planning and design of neighbourhoods.
According to a study done by Seo (2013) on 'Social Cohesiveness of Korean public housing communities' it has highlighted that social cohesion between residents in disadvantaged communities is affected by the physical environment around them. Furthermore, the study uncovered how the design, planning and management of the enivornnment promoted social cohesiveness.
Singapore currently has 50,000 rental flats, with 7,000 more to be built by 2015 (Housing Development Board, 2013). The purpose of the Public Rental Scheme is to meet the housing needs of poorer households. As of March 2012, 3% of the Singapore's total population were living in HDB which is also referred to public housing (Legislatively Council Secretariat, 2013). Lawhon (2009) believed that the layout of the district would improve the chances for face-to-face interaction to build up relations.
Singapore reduces social problems by mixing low-income rental housing with the owner-occupied housing of different sizes, and building public estate near to condominiums and landed housing areas (Wu, 2014). However, the proportion of residents living in rental flats exists along a continuum with higher proportions in richer regions such as Bukit Merah, Kallang and Geylang and lower portions in areas such as Seng Kang, Pasir Ris and Punggol (Department of Statistics, 2013) (Housing Development Board, 2013).
The Sample Household Survey conducted in 2008 showed high levels of social capital, community bonding and satisfaction among residents of public housing and this confirmed the presence of active cohesion between communities in Singapore (Housing Development Board, 2010).
After understanding the international and Singapore approach to social cohesiveness in disadvantaged communities and Singapore's public housing situation, There are some research gaps to be questioned. Firstly, there is a lack of historical data on the social cohesiveness of residents living in public housing. Secondly, there is a lack of understanding of how the physical environment of public housing affects the social cohesiveness of Singaporeans. Lastly, there is a lack of research on the impact of the physical layout of neighbourhoods of public housing.
In conclusion, the underlying factors that would influence the relationship between the physical environment and social cohesiveness in Singapore are still inconclusive due to lack of information.
As such, our proposed is to address the problems mentioned above gaps to provide recommendations that would enhance the development of communities, especially among economically disadvantaged communities residing in public housing.