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Cityscape: Volume 11 Number 1: Guest Editor


Lessons for the United States From Asian Nations

Volume 11 Number 1

Guest Editor's Introduction

Alven Lam

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. government at large.


This Cityscape symposium is dedicated to articles that reflect some lessons that Americans might learn from the housing and urban development experience of Asian nations. Our intention is to expand the framework within which domestic policy issues in this field are discussed.

Within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD's) Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R), the Office of International Affairs coordinates the Department's international exchanges and contacts with foreign governments, international organizations, and other federal agencies on housing policy, housing finance, urban planning and development, and the built environment. The primary aim of this Office is to support HUD's participation in various types of international cooperative exchange programs. Such programs aim to share knowledge of the core principles of American policy and experience in housing and urban development while identifying potentially useful housing and development policies and practices in other countries that might be adapted for use in the United States. For the predominantly U.S. readership of Cityscape, we thought it would be appropriate to publish research on foreign housing and urban issues that could shed some light on our own policies and practices. As always, the views of the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of HUD.

In the first article in this issue, "Reinventing Highrise Housing in Singapore," Belinda Yuen of the National University of Singapore, focuses on one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Singapore is a city with limited land and a growing population. Within its land area of 270 square miles, Singapore has grown through immigration and net natural increase (resident births minus resident deaths), reaching a population of 4 million by 2000 and expecting to support another 1.5 million or more people in the next 40 to 50 years. Yuen discusses the principles, directions, and outcomes in this "planning for more with less" case, focusing on the means by which Singapore has housed 84 percent of its resident population in highrise public housing and improved residents' living conditions in the process.

Using empirical data from resident perception research, the article explores the realities of highrise living and the factors that ground the celebration of the highrise in Singapore.

The second article concerns "land takings," an old issue that has generated new controversy in recent years. The taking of lower valued private land for higher valued private development in the name of economic development and the public interest became a matter of much controversy after the Kelo vs. New London case, but the same conflicts occur in other parts of the world, particularly in some Asian countries that are making the transition to more market-based economies. In "Land Takings in the Private Interest: Comparisons of Urban Land Development Controversies in the United States, China, and Vietnam," Annette M. Kim of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology compares and contrasts the methods of conflict resolution in these three countries.

State planners in Vietnam and China are using public takings on an astounding scale to try to accommodate unprecedented urbanization rates. In both countries, the issue of land takings is politically sensitive. State-run media are often not allowed to cover protest incidents and interviewing protesters could violate research protocols here in the United States. The author assembled whatever information on "taking" controversies in these two countries was available in the international press and from activist organizations, together with data gathered from her personal field trips and interviews, to document interesting points of comparison and contrast between the Asian cases and those in the United States.

Sukumar Ganapati of Florida International University prepared the final article, "Enabling the Voluntary Sector in Third World Housing." The voluntary sector, which is characterized by voluntarism and community involvement, plays a crucial role in filling the gap left by the public sector and the private for-profit sector in addressing Third World housing problems. The voluntary sector is more flexible than the government bureaucracy of the public sector and is not constrained by the profit-making goals of the private sector. Yet, it suffers from voluntary failure and faces accountability issues.

Ganapati argues that enabling the voluntary sector requires building institutional structures to enhance potential synergies with the other two sectors. Such structures should allow for voluntarism and autonomy; they should support the voluntary sector in financial, administrative, legal, and technical issues. Illustrative case studies from Thailand, India, and the United States provide models.

Like the authors of these articles, we think the United States can learn from other countries' successes and failures in housing and community development. We hope that readers find the articles useful.


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