(Re)constructing the Nation? Representations of Public Housing in School Geography Textbooks, pp. 9 of 14

Planning of National Space

The organisation of national space for housing is an important construction of Singapore as a modern nation-state. It is therefore not surprising the series of secondary school geography textbooks in the 1970s to the 1990s often depict pictures of picturesque HDB housing estates that are orderly and clean. These images are not neutral. We argue that these images are used to legitimise the means of urban planning as an instrument of power to inscribe new meanings in the material landscape (c.f. Winchester et al., 2003), and if there were consequences, it was necessary in the exercise of dominant power to establish spatial order in the landscape. In Chow et al.’s (1972) Temasek Geography for Secondary Schools 4, the effects of public housing and associated urban change are legitimised through the discourse of high population growth. As these “middle-class residential estates” were “built in the ‘rural’ areas, including former rubber plantations”, the distribution of Singapore’s rapidly increasing population was dispersed from the city centre (Chow et al., 1972, p. 35). Population distribution maps were presented to show the “uneven” spatial change. To counter the side effects of urban sprawl, urban planning was represented in these school geography textbooks as a necessary process to establish spatial order:

“The residential landscape of a HDB housing estate is a planned one. The flats are neatly organized into ‘new towns’ such as Bishan New Town and Tampines New Town. They are planned in such a way that many facilities  . . . are located within easy reach of the residents . . . If houses are not properly planned and built, the residential landscape will not appear as orderly as an HDB estate, the residents may not even have a proper supply of water and electricity.” (CDIS Secondary School Geography 1, 1982, pp. 172-173).

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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