H ome is where the heart is and to many Singaporeans, the acronym HDB is synonymous with home. It is thus no wonder that remaking the heartlands has recently become a priority – all part of the government’s efforts to shape the Singapore of tomorrow. In line with these efforts, towns and estates will be remade so Singaporeans can delight in having better homes and communities. This is all done in anticipation to usher in rejuvenated neighbourhoods like Toa Payoh, Woodlands and Pasir Ris.
Due to Singapore’s ageing population, facility planning for eldercare has also emerged as a key concern amongst HDB urban planners. One such planner is HDB Overseas Undergraduate Scholar Benjamin Chia. In HDB’s Physical Planning Department, Benjamin contributes to HDB’s urban planning efforts with his passion for improving the lives of Singaporeans.
What sparked your interest in urban planning and design?
Benjamin Chia: I had no idea that urban planning as a profession existed until after my IB Examinations, when I stumbled upon it while trying to find disciplines of study that would interest me. Although urban planning is concerned with the built environment, I knew that it has a real impact on improving people’s lives. Since then, I have been intrigued by the possibilities that planners explore in shaping the environment.
Why did you choose to pursue your degree in University College London (UCL)?
Benjamin: In the field of Urban Planning, the Bartlett School of Planning at UCL is amongst the best globally. The Bartlett places a strong emphasis on developing skills in urban policy and design, and helps students better appreciate the urban environment that they would eventually plan for.
Chia Mingjie, Benjamin
HDB Overseas Undergraduate Scholar
Planner, Physical Planning Department, Research & Planning Group
How did living and studying overseas contribute to your holistic development?
Benjamin: One of the first few questions that I am asked whenever someone learns that I studied abroad is, “Can you cook?” While I’m no Gordon Ramsey, I can in fact cook a simple meal! Living and studying abroad has made me more independent, disciplined and confident to take on life’s challenges.
Tell us a bit more about your roles and responsibilities at work.
Benjamin: As a planner in HDB, I work with agencies to assess the suitability of proposed developments in HDB estates and towns. This includes planning for eldercare and childcare facilities. My colleagues and I discuss the requirements for these facilities with various agencies and devise a plan to provide for them.
Besides planning for new sites, I am also part of the team that revitalises HDB towns. Under the Remaking Our Heartlands programme, new ideas are proposed to build on the town’s existing identity and vibrancy. More recently, I am involved in Master Planning which entails studying an area for housing developments and formulating plans to guide these developments.
What do you find most fulfilling about your job?
Benjamin: With over 80 per cent of Singaporeans living in HDB flats, I find the work that I do in HDB very real and impactful. The prospect of having my plans developed and realised in Singapore’s urban landscape spurs me on to plan better living spaces for Singaporeans. With our ageing population, my work in planning for eldercare facilities is especially meaningful.
What are some challenges you have faced at work? How have you overcome these challenges?
Benjamin: One of the challenges I face would be trying to meet the needs of various stakeholders in the areas I plan for. Each planning decision affects stakeholders such as the resident, the business owner, the drivers using the roads and even the flora that line the streets in our Garden City! Overcoming the challenge of meeting these various needs requires a balanced approach that considers each stakeholder, and pursues a solution that best suits the situation.
What new developments or unique opportunities can fresh graduates look forward to at HDB?
Benjamin: The rapidity of technological changes, the demographic shifts and emergence of the sharing economy have changed the way we live our lives. At HDB, we will need to alter our responses to this changing milieu. An ageing population, telecommuting and the pressing need for sustainable development are but a few of the changing trends that we will experience in the coming years. With these changes and through ideas generated, fresh graduates will face many exciting opportunities to contribute to the urban landscape of tomorrow.
What advice would you have for those who are exploring their scholarship options?
Benjamin: I would advise them to think about whether they believe in what the organisation is striving for. If you are excited about being a part of what HDB does and find meaning in the work we do, you will enjoy a fruitful career with HDB. The challenges you encounter will appear as opportunities for you to achieve greater heights!