Daily life is here–through 60 years of HDB

Country/area: Singapore

Organisation: zaobao.sg

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 4 Oct 2020

Credit: Yang Liuhuaying, Ng Pei Yin

Project description:

Singapore’s public housing has come a long way since its humble beginnings. Today, eight in 10 Singaporeans live in these Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, and nine in 10 of them own the flats they live in. We created a special project that visualises major milestones in our public housing development over the past six decades, through curated data and interactive elements. It allows readers to gain insight into how our housing typologies have evolved along with people’s changing lifestyles and aspirations, and most importantly, to be able to connect and resonate with living experiences from different generations.

Impact reached:

This project is one of zaobao.sg’s most-viewed interactive features of the year, as we also published its QR code on our flagship Chinese daily, allowing more readers to gain easy access to the article. Besides getting a glimpse into how the housing market forces have varied over time, readers are also able to look at key indicators like how the values of their own flats or flats in the vicinity have appreciated, thereby coming to greater understanding and appreciation of Singapore’s unique approach to providing affordable housing to all. Housing is always a topic that is very close to our hearts, but few have been able to relate to the issue in an analytical manner for readers in an intriguing way. Our project provides a relatable way for our audience on how the nation’s past efforts have laid the cornerstone for where we call our heartlands today.

Techniques/technologies used:

Multiple datasets were downloaded from government open data sources, including the resale transaction prices and price index from 1990 to 2020, HDB property information that contains the address of existing HDB blocks, highest floor level, and lease commence date. Road network data for Singapore was downloaded from OpenStreetMap and converted to GeoJSON format.

Google API was used to collect the coordinates for each address in the dataset. Data analysis and processing were done in RStudio. This included calculating average prices by unit, floor level, and address for each year, and median floor area for each flat type by year from 1966 to 2019. Preprocessed data to be used in the visualization then were exported in CSV format.

Data visualizations were created using D3. The price search map was based on OneMap, the local map provider, and Leaflet.js. OneMap was also used for postcode search. The price timeline map was drawn with D3, using the OpenStreetMap network data to create the base layer and spatial visualizations of prices changing over time. The photo views from the house window are using panolens.js and Three.js.

What was the hardest part of this project?

As the project seeks to encapsulate the nation’s public housing journey that spans across a good 60 years, the analysis was highly research-intensive. We wanted to build appreciation through data by connecting to people’s own life experiences. This includes examples such as how the size of apartments changed or how an increasing number of high-rise buildings were constructed over time. A further important component was offering the possibility to search addresses (such as their own house) on the map and get in-depth information about it. This necessitated working with detailed time series and high volume data spanning multiple decades.

Beside the interactive components, we knew that having a compelling story is also very important. To create this, we needed to go beyond what was available as structured digital data. We spent amount of time going through reams of paper detailing our nation-building efforts, sourcing for past trends and information in the archives which may not be immediately available, and working with the authorities to retrieve certain materials, including valuable photographs taken in the olden days within HDB flats. We also spent a considerable amount of time exploring how best to segment the information into various topics of interest, to facilitate viewing and understanding.

What can others learn from this project?

This project is a demonstration of how data visualization can be employed to illustrate a seemingly profound and complex issue like public housing development. We designed the introduction in a way that readers can use their own flat as a benchmark, by which to also appreciate the changes that have happened to flats located elsewhere and across the nation. This allows them to gain a fuller and deeper understanding on the issue.

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