The power of empty space NOV 01 2010
In Singapore, many apartment buildings have empty open-air ground floors called "void decks" that get put to a variety of uses: day-care, weddings, bicycle parking, small stores, etc.
More than 80% of Singapore's population lives in public housing, in buildings designed to government specifications. And Singapore's government ensures that every apartment building mirrors the country's ethnic mix, with Chinese, Malays, and Indians living as neighbors in proportion to their share of the population -- 77%, 14%, and 8% respectively. The void deck ensures that everyone gets to know each other, and each other's cultures. As the Times puts it, its pleasures are actually "part of Singapore's strictly enforced social policies aimed at ensuring harmony among the races in a region often torn by religious and ethnic strife."