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Is Greater KL ready to be a livable, world class city? (Update #1)

Update: The Star has an interesting piece on making Kuala Lumpur into a livable city on 2 April 2011 – see How liveable is Kuala Lumpur? and related articles!

TRANSIT wants to highlight an excellent opinion piece that appears in today’s and last week’s The Sun on the importance of people-centric planning in creating livable cities. Another section from Utusan Malaysia a few days ago sensationalized the opinion from an investment analyst that property prices in KL and Penang will match the neighboring Singapore in a few more years.

Hartanah naik mendadak?

KUALA LUMPUR 24 Mac – Harga hartanah di Kuala Lumpur dan Pulau Pinang bakal menyamai Singapura dalam beberapa tahun akan datang sekali gus menjadikan harga rumah kediaman dan komersial naik mendadak.

World class cities are created for people, not cars.

Make KL a liveable city

THE planned Klang Valley MRT project and other mega projects have attracted a lot of attention. On paper, these projects will provide the desired impetus to enhance the appeal of Kuala Lumpur apart from propelling the nation into a high-income economy by 2020.Public feedback on the MRT line has been plentiful. The bottom line is that we need a compelling and integrated mass transport system to address traffic congestion. And Malaysia needs to have more mega projects to spur economic activities.

What remains an issue and perhaps a concern is whether sufficient thought has been put in place to make the federal capital a more liveable city beyond this decade and for the next generation. The city and surrounding areas are bursting at the seams. Further improvements of KL’s infrastructure are too costly to implement due to the haphazard planning and development of the city since the 90s.

After a downpour everything becomes chaotic. If we talk about public transport, taxis will go into hiding during peak hours. Sights of bumper-to-bumper buses are rare in Kuala Lumpur. In the 80s, the mini buses did a better job to fulfil commuters’ needs.

City folks may have to wait with bated breath for the unveiling of the Klang Valley Public Transport Master Plan in the coming months. Will it provide the much needed interconnection and integration to support the MRT service? Will there be sufficient feeder bus services and park and ride facilities with adequate parking? And will there be cost overruns and expensive land acquisitions at the expense of more taxpayers’ money?

Is the RM50 billion project the most viable solution? Or should we have more public buses which will only cost a fraction of the planned MRT project? Deploying more buses on the road is a cheaper and a more flexible solution.

The authorities should engage the public and concerned parties on how best to use the MRT project allocation for the betterment of the Klang Valley and discuss long term solutions to tackle the city’s population boom and environmental issues. There are many options, including incentives for the development of affordable and medium-cost homes, a new eco-friendly metropolitan or commercial hub to complement Kuala Lumpur and having more green parks in the city.

Creating meaningful public spaces

As Kuala Lumpur grows, there will be incursions into the public space as the population increases and the people’s needs become more diverse.

There’s no doubt that a big part of the creation of a smart, liveable city lies in the nurturing of smart citizens who expect the best infrastructure and the most efficient avenues for their realisation. People living in a metropolitan city must have enough room to unwind and de-stress.

By 2020 the citizens of Greater Kuala Lumpur (KL, Putrajaya, Sepang, Klang, Shah Alam, Petaling Jaya, Subang Jaya, Ampang Jaya, Selayang, Kajang) will be among the country’s top 30% in terms of education, economic status, communication, exposure and knowledge.

Smart citizens require smart city planners, administrators and managers to turn their city into one of the world’s smartest and most liveable. And Kuala Lumpur has the potential to do this with the support of a far-sighted government, visionary municipalities, an innovative business community and a responsible and committed citizenry. The right type and level of synergy between these sectors will produce the vibrant city we can be proud of.

A big part of the liveability of Greater KL must surely lie in how we humanise the city, in how we fill the hardness of its metallic and concrete infrastructure and iconic towers with a human soul and how we camouflage its profit-driven business life with an aesthetic spirit.

In laying out the Greater KL master plan scant attention is given to citizen development. The focus seems to be on making the capital city an investment hub and a tourist destination to bring in the big money. We sometimes forget that the people who make the most regular contributions to the city’s coffers are its ordinary citizens and residents.

For a start let us be dead serious about creating 30% more open spaces, parks and green belts and lungs lined with trees and other plants. The natural forests must be left as they are but the cultivated parks must be more people-friendly and designed with bicycle tracks and sidewalks for the interconnectivity that KLites require. Jogging tracks and exercise equipment must be available for the health conscious, as must gazebos and benches.

Perhaps in the development of Kampung Baru, Jalan Imbi, Menara Wawasan and the other commercial areas all of the 22 acres of Pudu Prison should be converted into one sprawling park. The beautification of this and the other derelict areas in strategic locations will ensconce the city’s green development once and for all, erasing the stigma associated with them.

At the residential level, residents associations must be gazetted into the municipality statute and given a formal status in the decision-making chains. This will create a direct channel for ordinary citizens to have their voices heard by the authorities.

The residents associations must be empowered and motivated to organise campaigns and competitions to increase awareness about their civic responsibilities and more importantly to take responsibility for the care and protection of their public space.

There must be a series of campaigns to encourage residents to be civic-minded. Competitions to encourage housing areas to own every bit of physical space they have by planting plants and flowers will inspire great creativity and novel ideas.

Shared or collective space in residential areas can be designed more effectively with the collaboration of the city’s community of architects to create concepts such as an open air library/ learning centre in abandoned buildings or town squares, where people can sit around and borrow a book or magazine to read during their lunch break or evening strolls. Through their residents’ association, interested groups should be able to apply for the use of government land or old demolished sites and create their own recreational space.

Add to this a stage or podium where budding writers and poets can have regular readings and discussions. Expand this idea to neighbourhood art camps which can be expanded to cover bigger areas like Bangsar or Hartamas or Selayang or Ampang. If a giant corporation initiates this as part of their CSR, think of the real involvement of citizens in art appreciation at the basic ground level.

I’m urging here for the creation of a more responsible and proactive citizenry in creating the recreational spaces relevant to their own needs. By being directly involved, they become more responsible in the development of their residential areas and thus the greater city. The responsibility of maintaining these places then shifts from the authorities to the residents.

On a larger scale, the authorities in collaboration with the relevant corporations can organise a city-wide competition for the most creative and meaningful use of open space. By organising competitions, the authorities provide the initiative and the motivation for the citizens to participate in changing the face of their city. The corollary to participation is the responsibility that goes with it. KL citizens will feel a sense of involvement in the city’s development – with this will come the civic consciousness of protecting and caring for their living environment.

Think of the creation of city-wide literary and art festivals with the residents themselves contributing their talents to make KL the truly spirited city that foreign investors and tourists find pleasurable to live in or visit.

Think of Kuala Lumpur – the city with a soul.

Halimah Mohd Said
Kuala Lumpur

TRANSIT Says: There is no doubt that the presence of green, open spaces is a must for a city to be livable.

Kuala Lumpur was planned as a garden city by British colonials (compact rows of shops and markets, encapsulated by automobile-oriented residential layouts for the privileged, high-nosed Mat Sallehs (excluding Moaz for sure) ), but what was  regretful is that the subsequent post-independence administrations reinforced the motorway-oriented development to sprawl further outside of the original boundaries of downtown KL.

In 1890s, compact and pedestrian-friendly road layouts dominate downtown KL (permeable streets of Chinatown and Little India, and open communal zones of Kg Baru). The same areas are now clogged and landlocked by motorist-oriented sprawling development more than 100 years later

Great cities with strong transit culture do not sprung overnight, and the cities typically have strong, compact and centralized urban cores, with downtown goers mostly originating from residential areas along the transit corridors.

For KL to transform from a car-dependent 'dispersed city' to a transit-oriented 'corridor city', it can't simply railroad new MRT lines without fixing the prevailing road network which shapes the present urban sprawl.

A plan to build strong downtown core is a prerequisite to building rapid transit lines. In Greater KL, most activity centers have sprung up in the satellite towns due to congestion in downtown KL, and these make commuting and travel patterns more complex, and harder to be solved – trip origins and destinations are all over the place. Consider this – traffic volume figures from Cheras to PJ and vice versa are the same! Traffic jams have been a long time issue for both sides of the NKVE and the Federal Highway.

Cities with good pedestrian permeability mostly retained their grid layout structures in the downtown cores. Compare with that of KL - especially around Bukit Bintang - the land lots are arranged in a manner that pedestrians from one side of the road can't get to the other side without having to travel very long on foot. What's worse, DBKL fined jaywalkers for not using pedestrian bridges (should abolish em anyway)!

We have said so many times before, that public transport will not really work, no matter how many billion ringgit we are willing to spend, if we fail to take into account of adjusting the way we work, live and play, with the way we move (and vice versa).

Exporting (sub)urbanism: Kuala Lumpur and the communist world

Unlike in the West, where dense, built-up urban cores relegated Garden City developments to small new towns and the outskirts of large cities, Kuala Lumpur offered an opportunity to build a metropolis from scratch as a Garden City. Charles Reade eagerly set to work building sprawling, low-density housing estates alongside wide roads which anticipated widespread private vehicle ownership. Residential, commercial, and industrial areas were segregated and separated by grassy, undeveloped parkbelts, characteristic of the Garden City style.

Following independence, a nationalist Malaysian government used a hybrid Japanese/American industrial policy (under the inauspicious moniker of “five-year plans”) to foster a domestically-oriented automobile industry, fulfilling Reade’s prophesy of Kuala Lumpur as an auto-oriented city. With two state-owned car manufacturers – Proton established in the ’80s and Perodua in the ’90s – middle-class car ownership became a national prerogative. In addition to bankrolling the two auto companies, the government subsidized gasoline and civil servants’ car loans, and embarked on an ambitious road-building scheme.

Beyond the British-style town planning of the 1920s and the hybrid American/Japanese industrial policy of the 1980s, Kuala Lumpur also began instituting American-style restrictions on density. Private minibuses were regulated out of existence and public bus service has not adapted to changing land use patterns.  In addition to height and density limitations, developers are faced with sprawl-promoting minimum parking requirements to the point where Kuala Lumpur’s downtown has twice as many parking spaces as not only its middle-income Asian counterparts, but also wealthy Asian cities like Singapore and Tokyo.

Kuala Lumpur may be the most blatant example of poorly-advised adoption of Western land use policy, but other cities around Asia exhibit similar anti-urban tendencies. Bangkok, Jakarta, and Manila are also “parking requirement enthusiasts,” and urban transportation scholar Paul Barter believes that similar dynamics may be at play in South Asian cities. The state of apartment buildings in Mumbai, 60% of which had controlled rents as late as 2006, makes the South Bronx look like the Upper East Side. The late Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach once said that artificially low rents were more destructive to Hanoi’s housing stock than American bombing…

It is important to note that while population density figures of Singapore and Greater Kuala Lumpur metropolitan areas are the same (7,ooo person/km-ish), the cities are in stark contrast in terms of density patterns and open spaces.

No matter how kiasu our patriotic politicians can get in highlighting the ‘truly Asia’ virtues of Malaysia (chaotic traffic scenes that surprisingly attract curiosity of westerners on the flip side, although not too chaotic like Bangkok or Manila where slums are sporadic among the modern skyscraper-laden landscape) over its ‘septic’ neighbor, we have to acknowledge that Singapore’s status of a livable city does make it an attractive city to live and work (and play, to some who might tolerate the relentless septic-ness of the city).

KL and Singapore basically followed the same path – garden city-road layout that emphasizes cars, but after the country splits, Singapore ensures that its land consists mostly of open and green spaces, and less than a third are subject to man-made structures. From that one third portion, surprisingly, more than two thirds are consisted of mostly high density residentials, commercials and institutions, and industries, and the remaining spaces for roads.

Urban sprawl is a big hurdle in the aim to create a transit-oriented region (low catchment due to land use and road pattern). We can't simply plonk in MRT stations and hope the cost can be paid off through property value capture in matter of years (good luck!) and transit usage will jump to 50% right away.

If we look at google maps, we can see that not many green spaces (let alone open spaces for public, golf and private clubs excluded of course) are presently left within the confinement of metropolitan Kuala Lumpur.

We see that most of the new developments are in fact in new satellite land developments in the fringes of the state of Selangor (as north as Country Homes in Rawang, as south as Nilai in N.Sembilan) and they are far from high density in nature (a prerequisite for a corridor-based transit city like Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo where populations are concentrated along rail nodes and strong downtown core exists).

When new transit corridors and new land developments fail to be integrated, don't expect transit to form as the default transportation culture of the city.

In other words, our land use is highly sprawled with not much open and green spaces left. And we are rushing to build expensive rail lines like Singapore and Hong Kong while breaking all other principles in transforming KL into a corridor city. Horribly conditioned flats and public houses are cramped in small area plots landlocked by highway intersections and other manmade barriers where no buses can be expected to provide fast and good service!

Transit-Oriented Developments can be hardly seen around the existing rail stations, there is absolutely no transparent plan on that made open to residents, and TRANSIT wonders what is the government thinking with its railroading of the MRT!

And Utusan says our property prices will match to that of Singapore! When the transit remains suck as ever, when commuting times are more than double than that of Singapore, and while our purchasing power is a tiny compared to the regional powerhouses!

DBKL's 2020 Structure Plan says population density in WP alone will be nearly doubled.



3 replies on “Is Greater KL ready to be a livable, world class city? (Update #1)”

With all the useless and outdated acts/laws, heavy bureaucracy/red tapes, the so called Bumiputera land rights, unsystematic, not properly planned and sprawlings of all kinds of religious buildings and housing areas/buildings. Worst still, cronyism and corruptions plus all the incompetent officers in the government departments, all these reasons/factors just make the whole KL to become a Great World Class City Planning seems impossible and without hopes.

Be realistic; you already have a world class metropolis in Singapore (that minus all the negatives of KL and Malaysia); what would the so called Greater KL can offer other than the usual Malaysian styled of so much form over already so little substance!

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