Malaysiakini Letter

KL will NOT be a world class city in 2020 - what say you...

Saleh Mohammed  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I guess the days where ‘government knows best’ are still kicking and very much alive. The words of ministers have to be the truth and always correct unless misquoted. Others, sorry... you either do not know or do not understand. Full stop.

This is a continuation of my article ‘What, KL a world-class city in 2020 - what say you...’, a couple of weeks ago.

Last week a minister lashed out at an opposition MP for staging a protest against plans to initiate the Federal Territories Affordable Housing scheme. He said the MP does not understand the purpose of implementing the programme. It was supposed to revive development at old housing areas and to develop areas that have been abandoned by building affordable homes for the people.

Assuming the MP does not understand the purpose and that action could be politically motivated, I must congratulate the minister for standing his ground.

Also, news report last week showed a proposed construction of a high-rise development project in Taman Tiara Titiwangsa, Setapak raised the ire of residents who questioned its legality. The land owner Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan appointed a developer in 2015, to develop two 51-storey condominium blocks and another 40-storey storey block for affordable homes. The developer had applied for the plot to be converted from public use to commercial.

The population density (people per acre) will be raised from 60 to 800 ppa. Residents objection letter to City Hall said the land was earlier earmarked for a sewage treatment plant and in April 2005, there were suggestions by City Hall to develop a community centre. However, the land was transferred to a third party developer and not developed for a public project.

A resident claimed there was a conflict of interest. The approving authority and the foundation are run by the same people.

The foundation insisted there is no conflict of interest since they are ex-officio members.

However, all Board of Trustees are ‘junior’ to the chairperson except for the finance minister II. Hopefully, they can fulfil their legislative obligations as effectively as possible and protect the integrity of the foundation’s decision-making process to enable stakeholders to have full confidence.

Not to forget, the other latest development of eight (8) block of highrise (up to 52 storeys) service apartments at Taman Rimba Kiara. Despite strong objections and protests from the residents association and surrounding residents, the development order has been issued. The density will be increased from 1:60 to a mind boggling 1:979. This area is supposed to be an open space or ‘green lung’ in the KLCP 2020.

It seems the land owner is also Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan.

In a paper (Implementation of Open Space: The Need for Uniform Policy - 1993), it was highlighted that the provision of open spaces within a residential development is often seen as unimportant.

The Malaysian government targeted to provide 2 hectares of open space per 1000 population (as achieved by developed cities as New York, Melbourne and Toronto) to be achieved as a developed nation status by the year 2020. As at December 2009, Malaysia achieved 1.19 hectares of open space per 1000 population.

The city of Melbourne manages about 500 hectares of open space. This represents about 15 percent of the total area of the city of Melbourne. It has an open space strategy for the entire municipality to meet the needs of the growing and changing residential and worker population and to respond to issues such as climate change.

Now, let us focus on urban design.

True, there were some improvements made in KL but that is historical. Yes, we have high-speed train to KLIA, we have MRT and the world’s tallest twin towers. But we need to look at the future and what we are doing now that would lead us to become really world class.

We often ascribe esthetic or tangible qualities to lofty terms like ‘world-class’.

For me, a world-class city should be an inclusive city where its people have a fundamental right to live with basic dignity, with prospects for economic mobility and citizen empowerment.

Medellin a model of creative urban design today

Take a look at Medellin, Colombia. In the 1990s, it was one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The drug-related violence made it a place people wanted to avoid. But today, it stands as a model of creative urban design.

In February 2013, the Urban Land Institute chose Medellín as the most innovative city in the world due to its advances in politics, education and social development. It won the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize 2016. The award seeks to recognize and celebrate efforts in furthering innovation in urban solutions and sustainable urban development.

It does not have the resources that KL has, but with a few smart infrastructure investments, like outdoor escalators, suspended gondolas (half the price of light rail), and public gathering spaces, Medellín has been transformed into a place where people are proud to live in.

Its architect Carlos Escobar sees it as much more than just infrastructure upgrades: “It is a social instrument that involves the community, that integrates the community in all the city.” It is more connected which makes it easier for workers to get to their jobs, and it brings more action to the local economy, strengthens the community and encourages people to be physically active.

Two weeks ago, the minister “clarified” he will not approve the KLCP 2020 in its present state and will not “bulldoze” the plan entirely. Several opposition MPs called for him to vacate his post and to be charged with violating the Federal Territory Planning Act 1982 which makes it mandatory for the plan to be gazetted within “a reasonable time”

Latest news, the mayor says it would not “make sense” to gazette the original plan as it is so close to 2020”. This is after years of drafting, spending around RM30 million and getting numerous feedback from stakeholders. I hope the new blueprint being drafted for development until 2050 will have a better chance.

To assist the new planners, I have a few items as a wishlist.

1. Spend a bit more time in our public restrooms.

2. Hail a taxi in KL.

3. Drive on all the roads in KL.

4. Look at rubbish bins.

5. Look up at the conditions of the trees along the roads.

6. Do quality checks on all the parks in KL.

In addition, kindly consider the quality of our schools and universities. Would they be nurturing talented professionals and a first-class intellectual community. Do mix around with the urban poor and visit the public hospitals unnoticed to appreciate what goes on every day. As for the environment, do check whether we are practising energy-efficiency, our air quality and our contribution towards climate change.

Urban planning and policy decisions should not restrict economic opportunities for the urban poor and exacerbate urban inequality.

With proper planning, the solutions are out there and may not be as costly or far-fetched as a lot of us might think.

The ways in which we have been designing our cities have been making us very sick. We have inadvertently designed physical activity and community considerations out of our lives.

So, with KLCP 2020 flying out of the window and at the rate we are moving, do you think KL will be a world class city in 2020?

What say you...

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