Creating ideal cities

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on July 6, 2020 - July 12, 2020.

The Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2040 aims to find a balance in urban planning and address the challenges faced by the capital city (Photo by Mohd Izwan Mohd Nazam/The Edge)

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Troughout the years, various conferences and events have been held on the sustainability, inclusivity and liveability of Malaysian cities, covering a wide range of topics that include the economy, employment and housing. But what do ordinary Malaysians really think about the issue?

City & Country conducted a short survey on social media from April 29 to May 6, asking respondents what their ideal cities would be and what changes they would make to Malaysia’s cities if they had a chance to do so.

Of the 165 respondents, 17 chose Singapore as their ideal city, followed by London (12),

Tokyo (12), Osaka (11), Melbourne (9) and Barcelona (6).  Other cities named included Auckland, Copenhagen and Helsinki.

Singapore was cited for its cleanliness, security, green spaces and good public transport system. London and Tokyo tied for second place. The former was liked for its green spaces, historical value and con-

veniences while the latter was chosen for its security, culture, cleanliness and good public transport system. Osaka was favoured for the same reasons as Tokyo but offered another feature — a great balance between urbanisation and tradition.

Melbourne made the list because of its security and well-maintained surroundings while for Barcelona,  it was the culture, good food, good public transport system and plenty of sidewalk space.

Many of the survey respondents wanted local urban areas to adopt the public transport system of their favourite city. They also wanted more green spaces, cleanliness, walkability and top-notch maintenance of public amenities, especially pothole-free roads.

The other problems that they wanted addressed were traffic congestion and security.

When asked what they liked about local cities, food came up tops, followed by diversity of culture, historical and heritage value, mixture of modern and traditional architectures and good expressway connectivity.

On how they would improve local cities, especially liveability, the respondents had plenty of ideas, including controlling development, adopting bicycle-friendly policies, putting up covered walkways, reducing carbon footprint, investing in more cultural spaces and activities such as theatres and art exhibitions, and creating more facilities for the disabled.

 

The plans and the challenges

Does the government have any plans or policies in place to improve the liveability of local cities? For KW Associate Planners Sdn Bhd managing director Khairiah Talha, the answer is yes.

“Most cities in Malaysia have their own local plans, which detail the actions, policies and strategies for a time frame of 20 years. The plans were prepared under the provisions of the Town & Country Planning Act 1976. Hence, all local plans are legislated plans,” says the past president of the Malaysia Institute of Planners.

The plans were formulated after engaging with the community, government agencies and the private sector. They highlight the making of cities liveable — the actions to be taken, the various agencies involved and the estimated costs, Khairiah adds.

However, Khairiah points out two challenges — provision of adequate and affordable housing for the community, especially low-income earners, and people’s mobility intercity and intracity.

For Ra Adrina Muztaza, organising chairperson of the 11th World Class Sustainable Cities Conference 2019, the biggest challenge that needs to be overcome is the absence of the people factor when designing spaces in cities. “For instance, wet markets are vital and popular in the cities. But the lanes between traders’ stalls are too narrow and not easily accessible for children, senior citizens and the disabled,” she says.

Ra Adrina is finance director of Fairview Group of Companies and treasurer of the Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association Youth (Rehda Youth).

She opines that our cities do not promote inclusivity to its maximum potential, which has forced certain groups to live in silos.

“This is apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic, with senior citizens being disconnected from society and not able to access necessities easily,” she says.

 

Things to consider post-pandemic

The government can come up with plans and policies that the public may wish for, but no matter how much planning is done, many things are brought to light during a public health crisis that exposes the shortcomings when it comes to the liveability  of our cities.

The government has restricted people’s movement since mid-March to curb the spread of the virus. This has resulted in a reduction in pollution, as there were significantly fewer vehicles on the roads, says Khairiah. “Therefore, I believe the government should seriously look at making public transport more affordable and connection seamless.”

The authorities should revise and change the development approach in cities, she adds. “Working and studying from home is a viable option now. So, do we need so much office space in the future? On the other hand, we do not have adequate affordable homes. Perhaps it is time we relooked at the development approach.”

Meanwhile, Ra Adrina opines that the most apparent issues are proximity and accessibility to necessities such as grocers, clinics and banks, and recreational spaces for urban dwellers from all income groups.

She observes that the small shop lots and playground parks that were a common sight in older neighbourhoods are disappearing due to rapid urbanisation. “There are lessons to be learnt from the long-term benefits and relevance of having these facilities replicated in large-scale neighbourhoods or dense areas with high-rise properties. And they should be maintained properly.”

Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM) president Lillian Tay concurs with Ra Adrina.

The director of VERITAS Architects thinks individual standalone developments will never have sufficient recreational spaces and the responsibility to create more such spaces rests with the public authorities.

The authorities have voiced their intention to create more recreational spaces but there must be commitment on their part as open spaces are very expensive, says Tay. “They either have to buy the land or commit the land [for recreational usage] and therefore forgo a big capital opportunity.”

A park within walking distance of residential enclaves should be the ambition moving forward as this is what the public needs now, she stresses. “We cannot just take the light rail transit to Lake Gardens or Titiwangsa or any of the big parks because they are quite a distance away.”

The park does not have to be big, she notes. “It can be just a little square like the ones in London. A little pocket park that is accessible easily via a sidewalk.”

Tay notes that there are plans for green ecological corridors in the draft Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2040 (PSKL2040).

“But that is on the ecological side. It is a conceptual thing where they use a certain avenue to create a green corridor for birds and insects. That is fine. But what I want to see is accessibility for citizens,” she says.

 

Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2040

Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) recently released the draft of PSKL2040, which sets the direction for KL’s development. It aims to find a balance in urban planning and address the challenges faced by the capital city.

It will also integrate long-term land use with infrastructure and transport planning, provision of affordable housing, future employment, public amenities and recreation to meet the needs of the population as well as improve the quality of the environment and urban spaces.

The vision for 2020 to 2040 is to make KL a city for all. It is based on the aspirations of city folks for KL to be a city that will continue to develop dynamically and is based on the principle of equitable, resilient, sustainable and stimulating growth.

This vision will be achieved by focusing on six goals — innovative and productive, inclusive and equitable, healthy and vibrant, climate smart and low carbon, efficient and environmentally friendly mobility, integrated and sustainable development — encompassing the social, economic, living environment, natural environment and physical planning aspects.

For a detailed explanation of each goal and the actions to be taken, download the full plan from DBKL’s website.