Elmina East — setting the benchmark

The 1,000-acre Elmina East in Shah Alam is a project to watch. The maiden township within the Sime Darby Vision Valley (SDVV) Master Development plan, Elmina East is also the pilot project that embodies the Sime Darby Group’s commitment to sustainability.

For a developer that’s synonymous with township developments — such as Subang Jaya, UEP Subang Jaya, Ara Damansara and Putra Heights — Elmina East, with its novel concept of neighbourhoods (less than 100 houses in each neighbourhood), presents an opportunity for the group to show that achieving sustainability goes beyond merely greening the environment.

Sime Darby Property Bhd managing director Datuk Tunku Putra Badlishah Tunku Annuar says that with Elmina East, the developer hopes to set a new benchmark in township development. “Elmina East is earmarked to be a pilot ‘sustainable neighbourhood’ development and if it is successful, we hope to extend Elmina’s principles to our other townships,” he says.

The money we spend now is thing compared to the price we will be paying in the future if we neglect our responsibility of taking care of the environment -Tunku Putra BadlishahThe master plan for the freehold development located along the Guthrie Corridor Expressway was submitted to the local authority in January this year. “We hope to start marketing the development by the end of the year, subject to approvals,” says Tunku Putra Badlishah, adding that while both the local authority and  Selangor government have expressed support for the development, the approval process is taking a little longer because of the project’s unique elements.

The planning framework for Elmina East is based on the Building Research Establishment (BRE) Sustainable Development Excellence Framework, a tool to help a project achieve excellence by considering the components of a sustainable community. “Sustainable communities are places where people want to live and work, now and in the future. These communities meet the diverse needs of existing and future residents, are sensitive to their environment, and contribute to a high quality of life. They are safe and inclusive, well planned, built and run, and offer equality of opportunity and good services for all, Tunku Putra Badlishah tells City & Country.

Considering these key principles of sustainable development meant having to pay attention to the dimensions of, among others, transport and connectivity, infrastructure services, environmental sensitivity, and equity and collaborative planning.

In terms of transport and connectivity, Elmina East proposes four options: a dedicated pedestrian network, dedicated cycling network, energy efficient public transport and lower provisions for privately owned vehicles. By giving priority to the pedestrian network and enhancing the permeability of each neighbourhood, the developer hopes to reduce carbon emission from vehicular usage within the township. Elmina East will have an average of 80% permeability, which means that in a neighbourhood, a person would be able to walk anywhere within a 380m radius within five minutes in 80% of that area. “Our study shows that this is almost 30% higher than some of the best existing townships in the country.” says Tunku Putra Badlishah.

“We are also creating vehicle-free zones in key commercial areas that will encourage better interaction between the residents and their surroundings,” he adds.

In terms of services, Elmina East will focus on healthcare, education, special needs and integrated infrastructure. “We will be selective in determining who our purchasers and tenants are in order to control the composition of commercial and voluntary services in our neighbourhoods. I’ve also told the marketing team that for commercial projects, they need to identify the critical tenants. This is to ensure a balanced mix of businesses and services such as shops, convenience stores, laundrette, clinics and food outlets. And once these tenants have committed, they have to start the business by the time the first house within the neighbourhood has been handed over,” says Tunku Putra Badlishah. Such an approach, he adds, will ensure that the commercial centres will be thriving by the time the first homeowner moves in.

“It was one of the things we saw at Celebration City in Orlando, Florida — whereas other town centres were being developed as the owners began moving in, here the town centre was already thriving,” says Tunku Putra Badlishah. He adds that this was achieved because for the first few years, the developer did not sell the units but leased them out. In some cases, prospective merchants were offered the option of renting first and buying later while in other cases a profit-sharing scheme was offered so that merchants would have the confidence to set up shop. “This is something we’re looking at as well,” he adds.

The developer also plans to provide opportunities for vocational training in the township as the land-use distribution focuses on industry and technology-related businesses. Through the creation of the assisted living housing clusters, the needs of senior citizens have not been overlooked. “We want to address the needs of young ones, those under the age of eight, by having community care facilities and amenities, such as playgrounds and public toilets that specifically accommodate that age group.”
Sustainable development excellence framework
On the infrastructure services dimension, the plan is to create a series of infrastructure services connected by a “convergence system”, which allows water, common facilities, security and communication to be centrally managed. Elmina East will be served by an integrated water-management solution which covers the management of clean water, treatment and conditioning of grey water that is collected from surface run-offs and domestic grey water, and treatment of black water from our sewage plants.

In designing the built-up environment, buildings in Elmina East have been designed to be sensitive to the natural environment. The developer has also applied both passive and active design in building typologies. “This means aspects of security, lighting and ventilation are achieved by design and not limited to mechanical solutions. By simply arranging the houses to cluster in a specific way, we would be able to encourage the residents to better interact and naturally create a safe and secure environment,” Tunku Putra Badlishah says. Meanwhile, security features such as CCTV and remote monitoring systems to be deployed across the township will be centrally managed at a Central Command Centre.

The developer is also working on developing a Building Automation System (BAS) that will be a given feature in all houses. BAS will allow better management of security, energy and climate control of the houses. Residents are expected to enjoy savings of up to 57% in power consumption by applying an efficient BAS.

Sime Darby has long adopted the Environmental Management System (EMS14001) to continually improve its environmental performance. “In addition, by adopting innovative design processes such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), Modern Method of Construction (MMC) and collaborative design, we would be able to speed up our turnaround time by almost 200%, which means less time spent on site, less machinery on site, quicker decision-making, less variation and changes on site. We would also see reduced use of paper, as BIM is almost entirely an online platform. We plan to use at least 10% recycled material and 80% recyclable material, done entirely using MMC philosophy ­­— marrying the scale and precision of off-site prefabrication and the practicality of onsite works,” Tunku Putra Badlishah points out.

In addressing the dimension of equity and collaborative planning, Sime Darby has applied a universal design strategy that caters for various ethnic and age groups. Low-cost, medium-cost and high-end housing units will be located in each neighbourhood. Describing the plan as a “social experiment”, Tunku Putra Badlishah says: “In the spirit of 1Malaysia, different social groups will be able to enjoy common facilities, thus fostering closer integration. By varying the density and range of affordability, different income groups would not be physically segregated but integrated in community clusters.”

The needs of the disabled have also not been overlooked. Elmina East plans to have, among others, Braille signage coupled with audible equipment that will be placed along the pedestrian network and slopes that are gentle and accessible to wheelchairs and senior citizens.

Sime Darby’s urban design team will draw a comprehensive Mobility Map to chart out a smooth and uninterrupted travel pattern for pedestrians. In addition, the developer will continuously engage the local community for input and ideas in enriching the township’s urban design. “For example, local schools can participate in creating artistic content in urban parks. We have also allocated space for community orchards and allotments where local residents can contribute by planting fruits and vegetables,” Tunku Putra Badlishah says.

Addressing social and cultural aspects of the township, Elmina East will promote the idea of creating a fair, tolerant and cohesive society through active community engagement, townhall meetings and creating provisions for community interaction at each neighbourhood.  The developer also plans to enhance the artistic content of the township by promoting the use of sculptures and follies at key urban areas such as the commercial centre and urban parks. As for governance, Tunku Putra Badlishah acknowledges that while there are gaps in local guidelines and parameters, Sime Darby Property can play a proactive role in addressing these gaps by creating its own performance benchmark in sustainability.

The developer is working with various parties, such as the Forest Research Institute Malaysia, to determine the future potential of carbon emission in Elmina East and the strategies to mitigate and systematically offset the emission. It plans to work with local institutions on an R&D initiative that will explore new technologies, systems and applications by allocating 20 acres of land for an R&D village in Elmina East. It is also working with the Green Building Index (GBI) Accreditation Panel and the Malaysian Green Building Confederation in creating a test project in Elmina East for township accreditation by GBI.

The issue is not cost but value
The houses are arranged in a cluster to naturally create a safe and secure environment while encouraging better interaction among residents
Green initiatives do not come cheap but Tunku Putra Badlishah, does not view these as cost. “We see them as creating value. In a period when Malaysians are becoming more environmentally conscious, we trust that they will appreciate the sustainability features or the value of Elmina. The money we spend now is nothing compared to the price we will be paying in the future if we neglect our responsibility of taking care of the environment,” he says.

“I am fortunate that both my group CEO/president, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zubir and the group  chairman, Tun Musa Hitam, are strongly supportive of the sustainability agenda. The establishment of the Research and Development Innovation department was suggested by Datuk Seri Zubir and this is the department from which many of the sustainability initiatives originate.

“Tun Musa, with his wide and varied international experience and in his capacity as adviser to several cities and countries, has gained invaluable insights into sustainable development practices around the world and consistently challenges the property team to implement such initiatives,” says Tunku Putra Badlishah.

Nonetheless, he admits that marketing a green township is not without its share of challenges, the main one being to convince their main stakeholders that the path to a sustainable community living is a long journey that will not bear fruit in a day, especially given the scale and time taken to undertake such a project,” he adds.

Tunku Putra Badlishah recognises that getting stakeholders’ buy-in is crucial not only in marketing the township but also in ensuring that the sustainability principles are maintained. “This is where Sime Darby Property values the importance of a good partnership with dedicated partners and associates, including the authorities that bring their individual expertise to the table, sharing the risks associated with the application of new and emerging technologies. For example, we intend to introduce an innovative sewer treatment system that would allow higher efficiency and more sustainable methods in treating sewage and black water, which is not on the authority’s approved systems list. This is where we engage the relevant agencies to highlight the benefits and values that such systems present,” he says.

On the other hand, where the public is concerned, the developer will continue to undertake a long-term engagement programme, not only with the residents but also local businesses and the local government in promoting and raising awareness about “green living” and “being sustainable”.

Tunku Putra Badlishah is optimistic that as more Malaysians become more environment-conscious, the appreciation for ‘greener’ living will bode well for Elmina East. “We believe Elmina East will be well-received as a township for the future generation,” he says.

This article appeared in City & Country Special Focus, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 760, June 22 - 28, 2009.

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