Sustainability — a very powerful word

It was after 7pm last Tuesday when City & Country finally managed to catch Kuala Lumpur Mayor Datuk Ahmad Fuad Ismail in his office located smack in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

His office and the guests’ waiting area were a hive of activity; among those in the queue was a foreign delegation waiting to pay Datuk Bandar a courtesy call.

Our meeting with Ahmad Fuad finally got underway but by 8pm, his officers were noticeably restless; signalling to the boss that his next appointment was at 8.30pm. This was to be held in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, about 20 minutes’ drive away, depending on the traffic conditions. The meeting was apparently the first in a series he initiated to meet residents’ associations (RA) in all the Federal Territory constituencies. So, turning up late was a bad idea.

As Ahmad Fuad was leaving the office, he stopped in his path on seeing a senior DBKL (Kuala Lumpur City Hall) official, who had been waiting for more than an hour to catch his boss. More discussion followed. I suspect that Ahmad Fuad was barely in time for the RA meeting.

This is very much a typical day for the mayor. I do not envy him; but it has nothing to do with the long hours he has to keep — journalists, too, put in very long hours!

Come March 24, the mayor will have been in office for 100 days and among his key challenges is to transform Kuala Lumpur into a world-class sustainable city.

Ahmad Fuad knows only too well that KL needs development — how else can KL aspire to be a world-class city if it offers no buzz? Then, there is the potentially explosive resistance from certain quarters who are anti-development. This needs to be handled tactfully.

As they say, there are no free lunches out there. Any urgent and relentless pursuit of urbanisation and globalisation comes at a price. And it is not always about ringgit and sen although some may beg to differ.
Rapid growth presents immense challenges that threaten to displace communities and a way of life they are so used to. There must be at least a million and one views on whether or how a city should grow.
Then again, let’s not kid ourselves that it is logical and possible to enjoy the fruits of development without surrendering familiarity. And that life can and must carry on the way it has for decades and decades.
We now live in a borderless world and looking at our immediate neighbour down south, much needs to be done, and urgently, about KL if are we serious about becoming a world-class city.

To recap, the framework of the Draft KL City Plan 2020 is centred on five goals, the first of which is to enhance the role of KL as an international commercial and financial centre. Other goals are: to create an efficient and equitable city structure; to enhance the city living environment; to create a distinctive city identity and image and to have an efficient and effective governance.

So, what is the growth strategy, going forward?

Ahmad Fuad strikes a chord when he speaks about building KL in tune with nature and transforming it into a world-class sustainable city. Now, who can frown upon development if it is all centred on sustainability?
Indeed, sustainability is a very powerful word these days, more so in the property and development arena where it also helps to sell products.

What exactly is sustainable development? Definitions are aplenty — some say it means the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without affecting the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Others define sustainable communities as towns and cities that have taken steps to remain healthy over the long term. In short, sustainable development dictates that today’s growth must not be achieved at tomorrow’s expense.

As for KL, DBKL’s role in facilitating the urban renewal of the city is certainly a step in the right direction. What KL needs is not more concrete jungle but a well-thought-out plan to get development activities carried out in a sustainable manner. Needless to say, an efficient infrastructure system is a must and there must not be any compromise.

Ahmad Fuad himself has readily conceded that urban renewal will be no mean task, but he remains undeterred. His assurance that all decisions taken will be made transparent to stakeholders is comforting. Stakeholders will also be given an option to participate in the redevelopment exercise if they so desire.
It is impossible to say how and when the pilot renewal development will kick off, but what is certain is that it will be closely scrutinised.

In the meantime, the Datuk Bandar is losing no time in getting planners, architects, local councils, developers, resident associations and non-governmental organisations to embrace sustainable development.
On March 24, six international speakers will be in KL to share their views on how the city can progress towards 2020 at the International Conference on World-Class Sustainable Cities 2009 (WCSC 2009). The one-day event, endorsed and supported by DBKL, is co-organised by Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association Wilayah Persekutuan, the Malaysian Institute of Planners (MIP) and the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM).

The speakers are Loong Yee Mun (Surbana Urban Planning Group, Singapore), Robert Spinks (Bovis Lend Lease, Australia), Patrick Fensham (SGS Economics and Planning Pty Ltd, Sydney), Sicco van Gelder (Placebrands Ltd, The Netherlands), Kie-Wook Kwon (Seoul Metropolitan Government, South Korea) and Choi Chik Cheong (Land Transport Authority, Singapore).

WCSC 2009 will explore and showcase strategies and best practices that have helped global cities attain recognition for successful and sustainable planning initiatives. Ideas, strategies and action plans from the conference and a committee meeting on May 25 will be distilled and submitted to DBKL for its consideration in the finalisation of the Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that among those who were in the queue to meet the Datuk Bandar that Tuesday evening were those organising WCSC 2009?

Au Foong Yee is editor of City & Country


This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 747, March 23-29, 2009.

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