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Published: Monday December 23, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday December 23, 2013 MYT 7:09:04 AM

Back to the future

As 2013 draws to a close, StarMetro brings you a summary of  headline news throughout the  year by our teams across the  Klang Valley, beginning with  Kuala Lumpur today.

The past is a good teacher. It allows us to appreciate what we have achieved and learn from our mistakes.

Looking back on the development of Kuala Lumpur as another year draws to a close can evoke a sense of nostalgia.

The mushrooming of gleaming skyscrapers and the disappearance of trees and green lungs, the services of the infamous Metro buses against that of the Light Rail Transit and the upcoming Mass Rapid Transit and, the charms of heritage sites such as the 65-year-old Lok Ann Hotel on Jalan Sultan, Stadium Merdeka and Stadium Negara in comparison with the modernity of the upcoming RM5bil Menara Warisan project — an 118-storey office tower and hotel, for example.

Through history, we learn of the different cultures of the world, their achievements, glorious past and yes, mistakes. And one way of learning that lesson is through our heritage.

Heritage buildings, as many would agree, is an integral part of a city’s landscape.

The preservation of old buildings and historical places is a crucial element in urban planning. In the past few years, I have read, heard, and seen many times how old townships and buildings like schools and temples have been demolished in the name of development.

I know for a fact, that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) constantly faces pressure to tear down such structures.

While I am not an urban planner, or an expert on preservation, but as an ordinary KLite; common sense tells me that cities with a unique cultural landscape and heritage features are important economic resources.

Hence protecting our city’s heritage is not only important for preserving its historical significance, but also for its potential income-earning opportunities.

Hence our city fathers must ensure that historic buildings are preserved so future generations can see what our city may have looked like in the past and recognise that period’s culture through its architecture.

It is sad that many of our heritage buildings and historic sites are in danger of being wiped out.

In fact, in the past two decades Malaysians have witnessed the destruction of many such sites in the name of development and commercialisation.

One good example is the demolition of Tunku Park next to Stadium Merdeka.

Despite having a guardian in the form of the National Heritage Department, the park was destroyed none the less.

Wasn’t the park protected under Section 40 (3a) of the National Heritage Act?

The Act says that any land within a 200m radius from the boundary of a heritage site shall be protected and that the permission of the Commissioner of Heritage should be sought for any development plan.

I wonder if they even knew about it?

In July, when I reported on the massive development plans taking shape in Batu Caves, an iconic Malaysian landmark, I was surprised to discover that the National Heritage Department had no plans to nominate the 400-million year-old limestone caves to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

A spokesman from the department said Batu Caves does not meet Unesco’s criteria and guidelines.

What shocked me even more was the fact that when informed about a proposed cable car project at the site, and when asked whether they were consulted or even aware of it, the response from them was that the department was not concerned.

I was disappointed as the Sri Subramaniar Swamy Temple in Batu Caves is listed as a national heritage site in their website.

So, how can they not be concerned about the impact of a future cable car project at the site?

With this level of indifference, it is not surprising to read about the Bujang Valley fiasco.

A colleague posted a question on her Facebook page recently: “How can approvals be given at so many stages and yet there is nothing in all the government data indicating it is a heritage site? Shows how much this government values heritage.”

Yes indeed. It shows that they place heritage at the bottom of the pile of their priorities.

Clearly political will is needed to preserve heritage sites like Batu Caves including its eco-system which is in danger of extinction.

A coalition comprising the Malaysian Nature Society and several non-governmental organisations should be applauded for creating awareness and pushing for laws to protect our heritage sites.

There is a saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

I truly hope that we all have learnt something from the Bujang Valley episode.

Tags / Keywords: Government, Politics, Central Region, Valley View

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