Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Towards a safe and inclusive city

A WELL-developed city is only good if we can walk around safely without fear of being robbed or harmed.

Rio De Janerio is a city where the famous beaches of Copa Cobana are immortalised in songs as well as post cards. Promoted as a playground for the rich and famous, its downside is the high crime rate in the favelas (urban slums) about four streets away from the famous beaches.

No police actually enter the favelas without a sizeable number of personnel and with heavy arms. When I was there three years ago for the Rio+20 conference, I could only conclude that it is a failed city as a blanket of fear envelops it.

The fear of crime is almost at paranoid levels; restaurants have cashiers sitting inside a steel cage and there are also security officers sitting on high chairs overseeing retail shops in an effort to nab shoplifters.

Recently, the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) held a conference with the theme “Towards a safe and inclusive city”.

What I thought was particularly interesting was that this time, MBPJ had factored “inclusiveness” into the conference theme. Indeed, Petaling Jaya cannot be a safe city if there are urban slums with neglected communities among us.

The Sunway Pyramid area is surrounded by the urban slums of Taman Medan, the Lembah Subang PPR flats fringe Ara Damansara, while the PPR flats in Section 8 are nestled in the upmarket Kota Damansara neighbourhood.

There is a need to ensure that the lower-income housing areas coexist with the higher-end neighbourhoods
without a spillover in crime.

In Petaling Jaya, residents staying in low-cost flats and high-rise buildings make up 60% of some 176,260 households. The percentage of low-cost houses alone is 25% and all low-cost housing is situated next to affluent neighbourhoods.

The Desaria low-cost flats are located just a 10-minute walk from the Sunway Pyramid area.

The rest of the concentration of low-cost housing stretches through the Taman Medan area to the Jalan Klang Lama area, where blocks of low-cost housing such as Desa Mentari are infamous for social ills and act as a hotspot for crime.

Desa Mentari has 13 blocks of flats, more than 6,000 units with each measuring 700 square feet.

Against these demographics and the theme “Safe and Inclusive”, it can be said that the poorer communities
were not represented adequately at the conference.

Most participants were from theupper middle class section of the Petaling Jaya population.

Safe and Inclusive PJ – the difference 

A “safe Petaling Jaya” is often seen through the lens of the middle class and basically deals with how to protect the middle class neighbourhoods from crime. Hence, the common suggestions forwarded include: Installing more CCTVs; organising joint patrols with MBPJ enforcement staff, Rela or police; and ensuring more lighting to brighten up dark areas.

An “inclusive Petaling Jaya” means ensuring that marginalised or neglected communities are included in the dialogue towards a sustainable city. It deals potentially with the source of crime rather than treating its symptoms. 

The “broken windows” theory is a criminological one signalling the effect of urban disorder and vandalism
on additional crime and anti-social behaviour.

The theory states that well-maintained neighbourhoods that curb small crimes such as vandalism help to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening.

The premise is that any unfixed damage such as a broken window will encourage vandals to break more windows while a well maintained neighbourhood discourages vandalism.

During the round-table sessions, participants brought out the fact that the poorer parts of Petaling Jaya were neglected and in a dilapidated state. The crime hot spots map handed out to conference participants also highlighted that all the hot spots fall within the poorer neighbourhoods of Petaling Jaya.

A chart of crime statistics by MBPJ highlighted that motorcycle theft was the most common crime committed, followed by motor vehicle theft.

Many poor families rely on their motorbikes to travel to work. The loss of their vehicles affects their livelihood and in desperation, they have to resort to crime when honest work opportunities are closed to them.

Typical example

During the presentation by the discussion group on “infrastructure”, photos were displayed of the 
dilapidated conditions at the Desaria flats.

The photos drew gasps of disbelief among the middle-class residents as many did not realise such conditions existed in Petaling Jaya.

The bad conditions include dozens of stolen motorcars and motor cycles abandoned with parts stripped off; rubbish disposal areas strewn with uncleared rubbish; numerous potholes on the roads; abandoned units with doors and windows broken; pools of sewage in front of units; and a unit on the top floor where even the walls
were missing.

A group of business owners from Sunway Mentari, the commercial area opposite Sunway Pyramid that is also located close to Desaria and the urban slums of Taman Medan, confirmed the link between dilapidated housing and the frequency of crime.

The once-bustling business area is now facing a downturn as businesses move away due to high crime rate. The remaining business owners have banded together to form a Rukun Tetangga to encourage businesses back into the area. 

Conference impact

MBPJ must be congratulated on coming up with a more holistic conference theme. Will the feedback gathered be acted upon? Or will it be just a display of “public participation” which, like the budget consultation exercise, is likely to have no impact.
Conference participants highlighted the course of action that MBPJ must take. They include: l The results of the conference must be communicated to all participants.

All suggestions should be documented and MBPJ must highlight suggestions that can be adopted. The council should also explain how it intends to implement the ideas

>  The budget to implement such suggestions must also be identified in the 2016 budget;

>A WhatsApp and email group should be set up by MBPJ so that everyone is updated and can continue to work together; and, 

>A contact person must be nominated by MBPJ to act as a secretariat to follow up on this initiative byorganising quarterly meetings to encourage collaboration with residents in making PJ safe and inclusive.

Readers who wish to watch a video presentation of the discussion feedback on infrastructure can go to
  • Jeffrey FK Phang is an assistant professor at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman and serves as a cluster research head for ‘Sustainable Township’ in the Centre for Sustainable Development and Corporate Social Responsibility.

Tags / Keywords: Utilities , Central Region , speakingout171115


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