The boon or bane of having malls in townships

WE are often bombarded by images of so-called exclusive developments in a superb location. There are advertisements that entice us to invest in a property that is in a “very prime location” or has a “back to nature” appeal. 

The overused hype of “location, location and location” has been drummed into us so often that it may numb our senses to the finer things in life and may affect our better judgment.  

True, in most cases properties that are well located have appreciated markedly in value but are we only concerned with how much our property is worth? What about the quality of life? Has it improved as well? I doubt it. 

If you still do not know what I am harping about, well you should see the traffic congestion at Bandar Utama a few weeks ago during the big J-Card member sales at the Jaya Jusco in 1 Utama shopping centre. 

It took me about half an hour just to find a parking space. Cars were parked all over the place, many of them along the road shoulders leading to this popular shopping centre in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. The main road leading to 1 Utama was choked with vehicles as they formed long queues trying to enter one of the entrances to the car parks. Some cars were parked near the traffic light in Taman Tun Dr Ismail. 

Business must have been so good that construction on an extension block to 1 Utama is in full swing.  

As if one shopping mall is not enough, Ikea will be moving from its outlet in 1 Utama to its 500,000 sq ft stand-alone outlet (the biggest in the region) in Mutiara Damansara in June or July. One can also see the Tesco hypermarket coming up in this township, a walking distance from 1 Utama. 

Tesco, on 8 acres, is expected to open for business next month. The Cineleisure and entertainment centre, scheduled for opening in 2004, is also located in Mutiara Damansara. 

Retailers and property developers are upbeat that this location commands a high household income and thus has the purchasing power. Suddenly everyone seems to want a piece of the “cake”.  

The entire area is hurriedly being carved up for housing.  

Mutiara Damansara is one “hot” development where the houses were snapped up soon after the launch and purchasers have to queue up and count themselves lucky to get a unit. It was recently reported that 90% of the 3,078 units launched in Mutiara Damansara have been sold since construction work on the township started in 1997. 

Frankly, I find having Tesco, Ikea or for that matter another shopping centre in such a crammed environment more a liability than an asset as far as the residents are concerned. It does not take an expert to see that the access roads leading to the many new projects here will become very congested, what with shoppers coming from near and far. 

I would rather drive far away to do my shopping than walk to a huge shopping centre where motorists and shoppers destroy the peace and quiet of my neighbourhood. It is not enough that a residential enclave has a low density, gated with top security and have few or zero commercial and industrial components when all around such a haven are high-density developments. 

As they say, too much of a good thing can turn bad and in the case of developments that sell well because of their prime locations, the day may come when people may dread to live there all because of poor or over-zealous planning and when you start having too many commercial developments. 

I do not wish to sound like a “prophet of doom” but from the current spate of traffic jams occurring during weekends and “Big Sales” at 1 Utama, I shudder to think of the possible nightmarish congestion when all these developments come onstream. 

To name but a few, there are developments like the Sunway Damansara Technology Park, Palm Spring @ Damansara, Sunway Damansara, Pelangi Damansara, and Damansara Perdana where many high-rise condominiums and apartments are either being planned, under construction or completed. Of the 14,500 units in Damansara Perdana, 6,922 units had been launched. 

There are thousands of condominium and apartment units in other nearby developments. Another potential bottleneck are the seven traffic light junctions on a short stretch of road from 1 Utama to the flyover near the NKVE toll plaza. 

Although there are one or two flyovers linking this area to Kota Damansara and a flyover over the Damansara-Puchong Highway (LDP) outside Damansara Perdana, one can expect a sizeable volume of traffic pouring into the existing narrow road at the entrance of Mutiara Damansara. 

Across the LDP is Taman Tun Dr Ismail, an upmarket residential development that seems to have contained the development of many more high-density projects. Its TTDI Hills, a low-density bungalow development, was sold out. There are only a few condominiums there. If anything, TTDI stand a better chance of preserving its quieter and more appealing residential image than the “pot-pourri” of developments on the Bandar Utama side of the LDP. 

Having given the above as an example of how the rush to build and build could spoil an entire neighbourhood, one should also remember that even the best planned traffic system can go awry. 

Take the case of Mid Valley Megamall, one of the top shopping malls in the country. Despite expert planning to ensure smooth traffic, motorists were constantly caught in a gridlock outside this huge mall with many high-rise office blocks. 

It took me an hour to get out of the mall's “island-style” traffic system last Christmas Day and recently about 30 minutes to extricate myself from the jam (all the entrances to the mall were closed possibly because the car parks were full) and I have to drive to Suria KLCC to do my shopping! 

Yet, somehow, there is not a single occasion even during festive seasons or big sales, had I seen any traffic congestion at Suria KLCC. The traffic system with its dedicated tunnels in and out of the mall is simply superb. There were just as many shoppers, many of whom had taken advantage of the LRT station at Jalan Ampang, to hop over to the mall. 

There was a plan to link Mid Valley Megamall to one of the LRT stations at Jalan Bangsar. What happened to it? It would be useful to have such a linkage as more people could visit the mall by LRT. 

There is a tendency for hypermarket chains and new shopping centres to be located in the heart of a new township (like what is happening in Klang and Puchong) to tap the local catchment. The trouble is, when a mall is very popular, it also attracts shoppers from other areas. That is when the road system collapses under the traffic onslaught. 

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