“DON’T give away your land for development! Use them to build parks.’’
That was what the City of New York Parks and Recreation commissioner Mitchell J. Silver had to say when asked what advice he would give to Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Amin Nordin Abd Aziz
“Each park has specific purposes and reasons why people go there. In some cases, just having green space is not enough.
“I would advise the mayor to hold on to the land, and find out from the local community through outreach programmes why people are not going there and encourage more to go,” Silver said in an exclusive interview with StarMetro on the state of parks in Kuala Lumpur.
He was questioned on the RM650mil Taman Tugu project that included facilities such as restaurants, a camping area, canopy walks, zip lines, water park, jogging paths, walkways and cycling lanes, a gazebo and an observation deck.
The public park is expected to be opened in stages from mid-2018 to 2020.
Silver was one of the key speakers at the recently concluded 8th International Conference on World Class Sustainable Cities 2016, themed “City Spaces, Public Places” where he spoke about the importance of preserving open spaces for the future generation.
Silver said the Central Park in New York was a perfect example of a well planned park that was landscaped back in 1800s and set aside for the future generation.
“Today, Central Park is the most desirable place to be in New York.
“So as you urbanise, you won’t see it now, but once you give away that space for development, you are going to lose that opportunity and you are never going to get back unless you break down buildings; which is not going to happen,’’ he said.
Silver added that in the US, developing park land was a very difficult process that required going back to the legislator and getting laws changed.
“Most of the time it cannot be done,’’ he said.
“As the city grows and its population increases, people need a place to play, to escape, to recreate.
“And as you force people to travel long distances, chances are, other issues will kick in like poor health and obesity,’’ he said.
On the “not-in-my-backyard” phenomenon, Silver acknowledged that it was something that happened everywhere but added that people usually had an expectation of what’s happening in their neighbourhood from the city plan.
“As you are growing, there are no easy choices. In the US, we have a plan for the entire city.
“Everybody knows what’s going to happen in their backyard, it is not a surprise.
“There is a land use map that shows what is open space, what is residential area, what is parkland and so forth.
“Thus, people are aware what’s going to happen next door.
“The plan will let you know where the development is supposed to happen.
“So if the plan says there is a development or an affordable housing project, people really should not complain about it.
“But having said that, our planning system is different from Malaysia,” he said.
In a land scarcity situation, Silver said it was critical to have a good transport system and open space.
“You cannot just have density in every parcel – the city will become unlivable that way.
“So that’s why I say, figure out where the open space is going to be. It should be a tower-near-a-park situation. Not tower near a tower and near another tower,’’ he said.
Asked if it was common in the US for developers to approach politicians to lobby for land for development, Silver simply said: “That’s illegal.’’