Carving a path towards a smart society

Bayu Damansara RA’s smart farming greenhouse project incorporates aquaponics, hydroponics and fertigation methods for plants that are grown inside a greenhouse and on grow beds.

DESPITE limitations caused by the movement control order last year, 19 neighbourhoods in Petaling Jaya managed to continue their community efforts.

Their common efforts was geared towards successfully creating community and urban gardens as well as recycling programmes to protect the environment.

For their achievements, the residents association (RA) of the respective neighbourhoods were recognised by Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) with cash prizes totalling RM189,000.

The recognition was under the annual Petaling Jaya Sustainable Community Awards 2020 that was introduced in 2001.

It was initially known as PJ Best Neighbourhood Award and renamed in 2016 when MBPJ adopted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Petaling Jaya mayor Datuk Mohd Sayuthi Bakar said the awards were aimed at making the city more resilient and sustainable, in line with the PJ Smart Sustainable and Resilient 2030 strategic plan.

MBPJ has set a target of creating a smart society by encouraging RAs and Rukun Tetangga (RT) sectors to incorporate smart technologies in their projects and programmes.

Malaysian Institute of Planners vice-president Datin Mazrina Abdul Khalid, who headed the awards’ jury panel, said a number of the communities had projects that could be improved upon and replicated in other cities and states, and even showcased at an international level.

Awards champion Damansara Idaman Owners and Residents Association took home the top prize of RM35,000.

Second-prize winner Bandar Sri Damansara RA won RM30,000, while Bayu Damansara RA took third spot with RM25,000.

Damansara Jaya Residents and Owners Association was presented a mentor title and won RM10,000. Other winners won RM4,000 cash each.

StarMetro spoke to some of the winners on their future projects, the movement control order’s impact on their efforts, and how they managed to overcome any shortcomings.

Damansara Idaman Owners and Residents Association (Diora)

Diora committee members utilised the MCO period to implement 11 projects to improve the quality of life within their neighbourhood.

Diora projects include a sanitisation booth for contractors and visitors.Diora projects include a sanitisation booth for contractors and visitors.

Its building management and youth committee member Ng Hann Clive said members knew that sustainability meant they had to use available resources more prudently and efficiently in a consistent manner to bring the community together using creative approaches.

“In order to ensure the neighbourhood’s level of security, safety and health met residents’ expectations, we implemented 11 projects based on available natural, economic and social resources, ” he said.

These included an aqua pond revival, herb garden, recycling centre and programme, sanitisation booth for contractors and visitors, integrating new apps and technology as well as replacing old components, materials and work methods with more efficient ones.

The aqua pond revival was a pilot project for Diora to assess the health and future plan for the ponds in Damansara Idaman, by looking into aspects such as erosion and overpopulation of fish within one pond.

“Artificial ponds introduced by developers in housing developments are often used for marketing and aesthetics purposes, but may pose health and safety hazards if not properly maintained over time.

“We felt that we must make these aquatic environments functional and sustainable; otherwise they would become white elephants that cause high maintenance cost but serve minimal purpose, ” Ng explained.

Being house-bound during the MCO, he saw that Diora had more time to look at issues within their neighbourhood.

The projects seek to ensure maintenance costs are sustainable and avoid overruns in the long term, reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint, ensure residents’ well-being and safety across generations as well as promote residents’ awareness, involvement and growth as a community.

Ng said Diora’s cash prize win would be used for this year’s projects focusing on landscape overhaul and installing more senior citizen-friendly facilities.

“We were not aware of the long history of this competition and are definitely honoured to win first prize in our first attempt, ” he said, highlighting that the projects were not intended for any competition purposes.

“Most of the projects are ongoing and there are many improvements to be made. We hope their continuity will ensure all the residents’ long-term involvement in the projects, ” added Ng.

Bandar Sri Damansara Residents Association (BSDRA)

Perseverance and dedication have paid off for BSDRA, after its win for projects that were developed over several years.

A Tzu Chi volunteer testing some of the equipment sent to its recycling centre in Bandar Sri Damansara.A Tzu Chi volunteer testing some of the equipment sent to its recycling centre in Bandar Sri Damansara.

Its vice-president Thong Koon Choon said the RA’s submissions were under two SDG pillars — good health and well-being as well as responsible consumption and production.

“The first pillar covered Central Spine Park and Sriniti community garden, while the second pillar was based on a recycling programme with Tzu Chi, ” he elaborated.

He said BSDRA worked with Tzu Chi as the organisation had the experience and manpower to run the recycling initiative. Any funds collected from the programme went back to Tzu Chi.

“At its peak, we were able to collect about 120 tonnes of recyclables per year.

“It took time to educate residents on how the initiative worked. The recycling centre was initially a dumping ground for all sorts of items, but it is better now as residents know how to separate their waste, ” added Thong.

Taman Kejiranan Central Spine SD, known as Central Spine Park among locals, is a 1.5km-long and about 2ha-sized linear park that serves as the township’s backbone.

BSDRA president Zohrab Chong said MBPJ upgraded this park, which was BSD’s largest green lung, about two years ago with a concrete walkway, gazebo, disabled-friendly features and other facilities.

“The park has since received a lot of positive feedback with usage increasing tenfold, and multi-generational families using the park for exercise and recreation, ” he said.

Chong said that during the pre-MCO period, they organised events such as family day, sports and awareness programmes for the community’s well-being.

“As gatherings were disallowed during MCO and the conditional MCO, we kept residents engaged through awareness and educational activities via Zoom and Facebook, ” he highlighted.

He said this year, BSDRA planned to introduce green projects involving plogging and waste separation by housing sectors, digitalising BSDRA’s membership drives and activities, as well as focusing on the township’s economic well-being to support home-based businesses and ensure its commercial centres thrived.

BSDRA has won various prizes during the seven times it participated in the awards.

Its committee member Farrah Ong Abdullah said the Sriniti community garden featured cash crops with the harvest enjoyed by its 20-odd volunteer gardeners and residents.

“We sought permission from the landowner, Selangor Land and Mines Office, before starting the garden measuring about 1,000sq m, ” she said, adding that rainwater harvesting, composting and organic pest control were practised at the site.

“We are still experimenting with planting different crops and testing soil suitability, so we have planted over 20 types of herbs and vegetables so far, ” she said, adding that the garden served as a bonding space for gardening enthusiasts.

Its structures were upcycled from leftover construction materials from the BSD Clubhouse which was demolished, such as doors, bricks, fences and roofing.

Bayu Damansara Residents Association

Bayu Damansara RA’s smart farming greenhouse project was one that combined several elements — technology, knowledge sharing and community effort.

Rainwater harvesting for Bayu Damansara RA’s greenhouse project.Rainwater harvesting for Bayu Damansara RA’s greenhouse project.

RA deputy president Mohd Shukri Mustaffa said it all started when three neighbours decided to turn a vacant plot of land within the housing area into a community garden during the last MCO.

“We started with plants commonly used in cooking like pandan, lemongrass and chillies, then developed the project to include a greenhouse and smart farming techniques.”

The smart farming greenhouse project incorporates aquaponics, hydroponics and fertigation methods for plants grown inside a greenhouse and on grow beds.

“We also use garden waste for soil treatment, kitchen waste for composting, rainwater harvesting to water plants and solar power system for the greenhouse, ” said Shukri.

“By using precision farming and a controlled environment, we are able to plant different crops from different climates in the greenhouse.”

The 3.7m x 7m greenhouse occupies part of the estimated 91m x 18m garden.

Its group of about 15 core volunteers includes several agriculture and engineering experts, who consulted friends and online forum users to better understand what was required to develop the project.

“The project has become a key source for the neighbourhood to enjoy clean, organic vegetables, ” said Shukri, pointing out that long-term benefits included decentralising the agriculture industry, reducing reliance on external food producers and creating new economies of scale.

“The project is also environmentally friendly as we are tapping into natural resources such as sunlight and rainwater, using kitchen waste as natural fertiliser and promoting healthy activity by getting neighbours young and old to work together towards a common goal.”

He said the tasks and job distribution were organised based on a volunteer’s expertise while meetings and issues were discussed through a WhatsApp chat group.

“Our vision is to educate people on the benefits of smart farming and encourage urban residents to start their own greenhouse project, ” he said, adding that the RA’s first-time win in the awards was an added bonus.

“Smart farming and greenhouses can be adapted and implemented for use in landed properties or high-rise buildings. There are many ways to introduce this kind of sustainable projects in urban communities, even in areas where space is scarce, ” said Shukri.

On the prize money, he said Bayu Damansara RA would use it to maintain the greenhouse and further develop the solar power, aquaponic, fertigation and hydroponic systems.

Damansara Jaya Residents and Owners Association (DJROA)

“Residents of Damansara Jaya are proud that we are a model community that others can emulate, ” said DJROA president Dr Ong See Lian, whose organisation was one of two that was presented the “mentor” title.“We are willing to share our experiences with other RAs or RTs on how to organise the community to embrace SDGs and translate that into projects that will bring long-term benefits to the environment and community’s well-being.”

The urban farm at DJROA premises serves as an experimental farm to showcase various planting  methods and  a variety of vegetables  and herbs that residents can grow at home.The urban farm at DJROA premises serves as an experimental farm to showcase various planting methods and a variety of vegetables and herbs that residents can grow at home.

DJROA has been a consistent participant of the awards since its inception, and was the first winner when it started in 2001.

“We have several projects running concurrently to ensure we can achieve as many of the SDGs as possible.

“So over the years, we have implemented projects on waste management, urban farming, green practice and solar rebates, youth engagement, personal protective equipment (PPE) project and social events, ” said Ong.

He said DJROA expanded its initial recycling project by implementing a holistic waste management system, including recycling cooking oil, converting kitchen waste to compost, waste separation scheme and rainwater harvesting.

“This year we plan to implement our eco-bricks project, which involves salvaging single-use plastic bottles and plastic wrappers, then converting them into garden furniture or features, ” he said, hoping the 5R concept — refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle — would be ingrained as a lifestyle.

The urban farm at DJROA’s premises served as an experimental farm to showcase various planting methods and a variety of vegetables and herbs that residents could grow.

“The PPE project is one that we are extremely proud of.

“In response to the Covid-19 pandemic and calls for help by our frontliners, we managed to raise over RM28,000 and mobilise more than 30 families to produce face shields and reusable masks that were desperately needed during last year’s MCO, ” said Ong.

The items, he said, were distributed to hospitals, clinics, police and fire stations as well as underprivileged communities.

While the MCO greatly impacted DJROA’s activities, he said the PPE project brought the community together to serve a common good and urban farming was encouraged to keep the community spirit intact.

“All the prize money won in previous years has been ploughed back into projects we initiated and to enhance ongoing ones with better resources and facilities.

“To ensure sustainability of the community, we are also working on engaging young adults to be involved in our various activities, including a mentoring or job-shadowing programme, ” said Ong.

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