JOHOR Baru is far from the small Malay fishing village it once was.
Founded in 1855, the village, which was originally known as Tanjung Puteri, has grown by leaps and bounds to take on a new name and forge a multi-cultural identity.
The city today, fondly known as just JB among Malaysians, is a unique blend of old and new, with multi-storied office buildings and shopping complexes standing alongside pre-war shophouses.
The year 2008 was particularly significant when the state’s administrative centre was moved from Bukit Timbalan to Kota Iskandar near Gelang Patah.
Johor Baru City Council (MBJB) deputy secretary Nazatul Shima Mohamad said 2008 also saw the old customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) centre moved to the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar CIQ Complex.
“The shift in the administrative centre resulted in a drop in population as well as business activities in the city centre.
“The change was major for the city and MBJB was tasked with ensuring that Johor Baru continued to be a lively place for both the locals and visitors.
“We had to come up with activities to attract crowds to the city centre, such as adding vibrant lighting and decorations as well as pooling together traders and vendors for our flea market, Pasar Karat.
“Through our efforts, we realised that there was a need to upgrade the infrastructure for the people’s comfort, ” she said during an interview with StarMetro.
The Johor Baru Transformation Programme was initiated for this purpose, with the participation of various stakeholders, and more recently, the Ibrahim International Business District master plan was launched.
Although initial sentiments of the local business community over the transformation projects were somewhat negative, Nazatul Shima said there was no gain without pain.
“We understood that they had been operating there for years and were in their comfort zone.
“Along with one of our stakeholders, Think City, we conducted many public engagement sessions, and took time to visit and speak to the local business operators.
“It was not easy to inject new life into an old city like Johor Baru, and MBJB has a specific department dedicated to these transformations.
“It was definitely a challenge to find a balance between the new developments and preserving the area’s heritage, but it helps that we have a proactive mayor who is aggressively pushing for Johor Baru to become an international city, ” she pointed out.
The projects included improving lanes along Jalan Pahang, upgrading the facade of heritage buildings in Jalan Segget and improving walkways to provide safe and clean passage for pedestrians.
The Iskandar Regional Development Authority was also in its third phase of cleaning up and beautifying Sungai Segget under the Sungai Segget Rejuvenation Project, she added.
Nazatul Shima said interesting activities in downtown Johor Baru included a food map of established eateries and coffeeshops, a heritage trail, various places of worship, the iconic 0km marker for Peninsular Malaysia and heritage galleries.
“Not many people are aware that some of the trees in the city centre are raintrees that are over 80 years old and so, they are very valuable.
“Aside from leisure and business activities, Johor Baru is a great place for students and adults to visit and learn a lot, including road names, ” she said.
Nazatul Shima added that with the many upgrading projects that had taken place, MBJB, which was now in its 27th year since becoming a city council, hoped the public could play their part in keeping it clean and free from vandalism and illegal activities.