What makes a liveable city

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  • Tuesday, 10 Mar 2015

IMAGINE leaving the house at 6.30am every morning so that you can get to work on time and leaving the office at 7pm just to avoid the jam. It is not unusual now for commuters to spend two to three hours just travelling to work.

Some families have even created innovative ways of using the time in the car for family activities while in some cities, drivers even equip themselves with portable toilet facilities for emergencies.

Apart from travelling woes, residents also worry about safety, pollution, recreation, education and many other factors.

As residents experience the unpleasantness of going through the daily routine of life in a city, their wish lists would definitely grow.

Liveable cities are created through sustainable and not ad hoc development. Sustainable development means that the present generation will use the natural resources today without depriving future generations of the same resource.

Ad hoc developments, on the other hand, are knee-jerk reactions to solve problems as they arise.

In Petaling Jaya, in spite of the city’s local structure plan, these knee-jerk responses can still be seen as the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) draws up ad hoc plans to cope with problems as they arise.

Meanwhile, safety and unsolved rubbish disposal problems are some of the persistent problems that continue to plague the residents.

The Economist magazine, through its Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), published the 2014 ranking of liveable cities with Melbourne, Vienna and Vancouver ranked as the top three while Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Damascus in Syria were at the bottom of the 140-city list.

Four of Australia’s five cities made it into the top 10.

Singapore, meanwhile, remained the most liveable city in Asia in the 53rd sport, ahead of London and New York, which were 54th and 55th respectively.

According to EIU, Kuala Lumpur and George Town both ranked 16th in Asia and 118th in the world while Johor Baru ranked 21st in Asia and 126th in the world.

In Malaysia, there are 12 cities, with two — Petaling Jaya and Shah Alam — located in Selangor.

Both Shah Alam and Petaling Jaya have adopted Local Agenda 21 (LA21) for more than a decade but have not approached sustainable development in the integrated and holistic manner LA21 was intended for.

LA21 was the instrument set up by the United Nations to promote sustainable development to combat climate change. It contains 50 chapters dealing with issues ranging from poverty and consumption patterns to human health, sustainable agriculture and empowerment of stakeholders.

The areas that LA21 concentrated on were public participation, tri-sector partnerships between government, business and community and good governance

Public participation aims to empower residents and get their opinions at the outset of any project.

City councils now organise public consultations as required by the law, but these are more form than function.

The yearly MBPJ budget dialogue is an example where the public is not given adequate information to hold meaningful discussions.

Developments are also carried out without public participation and this is where public consultations will be useful. However, public information as well as participation in the process is clearly lacking.

Tri-sectoral partnership are one of the mechanisms of LA21 that recognise that local government can’t deal with the issues alone, as it would need the support and feedback from both the community and businesses.

Even businesses have understood their social responsibility role and are active in corporate social responsibility activities.

Good governance is also essential for the development of a liveable city. Most of the cities ranked highly in the EIU rankings would have elected local councillors to ensure that only the best are selected to serve the city.

If one were to visit the Melbourne City website, the first areas that will catch the attention are sections on Communicating with Council (public participation), More about Council (transparency), and Plans and Publication (good governance).

A liveable city needs political will to see through the changes. It is not about organising events for tree planting, recycling or even building bicycle lanes. It is about taking a holistic and integrated approach to create cooperation between the local council, businesses and communities towards a changing of habits, behaviour and consumption patterns.

Are we moving in the right direction?

We only need to look at the budgeting and monitoring process of the local councils to see if they are moving towards “substance” that will please the residents, or if they are still displaying awards and accolades that show just the “form” of a liveable city.

It is time the local authorities learn to listen to what the people want from the city rather than sticking to what they think residents want and need.

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