Developing a harmonious living environment in high density housing areas is one of many challenges confronting City Hall of Kuala Lumpur, writes KL mayor DATUK MOHMAD SHAID MOHD TAUFEK.
AS the centre of a developing nation, Kuala Lumpur plays a major role in urbanisation and physical development besides developing the community to be more resilient, competitive, caring and sharing. To achieve this objective, City Hall has to play an integral and proactive role to propel Kuala Lumpur into a World Class City by the year 2020 as envisioned by the Prime Minister.
Much effort has to be put into improving the quality of life, particularly of the various communities and stakeholders in High Density Housing areas. In general, the quality of life is affected through interaction of various factors such as the economy, society, community, physical and environmental.
It is also important that Kuala Lumpur be planned towards achieving a harmonious community life, living peacefully within a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural environment.
A quality environment is one in which society feels safe and secure and lives in a natural environment that enhances the socio-economic, cultural and psychological needs of the community. The needs and demands of city dwellers towards the availability and accessibility to all urban facilities at affordable prices such as housing, transportation, education, health services and recreational facilities are increasing from time to time. As such, the city must be planned in a manner which allows for optimum community interaction and participation that leads to sustainable quality of life. The private and public sector involved in housing construction can hardly fulfil this demand.
High density public housing requirements
In high density public housing areas, developers be they public or private sectors are required to provide adequate and sufficient public amenities such as schools, religious places of worship, playgrounds, parks, libraries and open spaces for recreational activities which must be accessible and affordable to all. The population density in public housing is 375 persons per acre in the city. On the average, each household has between four and five persons. There are 24 existing public housing sites and 23 under construction.
To achieve planning goals and requirements, City Hall of Kuala Lumpur (CHKL) plays a major role in evaluating and approving planning application from landowners and developers.
City Hall often receives proposals for changes in approved land use or increase in density for maximum use of the land proposed to be developed.
Economically, the optimum usage of land with a high density would provide a maximum number of housing units to be built which would be financially viable. But in the development planning process, CHKL will invite adjoining landowners to give their views and comments or objections on the proposed density and type of development. These comments and objections, if any, will be one of the major criteria when considering the application for development. Other factors to be considered are parking requirements, provision of open spaces, public amenities, road linkages and other socio-economic infrastructure and support services like hawker centres, markets and schools.
The objectives of the housing policy is to ensure that all Malaysians irrespective of race or religion, and particularly the low income groups and depressed sectors of society, have adequate access to affordable shelter and related ancillary facilities. Housing development also puts emphasis on the human settlement through provision of social services and amenities as well as economic activities necessary for the attainment of a better quality of life, national unity and integration.
Resolving squatter problems
In rapidly growing Kuala Lumpur, low-cost housing for rent to squatters and families affected by urban renewal and development projects have been implemented. Under this programme, an integrated low-cost housing project has been launched since 1999, whereby a total of 35,000 units are being built as part of a strategy to resettle squatters.
Squatters have always created numerous social, economic and political problems for the governments concerned not only in Malaysia but also in many parts of the world. On the other hand, they are also contributors to the economic activity of the society and should be integrated with the mainstream of development.
CHKL had already initiated a comprehensive study of squatters and the problems associated with them way back in 1978, 1992 and the latest by Universiti Sains Malaysia in 1998/1999. The data obtained is used to monitor, enforce, manage and control squatters and for the planning of public housing for the urban poor. By enforcing and controlling the number of squatters, CHKL eventually hopes to reduce the number of squatters (currently at 129,129 persons in 23,970 households) to zero by the year 2005. This is also to ensure that the living and housing conditions in the city will not deteriorate and other slums created later.
The fact that CHKL has been successful in solving the housing shortage in itself is admirable considering the continuous flow of migrants and others into the city. By the year 2000, a total of 25% of people have been accommodated in public housing. Public housing therefore will face tremendous new emerging challenges to provide the type of housing conducive towards building up of healthy communities, generating a new spirit of community living and consciousness. Sufficient public housing has now been built enabling City Hall to conduct a comprehensive sociological assessment in order to guide us towards the way ahead.
CHKL feels that in order to enhance the city’s living environment, adequate provision of community facilities for all groups of society must be made to improve standards of living. Residents would be able to enjoy a wide range of social and recreational activities and feel safe, secure and healthy. All groups of people including the disabled, the disadvantaged and the aged will be able to enjoy city living.
At present, we have 35,000 units of public housing for rental in the Federal Territory with a total population of 250,000. This amounts to about 18% of the total population of approximately 1.4 million. By the year 2005, the units would have increased to 80,000 once the integrated low-cost housing projects are completed. The population is also expected to increase by 400,000 or 27% of Kuala Lumpur’s total population.
The failure to provide public amenities and facilities, especially in housing development areas, will create problems. Without these, the public, flat dwellers and those living in condominiums will face stress and frustrations. They will have limited space and avenues for social interaction. There will be no sense of neighbourhood and community cooperation. Such a situation will eventually lead to social disintegration, disunity, isolation and phobias that we can ill-afford in a multi-ethnic society. This may breed indifference to social problems such as crime, drug addiction, vandalism and other disruptive behaviour. So how does City Hall manage these situations?
Strategies and approaches
In order to implement these programmes and activities successfully there are various approaches/strategies undertaken to ensure their effectiveness. CHKL provides funds. An allocation of approximately RM20.7mil was made in the year 2002. This allocation is used for basic infrastructure projects like upgrading kampung roads and the drainage systems, building multi-purpose halls in public housing and squatter areas, organising social programmes and training for children, adults and senior citizens, sports, recreation and other activities.
Joint programmes are also organised with appropriate agencies, government ministries and departments like the Welfare Department of the Federal Territory, Health Department, Education Department, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism. Other NGOs and political organisations are also invited to organise functions and programmes which can benefit the residents of these high density establishments.
CHKL feels that it has successfully managed to curb and resolve these growing pains to a larger extent. It has undertaken the following community development and social upliftment programmes for all residents in the high density residential areas.
A meeting is held at the beginning of the year between City Hall officials and committee members of Residents Associations (RA). The purpose of this meeting is to brief the leaders of these RAs on the activities and community development programmes that will be carried out throughout the year and to seek their assistance, support, cooperation and full participation among the residents. At present, there are 60 associations representing approximately 250,000 people in the public housing projects.
Motivational and leadership courses for chairman and committee members are held to equip them with the knowledge, technology and skills of modern management.
Cleanliness and beautification competitions are held annually to create awareness and to instil and encourage in the residents’ cleanliness, landscaping, beautification and creativity. The idea is to develop a sense of belonging to their residential area. Besides the “cash and kind” rewards, this competition promotes spiritual well-being and builds the self-esteem of residents.
The street soccer and 7-aside competition is popular among adults between the ages of 15 and 24. This does not only encourage and motivate teams but also provides opportunities to scout for new talent.
The whole tournament takes about three months to complete and winners are rewarded with substantial monetary incentives and a chance to play at state or regional level.
Cultural and arts competitions are held with the cooperation of the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism. The cultural shows include silat, traditional dances from the multi-ethnic population, art and colouring competition for school children, theatre, poetry recitals, etc. These activities, it is hoped, will strengthen social integration of the multi-racial society.
Youth programmes are held to enhance the academic performance of the youth through weekend motivation camps, environment awareness camps, leadership courses, pre-examination courses, forum and Rakan Muda programmes. They also act as voluntary social workers.
A variety of religious and spiritual development courses are also carried out. These include nasyid competition, Quran recital, public forum, Islamic Art and Sound. This programme is very popular and attracts a big audience and participation of all ages and helps develop awareness and knowledge on the religion and promotes a caring and sharing society concept.
Benefits accruing from community development programmes
With the increasing population, CHKL realises it will face new challenges. It is in view of this that CHKL had already initiated community and social development programmes since the 1990s, as mentioned above. The programmes have had a significant impact in changing the community’s attitude. Some of these changes are:
o The residents are more cooperative with City Hall officers and in participating in the programmes organised for them. The rate of vandalism has decreased tremendously, inculcating a sense of neighbourhood, which is becoming a way of life.
o The Residents Associations are motivated in organising community activities voluntarily and leadership has changed its attitude, with emphasis on the betterment of the quality of life for its members. All residents share common facilities in a spirit of good neighbourliness.
o The implementation of the various social religious and cultural programmes have had a positive impact upon residents of high density public housing schemes. It has brought about contentment, satisfaction and happiness among the vast majority of the residents who now live in a cleaner and healthier environment compared to their past neighbourhood.
o There is a marked improvement in their contribution to community programmes and volunteer participation in the various committees to bring about improvement and enhance the quality of life of everyone. Their selfless contribution in terms of time and energy is noteworthy.
o Petty thefts have declined considerably and a respect for public property and amenities is very visible. Fire hydrants and other fixtures like public phones are now relatively safe and intact to an appreciable level.
o The Nadi programme has promoted happy families, responsible society, disciplined and morally improved youth, knowledgeable and outstanding personalities through education, guidance and leadership programmes conducted throughout the year.
o A realisation of healthy lifestyles has emerged through health check-ups and attendance at exhibitions and talks. Neighbourhood friendliness and a sense of tolerance now feature in these areas which have developed through gotong-royong and other community-based programmes. The various youth camps and programmes have reduced youth problems.
o The establishment of various residents’ committees has provided an avenue for residents to channel their grouses, thus minimising communication problems between the residents and the authorities. They now have an integrated channel to solve their problems in an efficient manner.
o Community development officers and change agents are able to work together with the residents in an integrated manner and find solutions to their problems without any racial bias.
o The institution of the family has improved through programmes such as family development, parenting and happy family movements. Community living in high-density public housing areas also helps to integrate the young of the multi-ethnic societies.
Looking forward to new challenges
What worries CHKL is the fact that the spirit of voluntarism is slowly dying and members of the community becoming individualistic and self-centred.
Residents in urban Kuala Lumpur want to do things their own way and want to be different from others. The emergence of human rights movements has changed the community value systems held in high esteem in the past. An educated population, liberated in mind and spirit, wants to be left alone while CHKL is striving hard to build a caring and sharing society.
Public apathy and subscribing to positive group social behaviour and norms are being challenged, threatened or eroded. This is more evident in the second-generation residents living in these high density housing areas. They are also more prone to be ethnocentric due to education, differing backgrounds, culture and language problems.
The growing number of Radio and TV channels has turned most public housing residents into “potato couches” who are content to sit at home and watch television programmes or just listen to radio programmes. Bringing them into the mainstream of development as a united community is a big challenge.
They have to unlearn and relearn new habits, norms and behaviour in a new environment. All these need time, patience and plenty of understanding. City Hall is fully aware and concerned with all these challenges and is confident of overcoming them with perseverance.
CHKL, being one of the older cities in Malaysia, has learnt through trial and error and has continuously refined its approaches, programmes and activities to tailor to the current changing environment.
It is with this confidence that we proposed the establishment of the Asian Institute of Urban Development and Management (AIUDM) at the Tokyo Meeting in October 2001 when forming the Asian Network of Major Cities (ANMC 21).
CHKL is ready to mutually share its experiences and lessons learnt with other cities.
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