Haphazard development, traffic gridlock, flash floods – Kuala Lumpur still has a long way to go

Those living in Bandar Baru Sentul, a township located close to the heart of Kuala Lumpur, have seen how the area has developed over the past three decades.

Playing fields have been robbed and repurposed in the name of development, with apartment blocks lining the streets. The population-to-plot ratio is ridiculous, but that has not stopped the unquenchable development.

Traffic in Kuala Lumpur remains a nightmare, namely in and around Jalan Tun Razak, Jalan Pahang, and Jalan Sultan Ismail – especially during peak hours.

At night, vehicles are parked on road shoulders, and at every available corner. Try visiting the road that leads to the very many condominiums in Sri Putramas, off Jalan Kuching.

This is common in many other areas in Malaysia’s capital. From Lembah Pantai and Wangsa Maju, to the more affluent Mont Kiara, high-rise buildings continue to dominate every available square inch in the city.

The number of households with cars – an average of three per household – is testament to a not-so-well-connected public transportation system.

Policymakers strongly believe, foolishly, that building more highways and expressways, instead of investing in an integrated and seamless public transport system, is the way forward.

When it rains, chances are, most places in the bustling city, would be hit by flash floods. Clogged drains, filled with detritus and flotsam, are often the culprit.

Today being Federal Territories Day, no doubt, glowing remarks about how far Kuala Lumpur has come, will be made.

Indeed, Kuala Lumpur has significantly changed over the decades. It has certainly developed, progressed, and prospered, so much so that there’s even a ridiculously tall hotel right next to the country’s icon – the Petronas Twin Towers.

No city in the world would try so hard to ‘hide’, or allow its iconic structure, its representative in the pantheon of the world’s greatest architectural and engineering marvels, to be overshadowed by a hotel. No city, except Kuala Lumpur.

There have been some attempts over the years to make the city more liveable. However, the lack of continuity has caused many of these ideas to fizzle and disappear.

The designated cycling lanes in the Golden Triangle, for starters, have now been ‘hijacked’ by motorcycles and other forms of motorised transport. It was initially designed to provide the optics, to show that Kuala Lumpur was pushing for a healthier alternative for its inhabitants, to lower its carbon footprint, and to reduce CO2 emissions.

Unfortunately, the infrastructure and narrative stopped at the lanes. There was no follow-through. There has been no effort to continuously engage with the cycling community or to create an ecosystem that makes it realistic, logical, and practical, for people to cycle to work and back.

Despite the many national campaigns in the past (and the millions of ringgit flushed into them) to keep our rivers and toilets clean, the rivers in Kuala Lumpur are still largely, being used as a dumping site. Finding a clean, comfortable public toilet, can be quite a challenge.

This, however, is not an issue of enforcement. It is an issue of education, of awareness. Of ownership.

City folk must take ownership of the city in which they live, love, and make their living in. They must share the responsibility of keeping her clean.

Toilet users too, ought to be more civilised. Spare a thought for the next person entering the cubicle.

Kuala Lumpur City Hall too, can do a lot more. Go hard on litterbugs, educate city folk – especially those in high-rise buildings – that it’s not okay to throw things out of the window – whether it’s just a piece of tissue, or a week’s worth of their garbage.

While the city council is busy finalising its blueprint for better hawker management, there is also a need to create safe spaces and incentivise those who take part in their residents associations and neighbourhood watches.

It is much cheaper than periodically repairing lifts in public housing schemes that are often damaged due to, among others, paranoid motorcyclists who ferry their prized rides up to their units for fear of being stolen.

Last but not least, take every effort to preserve the historical sites in the city.

City Hall must be commended for its efforts in sprucing up the Titiwangsa Lake Gardens and Botanical Gardens. It must also be praised for injecting new life into Petaling Street, turning it from a tired, languishing hawker haven, into a precinct of swanky bistros, upmarket boutique cafes, and eateries, with a vibrant and thriving nightlife.

However, the city council should not stop at that. It can do so much more to make Kuala Lumpur a great, sustainable, and liveable city. It also needs to provide more public recreational spaces.

No city is perfect, but the stakeholders can always strive to make Kuala Lumpur better. It’s not just the job of City Hall alone, it is our collective responsibility.

The sooner the local authorities and inhabitants of Kuala Lumpur realise that this is not a transient place, an obscure, impermanent construct, the sooner will this colony, at the confluence of the Gombak and Klang Rivers, take her rightful place among the greatest metropolises of the world.

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