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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Making Greater KL the nation’s heartbeat

Datuk Seri Idris Jala is not an urban planner – he is the master urban planner. As he presented his ideas on moving the country into high-income territory, he has fixed his focus on the city.

His rationale: Greater Kuala Lumpur (KL) will be the largest contributor at the gross national income level, both today and in 2020. A decade from today, Greater KL will contribute more than seven times over the next target urban centre of Johor Baru and 2.5 times over the largest industry sector, namely oil, gas and energy.

His aspiration – to improve the city’s livability. His tool – urbanisation. His rationale – the city will provide the engine of growth for the entire country. That means, the next 10 years will be crucial. A decade is a short time, actually, to do all that he has laid down.

Jala’s emphasis on livability is based on improving the public transport system, stability, healthcare, edcuation, infrastructure, culture and environment. The Economist had earlier ranked KL 79 out of 130 cities in terms of livability.

Property analyst and map maker Ho Chin Soon says: “Cities generally generate a huge portion of a country’s wealth. Paris produces 30% of France’s wealth, Tokyo 20% to 25% of Japan’s, and the Klang Valley 30%. How it is to be done is another question.”

Jala’s plan is for Greater KL to have a population of 10 million, compared with the current 6.4 million.

He has written about the growth of Petaling Jaya, Subang Jaya and others parts of KL.

Ho says there are two sensitive areas at stake here. There will be more as the journey for transformation goes along. The first involves public transport.

“Although we have some form of public transport before and the money to make it a reality, we did not proceed to ensure the survival of our car industry. That is why our public transport ridership is a mere 10% compared with Hong Kong’s 90%, and Singapore’s 80% to 85%.”

Ho says the Mass Rail Transit (MRT) system is more than just connectivity. Studies done have shown that if there is an MRT under an apartment block or mall, their rental improves by a quarter or a fifth, at least.

An integrated transport system with the MRT as its main spine will help to raise property prices and connects the pockets of new development that the Government has announced in the last few months with the existing established areas, Ho adds. These includes the redevelopment of the 380-acre Kampung Baru, the 80-acre Islamic financial hub at the Dataran Perdana in the Imbi area, the mixed development on 460 acres at the Sg Besi old airport, the Matrade piece of land in Jalan Duta, and the redevelopment of the 22-acre former Pudu Prison site among others.

The objective is to more than double the commercial content of KL.

“This will take some time for the market to absorb,” he cautions.

The other sensitive area is the redevelopment of Kampung Baru and other Malay reserve land. In order to do that, Ho says there must be changes to the laws governing Malay land rights.

“There must be a repeal of all Malay Reservation Land Enactments. All federal and state land must be sold via public auction so that the various states and the Federal Government can realise the true value of its land,” he said. Currently, the land belongs to the state.

Livability and aesthetics

The cleaning up of the river, the greening and beautification of KL and the call for new developments to have 30% of open space are part of the attempts to improve the city’s livability.

The revitalisation of the Klang River through its beautification and redevelopment of its banks also involves the cleaning up of the river to reduce polution. A joint development council will be fundamental in driving the development of the river. Other elements include the renewal of old areas within Greater KL.

Already, an UDA Holdings Bhd source says the government agency has put in a few proposals for the redevelopment of some old shop houses in some areas and to work with local authorities in their renewal programmes.

“From now onwards, developments will not viewed from an agency perspective, but from the country’s perspective and how it adds to the Greater KL plan and the city’s livability,” it says. The private sector has also proposed to work with UDA on some projects, all of which will help to enlarge UDA’s land bank, it added.

“Our projects will be market driven,” the source says, adding that UDA will be playing a big role in this transformation, both in terms of property development and public transport.

“We will be returning to our original objective of building cities.”

The agency has put in a request to be considered as one of the operators for Bandar Tasik Selatan transport hub. It currently manages and operates Puduraya Terminal, which is currently undergoing a RM52mil renovation.

In the area of property development, its most immediate project is the redevelopment of the 22-acre former Pudu Prison site. Located between Permodalan Nasional Bhd’s 100-storey project near Merdeka Stadium and Dataran Perdana’s Islamic financial centre in Jalan Sultan Ismail behind Berjaya Times Square, the former Pudu Prison site will form the axis, or centre of development, in that vicinity.

Another UDA project is the office and service apartment project on four acres next to Sheraton Imperial Hotel in Jalan Sultan Ismail. This area, where most of the hotels are located, and Jalan Bukit Bintang, where the malls are situated, will be given emphasis because they will generate tourist dollars.

There will be a need for more interaction between UDA and the local authorities, says the source.

To give cohesion to KL’s transformation, Greater KL will comprise 10 local authorities consisting of City Hall and the town councils of Kajang, Selayang, Ampang Jaya, Subang Jaya, Shah Alam, Klang, Petaling Jaya, Putrajaya and Sepang. Today, these operate within their designated zones.

By The Star

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