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Monday, February 21, 2011

Property, neighbourhood and the feel good feeling

We all get excited whenever a friend or a family member buys his first property, be it an apartment or a house.

We look forward to the house-warming party where we can freely give advice on how to transform the house into a home.

These days, however, I notice that the topic of conversation has shifted quite a bit.

The talk is more likely to centre on how much the property is worth, how much it will appreciate in six months, and where the next property hotspot is.

You get the feeling that if someone at the party is willing to offer him a good price, this new owner will be more than happy to move out immediately.

It is a reflection of the times, I suppose, when people have the means to either buy property to live in forever, or for short-term investment purposes.

Whatever the purpose, we have the right to be concerned whenever a new project is proposed, especially if there are serious social, health and environmental concerns involved.

It is not fair to always use the term Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY), or the derivative Nimbyism, pejoratively to describe opposition by residents to a proposal for a new development close to them.

In planning projects for the common good, we should allow active debate on the pros and cons.

But what if the main concern is more about the value of one's property being affected, as revealed in recent debates on the mass rail transit (MRT) project?

My colleague, Thean Lee Cheng, wrote last week that the 50km MRT line will affect 91,900 properties along the way. Of these, 82,700 units, or 90%, will be residential units with a total population of about 341,000. About 40% of these are located in the Sg Buloh-Semantan area, and 46% in the Cheras-Kajang area.

She quoted a source who argued that “if you can hear it, see it, feel the vibration, but cannot access it, your property will be negatively impacted. You want it (MRT) close, but not too close.”

Granted there will be an impact on property prices, but where are the loudest voices of protest coming from?

Many of us are blessed just to have a simple property that we can call home. We work hard to pay off the bank loan and probably another loan we take for our Malaysian-made car.

If there is an efficient public transport system, we might even be able to get by without a car. For those who never take public transport, they might still appreciate having fewer cars on the road.

When I first moved into my neighbourhood 25 years ago, there was plenty of open space where I would take my boys to play.

Over time, I watched the space being gobbled out by a potpourri of projects, some of which I appreciated, but not all. I am thankful for the park, the police station, the public health clinic, the stadium, the many banks, the little Giant and the big Giant, the fast-food joints, and of course the LRT line.

I am not too happy with the upcoming shopping complexes across the highway as I am quite sure it will create some havoc on the roads on my side.

But, on balance, as with anything in life, one has to take the good with the bad. We may not be able control the circumstances of what goes on in our neighbourhood, but we certainly can control our attitude towards these changes. That, after all, is what life is all about.

Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin is reminded that NIMBY can also be used more generally to describe people who advocate some proposal (for example, austerity measures, a green lifestyle and a better transport system) but oppose implementing it in a way that would require sacrifice on their part.

By The Star (by Soo Ewe Jin)

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