The PAM-DBKL International Conference 1995, "Urban Vision: A Scenario for Kuala Lumpur," 23 June 1995

Modern architectural problems have become so intertwined with the planning of our urban habitat that they are not merely issues of techniques that are of concern only to architects and town planners. On the contrary they bear direct relation to the quality of human life and all that matters to make living in an environment of high human density truly humane.

Basic amenities such as housing, transportation, water, sewerage, electricity, telecommunication and other community facilities are important ingredients for the city. For most of these, the government had decided to take the privatisation route to make them efficient and workable. Some of these have proven to be successful. The North-South Highway has opened new dimensions in urbanization. The city's outskirts have become more accessible and new land areas become ripe for development and urbanization.

The government is also proactive in upgrading other infrastructure such as the new international airport, the railway electrification and double tracking, new port facilities and more road and highway networks. In addition, the expansion in telecommunication infrastructure will propel the nation into the information technology age.

We are also encouraging industries and investments in the manufacturing sector. Thus more and more land has been approved for industrial development and technology parks. Our objectives are principally to increase the economic well-being of the citizens. Thus our policies are well designed toward sustainable economic growth and to enhancing the quality of life. Our record of economic growth manifests our ability to promote industrialization on the back of political stability and cooperation among citizens. We want this to be the basis for developing our future communities.

I must also emphasize the two important aspects of community development; namely housing and education. Architects, planners and developers must increase their efforts to introduce innovative housing layout and designs. These housing developments must not only be affordable, but also inspirational and conducive to healthy community living. They must promote neighbourliness and the sense of community among the inhabitants. Rows after rows of terrace houses, irrespective of the terrain of the land, have produced boring and tiresome landscapes which degenerate into blighted residential areas in a short time. With the encouragement and commitment from government to increase the number of low cost houses I would expect positive responses from all of you in the industry.

Within a short period of 10 years, the country successfully leap-frogged from an agricultural based economy to an industrial and manufacturing based one. Now the world has changed further into an information society. We can also see these changes in our society. We are venturing into the information age very fast and competing in the global arena in telecommunication. This is going to change the approach to town planning, design and architecture.

Accordingly, the lifestyle in the city and its operations will be different from what we are accustomed to. For example, with sophisticated multi-media technologies in the future, our daily tasks will be made easier. Telecommunications will be extensive and administration becomes paperless. If in the past, city developments allowed for physical infrastructure such as roads, water, electricity, sewerage, and so on, now they will have to allow for information infrastructure. They must also be capable of adaptation to future application softwares which are continually changing. New technologies in transportation, power production and waste disposal will also impact on the planning concepts.

The growth of our cities must spring naturally from our vision of the human community in its manifold dimensions: social, economic, cultural and moral. There must be a feeling of spontaneity, a sense of liberty within the urban space, yet not devoid of a sense of purpose and meaning, of order and solidarity among the inhabitants.

Such a conception requires the growth of our cities following the path beyond the dictates of trade, commerce and industry. We want our cities to emerge as thriving commercial centres serving all the needs for this region. But unless our efforts in that direction are matched with a commitment to preserve and promote what is crucial to make our city truly humane, there is always the danger of our city losing its soul.

The concern over the dehumanizing tendency of modern cities is nothing new. The growth of our cities need not necessarily take the path of the metropolis in Europe or North America, but it certainly should not cause us to end up like the chaotic and congested megacities in the developing countries of Asia and Latin America. We believe that our commitment towards a balanced development and the dispersal of economic growth to the lesser developed areas in the country will ensure organic development of our cities. Nevertheless, by historical standards, our cities have been growing faster than some of the cities in the industrialized countries. As such we must instill and deepen the understanding of all parties concerned on the enormous challenges to be faced now and in the future. There are evident signs of stress, especially in Kuala Lumpur, yet the opportunities to make our city truly lovable to us and attractive to foreigners are not yet lost.

The growth of a city inevitably involves rebuilding of the environment and a successful rebuilding of our environment will depend on the determination to let the human element be the dominant factor. Utility and efficiency must always serve to enhance human values and not subvert them. The city is not only for us to earn our living. It must be a place we share our humanity and solidarity with our fellow city dwellers. The fulfillment of our aesthetic needs resulting from beauty and culture is just as important for a full civilized life as the provision of our creature comforts. Thus the architecture of our city must project life itself in its myriad dimensions.

The loss of the human scale has been one of the tendencies in modern architecture. The quest for bigness and the perpetual race to surpass others in size are the main causes of gigantism. However, the beauty and humanity of a city lies not only in the aesthetic elements which make up the buildings, physical structures and parks therein but also its cultural landscape. We must not degenerate into the Unreal City of T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" where the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, and the dry stone no sound of water.

The supply of adequate housing, especially for the middle and lower income groups, is a key factor in maintaining order in urban life. At the same time, the availability of community centres is no less critical than housing itself, for these centres become a cultural breeding ground which enables the individual to attain his full stature within the community.

The conventional wisdom is that the provision of civic and recreational facilities and low-cost housing is the domain of the public sector. With vision and imagination, and full awareness of its social responsibility, the private sector must now direct its energies also to the fundamental question of the quality of our living space. Our appeal is not to altruism alone, but to the most common needs of this and future generations of our city dwellers.

Thank you.