Malaysia's constant pandering to 'development'

NOVEMBER 21 ― Navigating New York's subway system was for me an interesting adventure. I've always loved trains; the hum and rattle, the sway of carriages are to me comforting as opposed to the suffocating confines of a car and the quiet dread of buses (a terrible accident in one haunts me still).

In the old days, I would maybe have needed a pocket guide and perhaps a map. But instead, I had the Citymapper app that buzzed me to alight and another app told me which subway exit would be the best. No talking to strangers required.

Finding my way to Central Park was a matter of asking the apps, then navigating the rest of the way with Google Maps.

Central Park had always been to me just some backdrop or casual throwaway mention in some TV sitcom, or the location of terrible crimes such as the case of the Central Park jogger.

Instead I was greeted by a huge expanse that I knew would take me perhaps the better part of an afternoon and even then I might not be done.

A huge tract of land in the middle of prime real estate would be condos in our country. Even if it was Central Park.
A huge tract of land in the middle of prime real estate would be condos in our country. Even if it was Central Park.

But no, it was just where I was meeting someone and instead I walked around, took photos and watched the interesting mix of cars, bicycles and carriages the park attracted.

Such a huge land mass in the midst of one of America's iconic cities, surrounded by prime real estate.

A Malaysian developer would probably have built a suite of condos targeted towards the upwardly mobile instead of something so mundane as a park.

I'm tired of condos and malls. Tired of so-called housing schemes meant to prop up some construction firm. Exasperated with talk of yet another national car, which our prime minister expects us to prop up by forcing us to buy it.

How much longer must our society, and our government, forever be beholden to the interests of business? Of course I understand the money must flow but from what I see the wealth is really only flowing into the pockets of a select few while the rest of us are expected to enable that.

Away from the bustle of New York, I found myself in a suburb near Washington DC.

Truthfully I would probably have gone mad staying there too long ― too quiet, too far away from the hustle I'm used to.

A Malaysian developer would probably look at this and think: golf course.
A Malaysian developer would probably look at this and think: golf course.

Yet I can understand why some people call suburbs “idyllic.” The soothing quiet, cars that don't go hundreds of kilometres in a housing area for no good reason and the feeling of being able to breathe.

In Malaysia, housing projects feel cramped, squeezing as many houses into a plot of land as the developer can manage without being fined with very little green to be seen.

I don't care much for the American Dream but the things I saw in the US makes me think of my own wishlist in Malaysia ― where you can work and commute without needing to own a car and space to breathe, to run and play, or to just sit under a tree and contemplate life's mysteries or perhaps take a nap.

When will we value public goods, making our urban areas more liveable and not just a means to make someone up there more money?

In the meantime I can only hope the third car never happens, that Malaysians will stop hating trees (in fear a branch would destroy their car windshields) and our public transport become the first choice, and not the last.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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