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PETALING JAYA is entering a major transition period as it is poised for urban regeneration but the residents have different views on the city’s next leap.
Urban regeneration was one of the six economic stimulus packages adopted by Selangor last year to tackle recession. Petaling Jaya, Klang and Kajang were earmarked for the move.
While the move was aimed at creating jobs and generating income as well as making the city vibrant, the residents want traffic jams that they face daily to be tackled.
One proposal that is being discussed by residents is to build office blocks, hotels and service apartments on the site where PKNS headquarters now sits.
Supporters of the project feel that Petaling Jays needs to be rejuvenated, with more life pumped into the area, while others feel that the area would be congested.
Stakeholders, councillors and urban planners have expressed that many of the issues arose from its former status as a satellite town.
Petaling Jaya was developed as a satellite town 50 years ago so that people could live here and work in Kuala Lumpur. It marked the beginning of PJ’s growth into a self-sufficient city, which achieved city status four years ago but it has become the thing that impedes its growth now.
Ageing and decaying city
Long-time PJ resident Datuk Dr Wong Sai Hou, who is also a former councillor, pointed out that many parts of the city, especially Section 52 that is supposedly the city centre, are decaying.
“Fewer people visit the buildings at Federal House as even the National Registration Department now functions as a branch, and most people go to the headquarters in Putrajaya,” he said.
He also pointed out the weaknesses in the infrastructure, among them the dilapidated post office in Jalan Sultan and its dangerous access near a slope, the dirty and exposed monsoon drain behind the A&W Restaurant in Lorong Sultan, the unfriendly Taman Jaya LRT station’s ingress and egress, roadside parking bays and underused multi-storey carpark.
“It is the pride of MBPJ to adopt Section 52 as its model of a Barrier Free City status but it is still a major issue for the disabled to move about, such as to cross Jalan Sultan to the main commercial area from the Taman Jaya LRT station or to access the post office,” he added.
Also, he commented that the current layout of Section 52 was unhealthy.
“This is due to its design with an outer ring of banks and commercial buildings and an inner ring of traders and eating places. The Menara MBPJ with its sunken plaza has only some of the floors utilised by MBPJ’s departments. Roads are crammed with parked vehicles while multi-storey public car parks are barely frequented,” he said.
Despite the hustle and bustle during the day, Section 52 was a ghost town at night as there were no residential elements in the design of the business centre, he said.
MBPJ councillors related the beauty of transit-oriented development (TOD), a trend adopted by many major cities in the world in creating vibrant, liveable communities, to describe what they have envisioned for Section 52 and eventually the entire PJ.
Councillor Tang Fuie Koh, who has been assigned to oversee Section 2 and 52, said the objective was to create a hub in an effort to reduce trip generation, thus reducing traffic congestion and air pollution. However, friction occurs as the council attempted to gear the city centre towards that as the influence of the satellite town is still strong and the mindset of most residents is that PJ is still very much residential.
“PJ has attracted an influx of business activities including international investors over the years but if the city does not improve, they will leave and in fact, many have done so.
“This has led to a chicken and egg issue — to have the buildings first or the infrastructure? I would say we have to provide both concurrently,” he said.
Councillor Prof Dr Melasutra Md Dali, who is also a Universiti Malaya lecturer and urban planner, commented that the problem of PJ was not the rapid development but the stagnancy of infrastructure previously meant for a satellite town.
“PJ needs to move with time. The infrastructure cannot cope simply because these are meant for that particular year. The council appeals to the public to give us a chance to improve it with the current technology,” she said.
She noted that MBPJ had appointed Universiti Malaya to conduct a macro traffic impact assessment for the entire city,
“We do not want PJ to remain as a satellite town, we want it to be good enough to compete with other cities such as Singapore and Bangkok. It has great development potential but certain areas have become old settlements,” she said, citing Section 52 that was supposed to be the city centre but places like Bandar Utama and Mutiara Damansara now being more appealing,
Tang also explained that urban regeneration did not mean only physical development, but also social, spiritual and cultural development.
“We are looking at the happy index,” he noted.
Both councillors did not deny the problems of development by private operators who are not concerned much about the public’s welfare, discrepancies between planning and implementation, incompetency within the authorities and most of all, that past experiences had caused the people to lose confidence in the plans and policies.
Tang assured residents that the council had become more stringent with the developers, in addition to encouraging active participation from the public in scrutinising the proposed projects.
“We have expanded the criteria they have to fulfil, among them green building index, inter-connectivity and surrounding developments. We have also imposed a development fund to ensure that developers contribute to public infrastructure,” he said.
Both councillors feel that the one thing that PJ is acutely lacking in is public transportation, but a large part of that falls under the purview of the Federal Government.
The way forward
Seri Setia assemblyman Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, political secretary to Selangor Mentri Besar, said the state wanted to leverage on PJ to attract more businesses to the city as people seek cheaper and better alternatives to Kuala Lumpur.
“PJ can improve through a balanced approach in development. There should be areas in PJ where there is a more open approach towards plot ratios and density provided there are adequate public transport and parking facilities,” he said.
Still, the green initiatives should be given equal weight, too.
“PJ should explore taking the lead in green initiatives, including recycling and park and ride. The city can even go a step further by exploring rainwater-harvesting and green roofing as a way to minimise pollution,” he said, adding that recreational facilities and heritage landmarks should also be cautiously maintained.
He admitted that PJ did have its pool of problems that hindered development.
“What we can do is seek to improve traffic flow and public amenities while continue to ensure proper planning and consultation for upcoming projects.
“The state also has limited powers when it comes to traffic issues as public transport falls mainly within the federal jurisdiction.
“It creates a dilemma for us as we cannot stop development if we want to promote urban renewal and yet increased traffic congestion impedes the development possibilities for PJ,” he added.
Likewise, Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua also highlighted public transportation as the main problem.
“If compared with major cities such as London, Tokyo or even Singapore, the population and built up space in PJ is relatively moderate and there is room for more growth.
“At this point of time, PJ is “saturated” because our public transportation is far below the required levels of comparable cities. As a result, PJ has hit its growth bottleneck, and so does the Klang Valley. There is a major problem with public transportation issues, not only in PJ but the entire country,” he said.
As such, he said there should be a thorough transformation of how public transportation is managed in Malaysia.
“This is critical to unclog the development bottleneck in our cities such as Petaling Jaya. Car ownership rate in the Klang Valley is more than 1:1, meaning that every baby born already “owns” a car, this has to be reduced to enable urban growth.
“This goal can only be achieved by injecting an element of competition in public transport, decentralise decision-making to local authorities and making public transport requirements an integral part of all development orders approved by the local council,” he added.