By: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nahrizul Adib Kadri
Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, has a rich history dating back to the late 1800s. It began as a small tin-mining settlement in the 1850s and was granted city status in 1972. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Kuala Lumpur developed rapidly as a centre of tin mining and trade, leading to increased immigration and economic growth.
In 1895, it became the capital of the newly formed Federated Malay States, and following independence from Britain in 1957, it became the capital of Malaysia. Throughout the 20th century, Kuala Lumpur continued to grow and develop into a modern metropolis, with a thriving economy and diverse cultural scene.
As we are racing into the rest of the 21st century (can you believe that we are almost at the quarter century mark? Phew!) is KL looking more and more like the city it should be? How does an ideal city should look (and sound and smell, for that matter)? Do we want more Copenhagen-like, or Shanghai- and Dubai-like?
Or should we create something else altogether?
“Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (originally in French ‘Le Capital au XXIe siècle’) is a 2013 book by Thomas Piketty that provides a comprehensive analysis of the history of wealth and income inequality. Some key takeaways from the book on the roles of a capital city, includes:
- Investing in infrastructure: By recognizing the importance of adequate infrastructure, capital cities can invest in transportation systems, affordable housing, and other public goods that are necessary to support a high quality of life for residents.
- Addressing inequality: By understanding the causes and consequences of wealth and income inequality, capital cities can prioritize policies and initiatives that reduce inequality and promote economic equality, such as affordable housing, progressive taxation, and income redistribution programs.
- Encouraging economic diversity: By recognizing the importance of a diversified economy, capital cities can work to attract and retain a mix of industries and job opportunities, helping to ensure that economic benefits are more widely distributed.
- Promoting sustainability: By acknowledging the importance of sustainability, capital cities can adopt policies and programs that promote environmental responsibility, reduce waste, and conserve natural resources, helping to ensure the long-term viability of the city.
- Fostering social cohesion: By prioritizing social cohesion, capital cities can work to promote understanding and tolerance among different groups, creating a harmonious and inclusive community.
According to Dr. Yong Adilah Shamsul Harumain, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Faculty of Built Environment, Universiti Malaya, an ideal city is shaped by purposeful design and development, thus creating an equitable, sustainable, and liveable environments that benefit all residents.
“I personally believe that an ideal 21st century city should have the following characteristics, namely sustainability, accessibility, inclusivity, economic vitality, and liveability.
The city should prioritize environmentally friendly practices, such as reducing carbon emissions, promoting green spaces, and encouraging sustainable transportation options. It should have good infrastructure and transportation systems, making it easy for residents and visitors to get around.
An ideal city should also celebrate diversity and promote equality, offering affordable housing, quality healthcare, and education to all residents, regardless of socio-economic background. Having a thriving economy is not just a bonus, but a necessity in creating jobs and opportunities for its residents, and attracting businesses and investors.
And above all, an ideal KL should be liveable for everyone. The city should provide a high quality of life, with safe and clean public spaces, green areas, and other amenities to make it an attractive place to live, work and visit.”
But remember, a truly ideal capital city of the 21st century should not only serve its population, but should also be malleable by the people who live there. By considering both the needs of the city and its residents, a truly ideal 21st-century KL city can create a harmonious and dynamic environment that benefits everyone.
So, let’s be clear. It is not a question of how our beloved KL should be emulating; whether she should be more like Singapore, Tokyo, or Amsterdam; but rather a question of how the people, the likes of you and me, can craft an ideal city to live in one.
Selamat Hari Wilayah, everyone.
The author is the Director of Corporate Communications Centre, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org