Win-win with Taman Rimba Kiara?

CLOSE to fifty years ago, according to the developers, Taman Tun Dr Ismail was conceived not just as a housing scheme, but also as a social statement, which can be summarised as follows:

“If Malaysians of various races are brought together in pleasant communities, with plenty of opportunities for neighbourly interaction, they will come to be more aware of the things they have in common and less conscious of the aspects in which they differ.

“If their children grow up together, and mix freely in schools and on the playing fields, they will think of themselves and of each other as Malaysians rather than Malays, Chinese, or Indians”.

To recap, the controversial proposed Taman Rimba Kiara development project consists of a massive nine blocks of high-end serviced apartments of between 42 to 54 storeys (about 1,800 units), including a 29-storey block of 350 units of affordable housing for the Bukit Kiara longhouse residents, who had been relocated close to forty years ago.

Bear in mind, these are serviced “commercial” apartment units. How about the affordable housing units? Since they are located together with the serviced apartments, would it be termed as “residential”? The laws, regulations, and functions differ and can affect buyers’ legal rights and lifestyles.

The current federal territories minister said: “Let’s say if the developers refuse to accept the offer and sue us instead for loss in profit, which can come up to billions… I cannot do that (cancel projects). I have a responsibility too.

“We can discuss to reduce or scale down projects where we will get some benefits and don’t have to pay out crazy amounts”.  

For the record, I have written a few articles on this TRK issue and have discussed the minister’s statement above in an article titled “Taman Rimba Kiara’s conflict of interest” on December 17, 2018. However, I did not touch the “benefits” mentioned in the statement and will discuss it here with some other pertinent points.

I fully appreciate that the minister is trying his best to arrive at a win-win situation. But before that happens, other important points have to be considered that transcend Taman Tun Dr Ismail and folks living there.

We trust the minister is aware of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development and the role to be played by the “human person”. In essence, states have a duty to formulate appropriate development policies for the well-being of the population on the basis of their active, free, and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of the benefits resulting therefrom.

I can only assume that the minister’s statement on “benefits” took cognisance of the UNDRD’s spirit on active, free and meaningful participation of the people in development and in the fair distribution of the benefits resulting therefrom for the people.

But what are the benefits and are they based on fair distribution?

On balance, it seems the benefits are all for the developer and practically none or in the negative for people living in TTDI; i.e. the latter has more to lose, which applies to the authorities too in the long-term.

The current situation on parking spaces, traffic jams, amenities, crime rates, etc are concerns that have existed for sometime. The DBKL Segambut branch manager rated the current parking problems in TTDI an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 – with 10 being the most chronic. He is also worried about increasing incidents of traffic jams there.  

Lately, there have been cases of flooding in the township.

Construction of TTDI began in 1974. The self-contained mature township, started with approximately 6,500 housing and commercial units, has burgeoned in recent years to easily close to 10,000 units. This controversial development project would add around 1,800 serviced apartments and the population density will definitely shoot up – further stressing the available amenities and infrastructure.

Strangely, another development has been conveniently overlooked. It is a proposed six-lane highway and flyover to be built to serve this controversial project. It would seem to help alleviate the infrastructure issue but it would call to fell more trees, reduce parking spaces, and invite motorists to use TTDI as a shortcut to avoid using the already choked Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong and Sprint highways.  

In 2011, a former federal territories and urban well-being minister said he wanted Kuala Lumpur to be among the top 20 liveable cities by 2020. He envisioned Kuala Lumpur being transformed into a vibrant city and economic hub with quality infrastructure, green spaces, and comprehensive transportation linkage.

This vision is definitely not achievable at the rate we are moving and with the habit of rezoning green spaces. In 2014, in his address to the UN Climate Summit, the then prime minister reiterated his promise made at Copenhagen in 2009 to reduce Malaysia’s carbon emissions by 40% by 2020. Rezoning green spaces runs counter to this promise.

We should emulate how the city of Seoul balances the competing demands for growth, sustainability, and creating a healthy and pleasant environment for all. Seoul won the biennial Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize 2018, which honours outstanding achievements in the creation of liveable, vibrant, and sustainable urban communities.

The jury credited the visionary leadership which successfully turned itself around from a highly bureaucratic city with rising tensions between the authorities and its people, into an inclusive, socially stable, and highly innovative city. The decision-making process was  extended to its citizens in terms of how they wanted their city to become.

It seems the Kuala Lumpur mayor is a fan of Seoul following a recent visit there.

The latest proposal is that housing can be built on the existing Bukit Kiara longhouse footprint (over four acres) if the agenda is not to make a profit. The proposal sounds good, but bear in mind the area that was rezoned from green space is about 25 acres. In future, other developers may come forward with plans to develop it since a precedent has been set.

Surely we do not want the process at Medan Imbi to be replicated here – where a company constructed a building on lands belonging to the government but was given an opportunity to propose a solution and an option to purchase the land at the current market price. This is after an internal DBKL investigation that showed malpractices and abuse of power.

For the record, there have been four reports lodged with MACC on the TRK issue since July 2017, and surprisingly there have been no updates.  Also, there is an outstanding appeal on a judicial review decision made by the high court in December 2018.

I recall that sometime ago the Segambut MP received input from Daim Zainuddin on how to resolve the issue. I hope the Council of Eminent Persons’ chairman can help with the preservation of TRK and for that matter, all of Kuala Lumpur’s green spaces.

There are also people who have said it is time to change our thinking from NIMBY to YIMBY (“Yes in my backyard”) towards developments that will cater to our future generations. I guess they are not aware of the many YIMBYs that TTDI folks have to endure from the many high-rise condos, office blocks, houses on the hills, and also an MRT track passing over their heads over the last few years.

It is not just development but pure over-development.

For that matter, NIMBY implies an absence of social conscience, but TTDI as conceived by the original developers is not just a housing scheme but also a social statement in itself.

What our beloved country really needs are truly responsible developers with fully developed social consciences. A Chinese proverb says that “he who sacrifices his conscience to ambition burns a picture to obtain the ashes”.

Once projects are completed, developers claim their profits while the community and the authorities will need to face all the consequences of over-development.  

One of the people who has the most to lose are the children. Today, they, and in future, their children, are free to roam TRK. If the proposed development proceeds, they will have no space to roam and will face a concrete “taman” with a six-lane highway passing and an overcrowded TTDI.

So, where is the benefit and is it fairly distributed? – January 20, 2019.

* Saleh Mohammed reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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