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Symposium 2014

Proposal - Smart Urban Planning for Megacities

The Challenge

Projections say that by 2050, the world will have undergone the largest and fastest period of urban expansion in human history. The urban population is estimated to double, while at the same time, the ...

Projections say that by 2050, the world will have undergone the largest and fastest period of urban expansion in human history. The urban population is estimated to double, while at the same time, the total urban area is projected to triple. City dwellers in emerging and developing countries, and their resource-intensive lifestyles, are increasingly going to create challenges in supporting many aspects of daily life. More urban dwellers require more resources such as water, land, food, and energy. These increases in demand put pressure on natural ecosystems in supporting cities. In addition, climate change, rising sea levels, or extreme weather events pose additional threats to cities. Infrastructure failure, such as electricity grid disruptions, flooding, diseases, and large-scale pollution, are some of the potential consequences.

As the world becomes more urbanised, our cities need to get smarter to handle the large scale urbanisation which requires new ways to manage complexities, increase efficiency and improve the quality of life of its citizens. Thus, it is necessary to understand the smart city’s contribution in overall to the urban planning and vice versa, to recognise the urban planning offerings to a smart city context. A Smart City may be defined as a developed urban area that creates sustainable economic development and the right quality of life by excelling in areas such as economy, mobility, environment and governance.

In the context of Kuala Lumpur, the capital city which has a population of 1.6 million in a metropolitan area of 6 million people, is no different than other megacities that are experiencing the effects and challenges of rapid urbanisation and urban planning issues. Kuala Lumpur experiences similar problems associated with other megacities and may be categorised as physical, environmental, transportation and economic. In trying to resolve these issues, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (KLCH) has embarked on various programs and initiatives to make it more competitive and to be the top 20 liveable city in the world by the year 2020.

Environmentally, the issue of flash flood in Kuala Lumpur has been successfully tackled by the construction of a Smart Tunnel that runs in the middle of the city is widely recognised as a engineering marvel which incorporates a water tunnel below and a highway above. Thus, the tunnel serves two purposes namely; to deviate excess water during heavy rains from the Klang and Gombak River away from the city centre while during dry periods, it is used to carry traffic from the southern part of the city to the city centre.

The next ambitious project that the city has embarked on is the River of Life (ROL) project which aims to transform specific areas within Kuala Lumpur facing the Klang River into a vibrant waterfront with high economic and commercial value. This project involves cleaning the river and beautifying it to stimulate activities along the river and also redevelopment of properties along the riverside. While the project is still in infancy stage, once completed it is expected to improve the Klang River’s ecology and environment tremendously.

Furthermore, as part of the efforts to reduce the effects of global warming and also to transform Kuala Lumpur into a world class, top liveable city by the 2020. The Greener Kuala Lumpur project was launched to increase greenery in the city by planting 100,000 large-coverage trees by the year 2020. The city currently has 11 m2 of green space per person compare with 22 m2 in the top liveable cities in the world. This initiative is undertaken together with the private sector which will sponsor tree planting and the Signature Park Adoption Programme to establish parks in prime locations within Kuala Lumpur. It also aims to promote outdoor activities that are expected to spur greater and more diverse commercial activities within the city centre. Kuala Lumpur also intends to add more water features in the city and thus the project of the city with 1000 fountains was conceptualised and this is also an attempt to cool the city.

Transportation is a major issue that need to be tackled by almost all megacities. The efforts taken to cope with this issue, have started to show promising results especially in balancing the modal split of public-private transport. The continuous improvement of the Light Rail Transit and monorail services have attracted greater number of riders and furthermore, the LRT line extension is in progress to cater for high ridership. In an effort to build an integrated Urban Mass Rapid Transportation System the construction of the mass rapid transit (MRT) system within the Greater Kuala Lumpur and Klang Valley to reduce congestion and cater for the growing population, which is expected to reach 10 million in 2020. The MRT project is part of Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley’s vision to create an integrated public transport network to account for at least half of all trips commuting to and from, and within KL. Development is also expected to increase the MRT lines, enabling the expansion of newer areas, higher pedestrian volume and increased amenities.

A Transit Oriented Development concept has been implemented in urban areas surrounding the LRT stations. To reduce the number of private vehicles entering the city further, there are provisions to reduce the number of parking spaces in the city and to increase the parking charges. In an attempt to become a pedestrian-friendly city, a comprehensive pedestrian network was designed based on the Safe City Concept which emphasises the use of environmental design and placement of security devices to minimise potential criminal opportunities. The Safe City Concept is a programme under the Crime National Key Result Area in the Government Transformational Programme. Elevated roofed and at-grade pedestrian network connects various attractions within the city centre and has made walking in the city much more pleasant and improve its liveability. In addition to that, in the beginning of this year, the Kuala Lumpur Car Free Morning was introduced where a network of roads within the city centre are closed to vehicular traffic once a month to allow the public to walk or cycle on these otherwise busy roads.

Economically Kuala Lumpur strives to make itself competitive vis-à-vis other Asian cities. The InvestKL, an agency was created to transform the Greater KL and Klang Valley into one of the world’s top investment destinations by attracting 10 multinational companies (MNC) a year to establish its operations in the Greater KL and Klang Valley region. For 2014, 13 MNCs are targeted and this will generate at least 600 new employment opportunities. Industries targeted are quality investments from areas such as service and knowledge intensive industries, high-technology industries, and green and alternative energy technologies to support Malaysia’s transition into high-income economy. Economic empowerment is key for lower income group to assure a sustainable livelihood. Thus, in order to address the issue of urban poor, efforts are made to provide low cost housing, community development programmes and petty trading opportunities in order to upgrade their standard of living.

In terms of governance, there has been greater emphasis on transparency, public engagement and dialogues and efficiency in service delivery. The involvement of various stakeholders in the public hearings of Kuala Lumpur Draft City Plan 2020 had increased tremendously and in addition, various stakeholder engagements have been held to receive the people’s feedbacks on various proposed projects.

The smart urban planning initiatives and projects adopted by Kuala Lumpur is basically to improve the quality of life of residents in the city by tackling the urbanisation issues confronting megacities.
There is a need for continuous effort and innovative and creative ideas to be generated in an attempt to make cities more resilient and sustainable.

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