Kampung Baru has remained unchanged for over 100 years sitting as an anomaly amidst the cluster of high-rise buildings and is in definite need of a makeover.

At the same time, most people would find it somewhat refreshing to be able to step out of KL’s golden triangle into Kampung Baru’s narrow roads of traditional houses where you would find quaint shop lots and children happily playing by the side of the streets. Is it possible to meet both the requirements of our city’s development plans while preserving the cultural characteristics of the village?

Discussions on developing Kampung Baru has taken place for decades now but the many attempts have been continuously fruitless due to existing issues that have yet to be resolved. The main problems that have restricted development are multiple ownership, disproportion in land prices and quaint rules of law. Other issues such as Kampung Baru’s historical significance, the importance of protecting the area from ‘unwanted change’ particularly regarding conduct of Islamic practices, relocation and compensation of the residents, clarity regarding long term plans in the framework and the issue of managerial rights also effect progression.

Across the 7 villages of Kampung Baru that cover over 300 acres and include nearly 4300 lot owners, the majority of landowners agree that they would make way for development as long as their requirements are met.
Corresponding with the Kuala Lumpur city plan 2020, the federal government’s current plan of action is to set up the Kampung Baru Development Corporation (KBDC) under DBKL. The plan is to transform the area into a tourist and culture centre, main commercial area and an urban residential district with a unique Malay identity. This can be done by developing the area zonally starting with the main village in Kampung Baru and setting it as a successful example for other villages to follow suit. A 60:40 quota will also be introduced to allow non-Malays to rent or occupy the land. This will increase its value to its maximum potential and promote commercial attraction.

While Selangor’s involvement and administration obligations involving Kampung Baru is subject to consideration, the Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid has stepped in to offer an alternative plan that involves converting the land into share units and the formation of the Kampung Baru Land Trust (KBLT) to distribute the shares.

According to most of the residents, Kampung Baru has a historical significance. It was bestowed upon them by the then Sultan Selangor under the Malay Agricultural Settlement (MAS) body and is the birthplace of UMNO. It represents a symbolic presence of Malays in the capital city. Therefore, the majority of the residents are opposed to the idea of giving up the land to non-Malays and thus, ‘sharing’ in this case would cause more harm than good. While there may be differences in approach, this issue is one that is deeply rooted and would require more long-term drastic efforts to unravel. At the same time villagers must accept that the land prices cannot meet their high expectations and would be significantly lower than areas such as KLCC.

Collaboration as opposed to disagreement between political parties regarding this issue may be able to resolve some of the persisting problems. Perhaps, the platform for dialogue should be initiated; one that discusses the option of landowners and inheritors to consider renting or leasing the land to non-Malays under their own terms.

The issue of ownership is yet another issue that restricts development. Each plot of land is owned by multiple owners due to the Islamic Faraid inheritance law that splits the land parcels into smaller plots. Some plots are recorded to be owned by up to 100 people. Problems involve getting consent from the multiple landowners and estate beneficiaries. Efforts to find legal documents on ownership might assist in finding a solution to this problem, which of course is easier said than done but might be a good place to start.

By 2020, Kuala Lumpur’s population of 1.6 million is expected to increase up to 2.2 million. The lack of open space, congestion, pollution and unemployment is set to get worse. Plan’s to increase the city’s density by intensifying development clearly isn’t an outline for sustainable development.

Considering we have the opportunity to sketch out what our relatively newly developing country should expand to look like, we ought to consider making it not only economical sustainable but environmentally sustainable for generations to come.

Policies in the National Physical Plan (NPP), which is legally binding on the Federal Territory, should be adopted, which suggests the idea of the Kuala Lumpur Conurbation where the region is expanded into Bangi, Putrayajaya and Seremban. This will reduce the area density to 25 persons per hectare and improve general quality of life. This policy would also involve improving public transportation and other public facilities.

So at the end of the day, perhaps a bit of a Kampung in the ‘backyard’ of our city centre really isn’t such a bad idea.

Yasmin Lane is a Kampung girl living in the city