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Is Malaysia heading towards gentrification?


NEW KhairulIF YOU TRAVEL AROUND cities like New York or London, you will see that these cities do not feature low cost apartments or have properties that are affordable types at all. These well-developed cities often thrive with tourists and shoppers looking their best and having a good time.

Those who can afford to live in these city centers are usually the moneyed crowd.  It is well-known that these cities are the preferred places for people to buy property as investment. Those who are there for work only will travel out to the suburb to go home.

In some of these cities, only when you turn a corner, a very far off corner,  will you find yourself at places labelled as ghetto or project,. These places would be full of graffiti but you will be surprised to know that once they were known as affordable housing areas in these cities. This is due to gentrification as the rich are so afraid of the poor that they put them far away from where they live.

Moving On and Moving Away

As Malaysia heads towards being a developed nation in 2020, perhaps it is time to ask whether we are heading towards the same gentrification?  The advent of technology with high-speed trains allow for the people servicing the ones who live in the city center to be placed a bit further. Our greater Kuala Lumpur is getting bigger and bigger. Suburbs were once Subang Jaya and Rawang but are now moving towards areas around Kuala Lumpur International Airport and as far as Seremban.

The old against the new in growing Kuala Lumpur (pic credit -
See how she grows (pic credit –

There are many forms of gentrification. Some want to keep one class of society inside and some want to keep one class (or more) of society outside. Some gentrifications are clearly with walls separating the inner society from the outer society. Some gentrification can only be seen on the title deed of a property or the price of the property. It is about the difference between classes in society and there are no two ways about it. We install boom gates to allow or disallow vehicles coming and going into where we live, be it condominiums or gated and guarded communities. In cities’ masterplans we move the poor to certain areas we know they can reach their working place easily so they can be near enough to where high society lives, but not too near.

It Happened A Long Time Ago And We Didnt See It Coming

Malaysia, long ago, during the early part of 1900s, was gentrified subtly, without Malaysians even realising it, when we were ruled by British, under the pretext of preserving Malay lands for the Malays. Naming these lands as Malay reserved lands, also known as the red-inked grants, the Malays were to live in agricultural lands, planting staple food for the masses and keeping the lands among the Malays. As those were the times when immigrants from China and India, who are now our fellow Malaysians, were brought into Malaysia, each race was expected to live in certain types of areas. Chinese were to occupy the town and Indian, the estates.

Fast forward to the Malaysia we know today, we have learned how to live side by side with each other regardless of our race. We now choose where we live according to what we can afford. We can live in a high-rise with facilities we might not even use, or walk-up apartment in the middle of the city with restaurants and shops on the ground floor or a two-storey semi-D just a short drive out of town. Each type of property has its own advantages and disadvantages.

We are afraid of our own shadows nowadays but we also need the services from certain sectors to make us comfortable. We frown at strangers coming into our gated home as we suspect everyone to be a burglar or a criminal waiting to pounce. Isnt it ironic that we are forced to get to know our neighbours because we want to create a safe society in our neighborhood? It was once the norm to not know the names of our neighbor as we loved our privacy so much.

Old world charm juxtaposed against new world wonder (pic credit -
Old world charm of Kg Baru juxtaposed against new world wonder of KLCC (pic credit –

As we try to come to terms with the rising prices of houses, we are seeing a lot of  haves and have-nots starting to alienate themselves due to affordability and due to wanting the space to raise a family. There are not many differences in what a human being would want, regardless of our class, as people will still require the basic necessities like food, clothes and a place of shelter and opportunities for recreation. The rich keeps it private by paying an extra price to have recreational activities among themselves in the privacy of their home or sharing only with a select few. The poorer people will share what they can access by sharing the recreational areas such as open fields, malls and halls.

The Closer We Get The Further We Stay Away

Coupled with affordable houses being built at certain areas such as Klang, Seremban and Rawang, we may start to gentrify ourselves without us knowing it. Without realising it, we are pushing people who cannot afford to pay the premium prices for houses to the far away fringes of Kuala Lumpur cities. We build houses in buildings, rising higher and higher, for people who can afford it, bringing more foreigners into certain areas, in order to make it exclusive for them. We may never see any new affordable houses being built in areas close to the centre of Kuala Lumpur anymore.

But all is not lost. There are still pockets of areas such as Kampung Baru, Kampung Pandan and Ampang, where you can still experience a whiff of kampung life amidst the towering KLCC. Maybe these final bastions of the olde Kuala Lumpur will live on and become a place for us to experience the Malaysia it once was when life was simpler. Urbanisation should not be about making everything look spick and span but it can be mixed up. With proper planning, Malaysia can be a model country.

Khairul Anuar Shaharudin, lawyer, is the author of Ask the Lawyer series including 40 More Questions You Should Ask Your Lawyer Before Buying A Residential Property in Malaysia and books under Fixi, Pinjam and Pentas (writing as Anuar Shah). Follow Khairul on Twitter @kruel74 and his blog: Legal Cat-asthrophe  

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