Urban regeneration- a vital approach to revive city centres and inner cities

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President of Malaysian Institute of  Planners Datin Noraida Saludin

President of Malaysian Institute of
Planners Datin Noraida Saludin

Contributed by Datin Noraida Saludin

The evolution of urban areas and the distribution of towns in Malaya were primarily influenced by British intervention in the mainland during the 1850s. After gaining independence, Malaysian cities experienced rapid expansion, with approximately 75% of Malaysia's current GDP being generated in urban areas. Numerous townships emerged beyond urban centres and inner cities, with satellite towns and meticulously planned neighbourhoods sprouting on the outskirts and in between town centres, creating ribbon developments along highways and major roads.

The escalating costs of housing and increased rental rates played a significant role in prompting individuals to relocate from cities, resulting in a transformation of city centres and inner cities into primarily commercial hubs catering to offices and retail establishments. Numerous old buildings in city centres exceeded their economic viability, often remaining vacant, particularly the upper floors of traditional shophouses or shop offices. With the population moving to newly developed areas that offer modern and complete urban amenities, the appeal of city centres and inner cities waned. People no longer want to live there, and companies are hesitant to move, resulting in a downward spiral leading to urban decay. The same situation applies to various areas in Kuala Lumpur, and to some degree, it is observed in cities such as George Town, Johor Bahru, Kuantan and several other smaller cities.

Breathing new life

Injecting new life into city centres is crucial, as cities need to adapt to remain relevant and sustainable. Across the globe, local authorities are actively working to revive neglected areas within their cities through processes like urban regeneration, redevelopment, renewal, or revitalization — whichever term is preferred. As emphasized by UN-Habitat, urban regeneration is a comprehensive process and a vital city planning tool that should align with emerging trends such as rapid climate change, urban health considerations, accelerated digital transformation, evolving cultural norms and products and growing spatial inequality. These contemporary challenges should also be viewed as opportunities to propel forward, secure funding and construct improved urban environments through initiatives focused on urban regeneration.

The different regeneration options

There are three main types of urban regeneration: economic, social and environmental.

Economic urban regeneration involves developing spaces that attract people to work collaboratively, exchange ideas and engage in social and cultural activities. The objective is to foster local start-up growth, boost employment opportunities, attract investments and offer businesses fresh and comfortable locations.

Social urban regeneration aims to establish a community where all individuals can actively contribute to collective life and find ways to coexist with like-minded people.

Conversely, environmental regeneration focuses on rejuvenating land by creating urban green spaces, redeveloping abandoned sites and implementing environmentally-oriented projects, including those that encourage walking and cycling.

The Malaysian government has adopted a proactive stance in addressing issues related to delayed, ailing and abandoned private housing projects by establishing a dedicated task force within the Local Government Development Ministry (KPKT). According to reports, by August, the task force had effectively revitalized 256 projects of this nature, comprising 28,000 housing units with a total development value of RM23.37bil. Additionally, a special guarantee fund of RM1bil has been allocated to incentivize reputable developers to revive specific abandoned projects. This initiative has garnered significant praise, indicating a commendable focus on urban planning for Malaysian cities.

It is hoped that the Malaysian government and local authorities will place increased emphasis and priority on the revitalization of city centres, especially in cities such as Kuala Lumpur. The recently gazetted Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan has identified 139 sites as potential locations for urban redevelopment or regeneration, underscoring the need for focused attention and action in this regard.

While urban regeneration has the potential to transform socially, economically and ecologically dilapidated urban areas into dynamic, diverse and vibrant neighbourhoods that value and cultivate their natural and built heritage, it can also lead to gentrification, the deepening of socio-spatial inequalities and the destruction of valuable cultural heritage in the name of modernization.

To avoid these negative consequences, urban regeneration requires innovative approaches and financing, as well as complex, inclusive and sustainable policies that counteract the realities of displacement and speculation, historically associated with urban renewal strategies. Nevertheless, urban redevelopment, regeneration, renewal, or revitalization will serve as a crucial urban planning instrument backed by innovative public and private funding mechanisms. These mechanisms need to be adapted to address the emerging challenges faced by cities in striving to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals over the next six years leading up to 2030.

Datin Noraida Saludin

President of Malaysian Institute of Planners


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