The growth of our cities will prove to be volatile and short-lived if we neglect the cities’ poorest inhabitants or if we ignore the cities’ environmental balance, with only the pursuit pure commercial gains as our focus. Instead of stable and peaceful growth, we will be confronted with rising discontent, crime and environmental disasters. Today’s urban planners are in a unique and exciting position to address some of these difficult issues. Planning has become much more holistic and well-rounded. It has moved from a mainly physical approach to one that is more people-centred, placing equal importance on economic, social and environmental issues. Planning has also become more participatory. From a top-down approach, planning has become more consultative, engaging stakeholders on decisions that affect the way they work and live.
Because of these developments, its will bring to the fore best practices on urban poverty reduction, provision of quality affordable housing and community participation, among other important issues. Malaysian experience will serve as constructive input for the different countries here and similarly, we hope to learn from the findings and successes of other nations. Tackling urban poverty in a sustainable manner is crucial in order for Malaysia to attain our vision of becoming a developed country by the year 2020. Our aspiration is to have a more equitable, progressive and united society, which thrives on our own cultural identity. Several steps have been taken to realise this aspiration, and we hope to see the benefits in the near future. For instance, the responsibility to plan, implement and monitor urban poverty as well as affordable housing has been streamlined under one entity, namely the ministry of housing and local government.
Our legislation has been modified to enable public participation in the preparation of development plans, as well as to allow public appeals. Legislation changes have also been made to enable better protection of our cultural heritage sites. Of course, we still face many challenges and there always remains more to be done. Planning is a complex endeavour, as there are many conflicting stakeholder interests to consider. Nevertheless, there is now a greater agreement and willingness, from all stakeholders, to work towards common goals and benefits. In this, it must also be the role of the urban planner to provide good mechanisms through which government, the private sector and civil society may work together to strengthen their cities. We have accumulated between us a treasure trove of knowledge and experience on what works and what doesn’t when a plan is implemented.
We have to be focused and pragmatic in our efforts, and concentrate on achieving results. Be it poverty reduction, better housing or better healthcare, we are all guided by a clear sense of what needs to be accomplished, and that this is reflected in our plans and in our actions. In this way, we will be one step closer to improving the lives of millions currently living in poverty and need. Indeed, urban planners today shoulder a tremendous amount of responsibility for the well-being of so many people. Although it is repeatedly said that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”, we must not only plan, but we must plan well. Often, the slightest change of detail in a plan will either ease the burden of life for most citizens, or it will make life that much harder for people. We must always bear in mind our responsibility to the people, and discharge our duties to the best of our ability and with the best of intentions.