Cover Image
close this bookEmerging World Cities in Pacific Asia (UNU, 1996, 528 pages)
close this folderPart 2. Changing Asia-Pacific world cities
close this folderEmerging urban trends and the globalizing economy in Malaysia
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe nature and trends of the national urban system
View the documentMacro-population structure and change
View the documentThe international dimension of economic activities
View the documentEconomic structural change and urbanization
View the documentThe impact of internationalism on the Kuala Lumpur Core Urban Region (KLCUR) - The leading mega-city
View the documentPolicy implications
View the documentConclusion
View the documentReferences

Policy implications

The skewed trend of population agglomeration over the period 19601990, especially the specific bias towards the Kuala Lumpur Core Urban Region, has resulted in a marked inability in the recipient areas to cope with traffic congestion, housing, and environmental problems. In other words, the quality of the urban environment is deteriorating at a higher speed than either local population growth or local physical expansion. This, unless controlled, is bound to affect the quality of life in the region. The situation is compounded by the lack of precise urban development policies to contain population movements until lately (Lee, 1989). Urban development policies in the 1970s were linked to the exigencies of dealing effectively with, first, the disparities between the rural and urban sectors through better rural-urban linkages and making urban functions more accessible to the rural populations; and, secondly, disparities between regions and states by stimulating growth in lagging regions (Malaysia, 1971a). It was only in the mid-1980s that an attempt was made to develop a National Urbanization Policy (NUP) to guide urban development.

The relevant urban regional policies to counter migratory flows to big urban centres involve the movement of labour from resource-poor areas to areas with relatively high potential for growth. These strategies appear to have had some discernible results in terms of increased incomes and improved standards of living as well as a more equitable distribution of public utilities. For example, the annual percentage growth in per capita GDP between 1981 and 1985 in Kelantan was 3.2 per cent and in Trengganu 5 per cent. However, resource constraints from prolonged economic recession in the mid-1980s have limited the success and the targets achieved. Present efforts concentrate on consolidation to ensure greater efficiency of resource utilization, of productive capacities, as well as of inter- and intra-regional economic linkages.

Coupling regional development policies is the strategy to merge efforts to strengthen urban centres in less developed states and regions and the evolution of a network of urban systems within the respective regions. This is hoped to be achieved through the establishment of new townships in Regional Development Authority (RDA) areas, rural urbanization, and the development of six regional growth centres. The establishment of new township programmes in the RDA areas, which began in the 1970s, is part of an effort to spread urban development into the agricultural hinterlands (Lee, 1987b). The rural urbanization strategy of regrouping existing villages to form urban nuclei is to supplement the programmes of RDAs to provide urban services and amenities and to bring about the revitalization of the rural environment (Lee, 1983b). Currently, about 27 pilot projects have been identified in Johore, Malacca, Pahang, Perlis, and Penang.

The focus since 1980 has been on six regional growth centres of Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown, Johore Bahru, Kuantan, Kuching, and Kota Bahru to act as catalysts for the diffusion process of growth to the secondary urban centres within their respective regions or states. The current emphasis is on the concentration of industrial growth in selected secondary centres that will take advantage of scale and agglomeration economies to generate employment for the bulk of the rural-urban migrants. In the light of the current patterns of globalization of industrial development, especially with footloose, technology-based industries, secondary centres such as Alor Star, Kulim (earmarked as the "technology park" for industries dealing with sophisticated technology), Kluang, Kulai, and Sungai Petani have seen commendable growth and acted as counter-pulls for the migration streams. In the case of the Kuala Lumpur Core Urban Region, the concentration of commercial, administrative, industrial, and financial activities, as noted earlier, has boosted the development of Shah Alam, Bangi, and the area along the North-South Highway towards Seremban and Malacca.

The preceding discussion amplifies a two-pronged strategy involving, on the one hand, a top-down approach of growth centres and selective urbanization and, on the other hand, a bottom-up policy of rural urbanization and new townships. The bottom-up strategy has its limitations, especially in terms of resource constraints. In fact, the new township programmes have experienced limited growth. Less than one-third of the total population in the various regional development areas live in the new townships. The development of new townships has had little effect in upgrading the quality of life and generating employment opportunities for the hinterland population. In short, these townships have become almost closed or, more appropriately, unarticulated systems, which stop short of generating local growth mechanisms (Lee, 1987b; Bahrin, Lee, and Dorall, 1988). Diffuse urbanization strategies lack serious settlement linkages and a proper study of market forces (Lee, 1983b). In fact, a still inadequate integration of new townships and "bandesas" (diffuse urbanization villages) as integral parts of the national urban and settlement system results in a limited number of "willing" investors, industries, and skilled manpower having to be shared among a large number of such places. The paradox is that, because of the greater urban awareness that is aroused in the rural areas through these policies, all these efforts will probably hasten the flow of migrants to the cities instead of steadying or arresting it (Lee, 1987a).

The overall scenario needs to be reiterated here from another perspective. Urbanization in Malaysia occurred even without a strong industrial base immediately after World War II. Then the shift from an agricultural-based to an industrial-based society through the strategy of import-substituting industrialization hastened this urbanization process. Most of the actual urban forms today are the results of this shift. Now the shift is slowly from an industrial-based to a knowledge-based urban society with the concomitant accelerated and biased urbanization process adding to the globalization of economic activities in the country.

In the advanced countries, it is generally agreed that there has been a perceivable shift from agrarian to industrial and then to a knowledge-based society, thereby making the manifestations of urban growth at any stage more manageable. For example, Tokyo, Stockholm, Paris, and Los Angeles are rebuilding their cities and restructuring their respective regional developments in response to their new roles in the international circuit. In developing countries such as Malaysia, however, the transition is less clear because the industrial transformation is overlapped by the communications revolution, culminating in new dimensions of urban functions and growth that may be somewhat irrelevant to what is happening in the developed countries. In other words, there are few, if any, lessons from the advanced countries that can be applied to the problems of the less developed countries.

The portrayal of the disparity in terms of an overactive urban agglomeration on the one hand, and its stunted urban shadow on the other, should prompt a re-examination of the ethos of urban development policies in Malaysia (Lee, 1989, 1991). In order to reduce the disparity, it would be necessary to give due cognizance to the newly emerging urban forces and to understand why the "third industrial revolution" is not producing dispersion and de-urbanization (Glickman, 1987). More attention should be paid to the role of secondary cities, for instance, to take advantage of the changing and existing opportunities in the new global framework by increasing their 'hinge" functions, that is, to articulate local and regional life with the outside world (Lee, 1980b; Gottmann, 1989). The premise suggested is that globalization of the economy also provides an opportunity to develop a more oligarchical urban system because a technology-based economy need not be confined exclusively to a large population size (Chase-Dunn, 1984). Transnationals may no longer insist on conforming to the diffusionist policies of the 1950s to 1970s, that is, setting up foreign subsidiaries first in familiar places and then gradually moving to less familiar areas (Taylor and Thrift, 1982). The possibilities of a decentralized system of differentiated and pluralistic power centres may have to be examined (Glickman, 1987; Knight, 1989).

It is not suggested that, because of the unintended spatial biases of the changing economic structure in favour of the major urban nodes, spatial considerations of urban growth and development should prevail over and above policies to promote economic development. It is a question not of whether or not urban growth can be stopped but rather of what kinds of urban growth should be encouraged. On the one hand, policies that directly address the rectification of congestion and pollution would be appropriate in the urban agglomerations. On the other hand, regional policies should be implemented to bring about more balanced industrial distribution and investment. In fact, in late 1990, the government had called for a fair distribution of high-technology and high-value-added industries to other states besides Selangor, Penang, and Johore. This would mean the costly development of infrastructure in other states, such as Kedah, Pahang, and Trengganu, in order to be able to attract investors. Would it be possible to locate more industries in smaller urban centres and even rural areas so that villagers and smalltowners would themselves benefit from the industries, as has happened in South Korea and Taiwan? The question of political differences between states (Sabah and Kelantan) and the federal government hindering cooperation may have to be considered. For instance, although the IMP has indicated that downstream processing of forestry-related projects would be intensified in Sabah, the manufacturing sector continues to play only a minor role in the state's economy (4.6 per cent).

Besides ensuring a balanced distribution, it is also necessary to strengthen promising secondary centres through such actions as better investment and management policies for transport, industrial estates policies, and the systematic development of organized information networks between these urban centres and the capital region (banking networks, better administrative structure, etc.) (Renaud, 1987). The challenge for these urban centres is to integrate their activities into the evolving global structure and redefine their roles within the context of the national and global network. Planning for urban centres can no longer be confined to the political boundary. Holistic thinking on regional and global scales becomes essential to sustain development in urban centres where economic activities can be located to provide the stimuli for urban growth where desirable.