|Emerging World Cities in Pacific Asia (UNU, 1996, 528 pages)|
|Part 2. Changing Asia-Pacific world cities|
|Emerging urban trends and the globalizing economy in Malaysia|
It is obvious that the development of the urban system has inclined towards the enlargement of major city-regions such as Johore Bahru/Kulai and especially the KLCUR, and that imbalances between the urban and rural areas will be further aggravated. This is also true as regards the smaller centres and the metropolises (Lee, 1991). Moreover, the problems of urban concentration will be compounded by an insecure niche in the global economy, that is, being an insecure partner in the constellation of world cities where survival is assured only by active participation in the world network. Furthermore, because the powerful forces that undergird internationalization are global in nature, their primary influence on urban growth and development may be beyond the ability and control of individual countries to respond correctly and quickly enough. This subjection to world vicissitudes has been amply illustrated by Kamal Salih and Young (1987), who showed that, while Malaysia had become the developing world's largest exporter of semi-conductors, and provided employment to thousands of urban workers, the global crisis in the semi-conductor industry of the mid-1970s resulted in thousands being retrenched. Further, labour absorption in the 1970s and 1980s was largely based on TNCs in export-processing zones, mostly manufacturing semiconductor devices and textiles and, according to Young (1987), consisted mostly of females, with limited jobs created for males. Whether TNCs will remain or be attracted to other parts of the world is also a big question.
It is quite clear that there is very little countries can do to shield urban centres from global forces when industrialization takes on a global nature. Cities will have to find ways to cushion themselves against economic vulnerability (financial crisis), functional vulnerability (exceeding their functional capacity), and structural vulnerability (abandonment, neglect, or conscious damage to stock or real property) (Gappert, 1989). In fact, Kuala Lumpur is reacting to the global needs of multinational capital, which has provoked the revitalization of high-level central business districts and gentrification of the inner areas, as is happening in American cities (Castells, 1985). Inner Kuala Lumpur will permit office construction only if it involves "high-tech" and "intelligent" office buildings that are equipped with ultra-modern features that will attract foreign investors (Malaysia, 1991e; Moult, 1991).
The net product of infinite population accretion in the urban space is the formation of gargantuan corridors (e.g. Johore-Kulai, Butterworth-Kulim) and macrocephaly. This brings to mind many other third world cities that have reached that stage and that are becoming unmanageable, such as Mexico City and Cairo. Will KLCUR reach that same predicament? One thing is quite certain - there will be a massive and dramatic intensification of urban investment in the outer fringes of existing urban conurbations as the dominant pattern of urban growth in the 1990s. The decision to locate the M$20 billion airport in the southern portion of the KLCUR in Sepang, complete with a train system and an expressway, is an indication of this trend. Corresponding with this so-called "sprawl" (with all its negative connotations) is the necessity for inter-urban management and planning policies that will cut across urban administrative boundaries as the scope of urban problems is enlarged.
A word of caution is not premature. Economic and technological forces have been termed "double-edged" (Knight, 1989). While giving wider geographical scope, they impose stresses on the traditional social and ecological structures. The indications are that the internal constraints of the Malaysian urban areas (which are determined to a large extent by colonial and historical factors) in terms of housing, intra-urban geographical mobility, etc., are already growing. For instance, another 478,000 housing units will be required in the Inner Core to cope with accommodation needs by the year 2000. Squatter communities continue to grow at the rate of 5.7 per cent per annum, occupying about 7.3 per cent of the total Inner Core area. The city's transportation system has not adequately expanded in capacity since the 1970s. There are an estimated 359,243 more vehicles clogging the roads of Kuala Lumpur today than in 1980, and these are projected to reach 1.4 million by the year 2000. It is clear that traffic volumes have reached saturation point and the journey to work is becoming increasingly time consuming and unpleasant. In addition, there are pollution and other environmental problems. The added pressure on land and land prices will lead to greater verticalization and heavier investment in equipment to maintain environmental quality.
Can urban growth resulting from this economic growth be contained? If not, then economic development can be viewed as counterproductive when rapid urbanization undermines the proper and orderly growth and development of cities. Again, the dysfunctionality of urban areas will be exacerbated by political and/or administrative constraints on action. Yet it is irrefutable that major surgery will be needed to redress problems, and to remove structures that are not in consonance with the functions of the global society. The urban restructuring in many US cities today can be seen as a response to the contemporary globalization process (Soja, 1987). This will prove to be the most serious challenge for Malaysia for the 1990s and beyond - how to decongest cities and realign the dynamics of metropolitan growth. In this respect, the problems of urban growth should not be seen myopically as propelled by national forces and policies in the traditional mode. Rather, the focus should be on a vista that has an outward-looking perspective and stretches beyond the national boundary- a vision that understands the nature of the forces, the principles, and the processes by which these forces are linked to or transformed into local spatial and urban congruities. In other words, what is involved is not just a traditional concern with the channelling of growth and the systematic provision of infrastructures but foreseeing the transformation of urban areas into a new and different set of relationships within a new paradigm of cities that is geared to the global economy.