Local Counsel - PJ tops again

MORE and more people, together with their family members have been flocking from villages to towns for economic reasons and survival. Owing to this rural-urban migration, it is inevitable that the urban dwellers pay more and more attention to the question of liveability. Hence, there are institutions that rank the liveability of cities.

The reputable ones are Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Mercer Global Liveable Ranking and Monocle. They are international organisations. Consequently, not all the cities of smaller countries are listed. For example, EIU only listed Kuala Lumpur and Penang though there are 13 cities in Malaysia.

The cities are Kuala Lumpur, Penang Island, Ipoh, Shah Alam, Petaling Jaya, Johor, Malacca City, Kota Kinabalu, Alor Star, Kuala Terangganu, Miri, Kuching North and Kuching South.

A new outfit was formed recently. It is the World Wildlife Web-Earth Hour City Challenge (WWW-Earth Hour City Challenge). It is a competition among cities that have taken steps to minimise the use of resources and at the same time engage their communities to make positive environmental impacts.

The WWW-Earth Hour City Challenge is different from the established liveable cities ranking outfits. It runs a competition among the cities within a country. It also pays more attention to the cities in the United States.

For Malaysia, only four cities are involved in the WWW-Earth Hour City Challenge. They are Kuching North, Malacca City, Penang Island and Petaling Jaya. No clarifications have been given about why the rest of the cities are not on the list.

Of the four cities, Petaling Jaya, commonly referred to as PJ, has once again been named the National Earth Hour City for 2016. It was also proclaimed as the winner last year. The efforts of the Petaling Jaya City Council officers must be commended.

According to the report about the WWW Earth City Challenge, among the things done by the officers are assessment rebates for eco-conscious residents. The city council has also encouraged the residents to make full use of the PJ City Bus instead of being too dependent on cars for transport.

Despite PJ being the top-ranked city according to WWW-Earth Hour City Challenge, there are still complaints by the residents. For example, a newspaper reported on Oct 13 that a leader of a residents' association argued that there is a need to improve security.

An allocation of RM765,000 for closed-circuit television cameras is not adequate. The mayor of Petaling Jaya, Mohd Azizi Mohd, is aware of the demands of the residents. According to him, the 2017 Budget for Petaling Jaya City Hall is RM479.49 million. This is RM82.31 million more than the 2016 budget.

It is useful to recall that about nine years ago, a newspaper published that "Petaling Jaya has the highest crime rate in Selangor".

Furthermore, Malaysians are not noted to be civic conscious. Even in Petaling Jaya, a city of many colleges and universities, it was reported that during a food festival, the traffic police issued "some 400 summonses" and the MBPJ issued another 300 summonses.

Although there are air-conditioned and relatively clean public buses in some towns and cities, Malaysians still prefer to drive to their workplaces, despite the fact that it is costly to park in areas that are near their places of work.

For example, in Penang, despite the air-conditioned buses and relatively cheap fares with rebates for senior citizens, the Rapid buses are usually not full.

The bulk of the bus passengers are the poorer senior citizens and foreign workers. Government officers and middle-income workers still use their cars as the means of transport.

In the past, Malaysia did have its own liveability rankings. All the local authorities were involved in the liveability rankings run by the Federal Town and Country Planning Department. Sadly, it only lasted a few years. So far, the officers of the Town and Country Planning Department have not given any explanation as to why the yearly rankings had been terminated.

The federal government, more specifically, the Ministry of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government should direct the Federal Town and Country Planning Department to revive the ranking of the 13 cities and municipalities every year or once in two years. Better still, if an NGO or a university involved in urban matters sets up a division to rank the liveability of the cities in the near future.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com