Local Counsel - KKB a legacy of Charles Reade

31 Aug 2015 / 18:43 H.

    KUALA Kubu Baru (KKB) is a small town in Hulu Selangor district in the state of Selangor. It is about one hour's drive from Kuala Lumpur.
    There are good reasons to visit KKB. The town centre is a unique sight. The four rows of three-storey buildings look solid. Many who walk into the buildings will be surprised at how wide they are. They are wider than most two or three-storey shophouses in Malaysian towns.
    As noted in a booklet by One Red Blazer, "the four rows of quaint shophouses built in the 1930s separated by two wide roads in the town centre are definitely the top icons for the town".
    According to the writer, "The exclusive designs of the buildings in the town explain the exchange and combination of East and West cultures during the colonial period. Old shophouses with chimneys, front façade with Chinese art ornaments, old fire station with arched windows, old traffic police department with cupola and the list goes on. The beauty of the town has not only attracted tourists but also film-makers and advertisement producers".
    Kamalruddin Shamsudin, the retired deputy director-general of the Federal Town Planning Department, describes the town in his book Charles Reade – Town Planning British Malaya (1921-1929).
    "KKB has become a hot spot for cyclists and photography enthusiasts, especially during the weekends," he says in the book launched on Aug 14 in the town.
    For those who are interested in the history of town planning in Malaysia, KKB is a must-visit place. It was the work of Charles Reade, the first town planner in Malaysia.
    Reade was one of the followers of Ebenezer Howard, the proponent of garden cities in England in the early 1900s. He was invited to Australia to become the first government town planner in South Australia.
    He played a substantial role in ensuring that Adelaide, the capital of South Australia developed into a garden city. He designed Colonel Light Garden. The city is acknowledged as one of the top liveable cities in the world.
    A good lecturer of town planning in Malaysia should ensure that his or her students visit KKB.
    Reade came to Malaya in 1921 to be the government town planner. In his short stay here, he not only established a town planning system, but also managed to get the government to pass the Town Planning Enactment in 1923. He also drew the plans of several towns.
    Reade was in Malaya until 1929 when he left for Africa. He died in South Africa in 1933.
    It is heartening that the KKB town centre still stands without much modification.
    It is unlikely that new towns will have very wide streets and spacious buildings. The trend today is to build high density skyscrapers. There are multi-storey shopping malls. New condominiums are above 50 storeys high.
    It has been almost a century since Reade came to Malaya to be the government town planner. Since then, many Malaysians have pursued town planning degrees from local universities or those in England or Australia. Besides the town planning departments in the state governments, local authorities also have town planning departments and town planners.
    Under the existing laws, town planners are supposed to play very important roles. No one can build a building without engaging a town planner to prepare a layout plan and getting permission from the One Stop Centre (OSC) in a local authority. Here, the town planner of the municipal council plays an important role.
    If the OSC is not able to make a decision, the applicant is passed on to the State Planning Committee, which is chaired by the mentri besar or chief minister with state executive councillors and some senior officers as members. The state town planners play an important role here.
    Yet the quality of life in the towns and cities in Malaysia is nothing to shout about. Many have to use private vehicles to go to their offices or factories. In the process, they have to endure traffic congestion and the behaviour of frustrated motorists.
    Have the town planners failed in their responsibilities? Have the politicians taken over the power of the town planners in building the towns and cities?
    There is an urgent need to amend the Town and Country Planning Act to ensure that the town planners play a bigger role in the development of the towns and cities.
    Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com


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