Ta­man Tugu to­kenism

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

AS a na­ture lover who likes noth­ing bet­ter than a day trekking in the jun­gle, I can tes­tify to the unique her­itage of Malaysia’s an­cient and richly bio­di­verse forests, unique com­plex ecosys­tems of plants and an­i­mals which are in need of pro­tec­tion and con­ser­va­tion.

It was thus with alarm that I read of the plan to cre­ate Tugu Park in the cap­i­tal city cen­tre with trans­planted plants and an­i­mals and other “tourist at­trac­tions” at a cost of more than RM600 mil­lion. I don’t get it, na­ture has granted us the price­less unique gift of trop­i­cal jun­gles only 20 min­utes from the city cen­tre so why even try to rein­vent the wheel here? At what cost and for what pur­pose? Even sug­gest­ing that such a park should be a pri­or­ity re­flects a ter­ri­ble ten­dency among city plan­ners for grandios­ity and to­kenism.

If the park is in­tended to serve a sim­i­lar pur­pose to that of Lon­don’s Hyde Park and New York’s Cen­tral Park, then surely an­other park like Lake Gar­dens with min­i­mal main­te­nance re­quire­ments would serve the pur­pose well and at a frac­tion of the cost.

Out­side the cap­i­tal, devel­op­ers and mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils have de­stroyed and built on green spa­ces. More than 10 years ago, a vast tract of the Bukit Sun­gai Pu­tih Per­ma­nent For­est Re­serve (gazetted in 1932) just 20 min­utes from the city cen­tre, and next to my neigh­bour­hood, was degazetted and de­stroyed for hous­ing projects. More re­cently, a de­vel­oper de­stroyed the re­main­ing green lung in our hous­ing es­tate, a forested hill. Jun­gle paths on nearby Bukit Apek are threat­ened with “de­vel­op­ment” de­spite the fact that hun­dreds of city folk flock there ev­ery week­end for the well­be­ing that comes from hill climb­ing in pris­tine sur­round­ings.

Be­sides this de­struc­tion of green lungs in and near our Ta­man, we have ob­served the felling of so many large old trees by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. One of the most beau­ti­ful and cool­ing fea­tures of Malaysian towns and vil­lages is our her­itage of banyan tress and even these are not spared. Just re­cently, three huge healthy look­ing banyan trees were hacked down near our lo­cal mar­ket.

One ex­cuse was that they were diseased and cut­ting them down pre­vents con­tam­i­na­tion. When, some time ago, our res­i­dents as­so­ci­a­tion had asked the Ka­jang Coun­cil to prune the trees around the only play­ground in our Ta­man the coun­cil sug­gested they cut down all the trees in­stead. And although we said, “No way”, a short time later the coun­cil felled ALL the trees around the play­ground that were at least 40 years old. Their ex­cuse was that the trees were diseased.

When we no­tice the many “Nak po­tong pokok” signs around the area, we re­alise that it costs ratepay­ers a few thou­sand ring­git to have an im­pe­ri­ous banyan tree cut down in its prime.

How are these de­ci­sions made? It is vi­tal that the For­est Re­search In­sti­tute of Malaysia in­ves­ti­gate whether trees cut by lo­cal coun­cils have in­deed been stricken by tree-in­flict­ing dis­ease. State gov­ern­ments should be ac­count­able as to the num­ber of trees cut and the amount spent by mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils on such con­tracts. The MACC must in­ves­ti­gate if there are favoured con­trac­tors who are given the bulk of these con­tracts.

The Se­lan­gor gov­ern­ment has pro­posed degazetting 106.65ha of four for­est re­serves that form part of the Se­lan­gor State Park for the con­struc­tion of the Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road, also known as the East Klang Val­ley Ex­press­way. By degazetting the Ulu Lan­gat For­est Re­serve, Bukit Sungei Puteh For­est Re­serve, Am­pang For­est Re­serve, and Ulu Gom­bak For­est Re­serve, these forests will lose their “for­est re­serve” sta­tus and will be fair game for devel­op­ers. The Se­lan­gor State Park hap­pens to be the third largest park in Penin­su­lar Malaysia. It was gazetted in 2007 as a state park un­der the Na­tional Forestry Act En­act­ment 2005 of Se­lan­gor and is man­aged by the Forestry Depart­ment of Se­lan­gor.

These forests are not only rich in bio­di­ver­sity but pro­vide cru­cial wa­ter catch­ments.

This grandiose Tugu Park plan is an­other bla­tant ex­am­ple of the un­equal shar­ing of our col­lec­tive re­sources.

A so­cially re­spon­si­ble ur­ban pol­icy aimed at en­sur­ing the over­all phys­i­cal and men­tal health of all our peo­ple and es­pe­cially our chil­dren, would pro­vide a park near ev­ery hous­ing es­tate. A sound ur­ban tree pol­icy would pro­tect and sus­tain green lungs and en­sure that all new de­vel­op­ment in­cludes a green lung or park.

This need is even more ur­gent around low-cost high-rise hous­ing. Sin­ga­pore’s Ur­ban Re­de­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity has seen this need with a pol­icy of “Pro­vid­ing 0.8ha of green park space for ev­ery 1,000 per­sons and in­creas­ing green­ery in ev­ery high rise build­ings to 50ha by 2030”. Do we have such a pol­icy in Malaysia?

In con­trast, to­ken green ele­phant ven­tures such as this pro­posed Tugu Park must be seen in the light of the de­struc­tion of real forests within 30 min­utes of the city cen­tre and the stress­ful long-term im­pact on the phys­i­cal and men­tal well­be­ing of cit­i­zens de­prived of lo­cal green spa­ces.

Anne Munro-Kua Ka­jang

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