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Date: 26-Oct-2011

  When using big words and r concepts, it is good to under- stand their proper meaning in all its breadth and depth. Otherwise, we mn the risk of using them intuitively, often based on half-formed and superficial impres- sions.

Lately, there has been much talk about making Kuala Lumpur a world-class city. Many are confident that by the year 2020, KL will join the ranks of the world's Top 20 most liveable cib ies.

Yet looking at the state of our vibrant and much-loved capital, I get a sense of anxiety that in our quest for world-class status, we are doing little more than imitating the physi- cal look and feel of other regional centres like Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore.

Although these cosmopolitan places are in many wdys worth emulating, we need to remind ourselves that unlike KL, they are city states rather than actual country capitals; their Manhattan- like cityscapes are a direct result of their tiny size and land-hungry status; their culture is predominant- ly immigrant rather than indige- nous; and it was these huge waves of migration in recent history that forced them to undergo aggressive urbanisation.

All of this is in stark contrast to KL's own position and function as a city.

Instead of copying and pasting from other sources, how about we examine the real meaning of the word "world-class"?

Let's start with a few simple obser- vations: ~ A world-class city actively cre- ates shared non-commercial spaces like town squares, parks, gardens, fountains and monuments.

These invite and encourage the city's residents to interact, and to fill the space with their own activities.

~ A world-class city is inclusive. It embraces diversity and individuality.

It is fi-iendly to the elderly and the disabled as well as to those in search of themselves and/or representing the creative fringe. It doesn't matter if one goes around on a wheelchair or a skate- board.

~ Most importantly, a world-class city tells a story - a compelling, coherent and poetic story of its mots, its forefathers, its struggles and its achievements.

On this count, ill the past handful of years we have seen several living, breathing chapters of the KL story ripped out and shredded: There was the venerated girls' school that produced many of our country's elite; the city's grandest mansion that encapsulated the pre-war commodity booms and penchant for glamorous living; the leprosarium that used to be the pride of the Commonwealth and forged our leadership role in fighting topical diseases; the jail that was once a cornerstone of establishing law and order in a young, emerging town; and many others,

I wonder what kind of story the glass-and-steel condos, malls and offices that have taken their place will tell our grandchildren.

~ A city's story and its landmarks make the city instantly recognisable, giving it what the old Romans called genius loci - "a sense of place".

What about KL's sense of place? What makes KL, KL - other than the glittering Petronas Twin Towers?

Is it not its mining origins and early colonial history? Its historic, ethnically defined communities? Its unique pockets of old forest and kampuog life hidden within the city?

Once we have bulldozed most of these away in the name of 'rede- velopment', 'revitalisation', 'mod- ernisation', 'upgrading' and other fancy PR terms, what will be left?

~ A world-class city's uniqueness serves as a magnet to attract creative and educated people from across the world.

They come here because they want to be around other creative people.

In the process, they generate demand for sophisticated, world~ class culture and entertainment.

~ Lastly, a world-class city cares about the environment.

I was once a foreign student in a tiny American college town, and was struck by the presence of half a dozen large recycling bins outside every single building, no matter how few people it housed.

This was 20 years ago. Nowadays, ~ 1 send the mountains of plastic 1 have accumulated during the week to our neighbourhood Jusco, and wonder how many of my neighbours bother to do the same;

The likely answer is, few, if any  I won't go into the intractable issue of our sidewalks, bus stops and green areas being littered with ankle-deep rubbish; enough has been said and written about that.

This brings to mind the seminal book by Ziauddin Sardar, a prominent Muslim scholar and post-colonial studies expert, called The Consumption of Kuala Lumpur.

Indeed, that is what today's KLites do: consume.

We consume the city's shopping malls and coffee shops, parldng lots and night markets, highways and tunnels. What do we give back?

I have friends in eastern Europe who are barely eking out a living yet spend the bulk of their savings and free time volunteering to restore heritage buildings; tn protect local wildlife; to organise amateur thea- tre.

Much of their life seems to be about serving the community. How many publicity campaigns and edu- cation reforms will it take before we can do the same, riglrt here and now?

The truth is, it is not pol{ticians and their pronouncements that make a world-class city.

It is not property developers, high- way operators.and marketing gurus, either.

It is we, the people who live and come to work here on a daily basis.

Our city has a wealth of ingredi- ents that can be translated into world-class attributes.

But ultimately it is up to us how we recognise, preserve and cultivate them.

Shehzad Martin Gombak Kuala Lumpur

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What makes Kuala Lumpur
It is people who make a world-class city

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