Forcing Evolution in Urban Planning

urban planning

H.P. Looi, President of Malaysia’s Green building confederation, sees an answer to Asia’s transportation challenges in new forms of urban development.   

Whilst the 20th century saw millions of Asian lifted from poverty, the current century will be notable for its urbanisation trend and the rise of mega-cities and linear conurbation. A reflexive reaction from the twin-trends of urbanisation and increasing population will be an emphasis on public transportation and the vehicular highway. Not so intuitive however are the following sub trends:

  •   The rise of the middle-class and the nouveau-riche whilst increasingly opting for private car use, thereby demanding the need for ever more expressways, will also demand safe-clean and efficient mass public transportation.
  •   Sustainability and the environment from an institutional perspective will be mainly driven by the various frameworks defined by the UN. An alternative ‘understanding’ of the environment percolating from the ‘grass-roots’ may, however, differ from official understanding. 

The current importance of transportation in Asia can be attested by the popularity of ‘transportation’ in the calendar of regional events (exhibitions and conferences). The ramping up of engineering works with major MRT being planned or built in Jakarta, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and the southern cities of China and the planning of new highways in the economies of Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand etc. are key indicators of this trend.

The traditional concept of the urban form defined and dominated by the vehicular expressway now requires new paradigms:

(1)      A key idea currently dominating the urban-model of carbon-reduction is ‘compactness’ and density of development as a reducer of transportation emission and carbon footprint.

(2)      Restating the pre-eminence of the pedestrian in urban planning, the conundrum of pedestrian AND vehicular friendly networks will force planners to integrate the 3 main forms of networks in urban planning; (i) green pedestrian network), (ii) blue public transportation network, and (iii) yellow vehicular network.

(3)      The definition of the smallest urban sub unit which is ‘self-contained’, has a definable centre, bounded by the 15 min (or 30 min walking distance depending on interpretation) and contains diversity in development (mixed used) as key-building block of an eco-city. An agglomeration of such eco-units (or eco-cells) forms a self-sustained eco-city. A prime example of this would be the Tianjin Eco-city. Whilst many of the ideas of the eco-cell can be said to be influenced by the New-Urbanism movement, the idea of mixed-use planning and especially the inclusion of social (or affordable) housing within more upmarket developments in sustainable urban planning may face resistance from local urban planners and property developers.

(4)      Alternative views on sustainable planning, which may be gaining traction amongst urban planners are encapsulated in the idea of the “liveable” city. Liveability, an ostensibly ‘slippery term’, contains ideas which may be concessions to grass-roots perceptions, such as:

  •   Public and green spaces;
  •   Pedestrian friendly streets;
  •  The inclusion of ecological and biodiversity considerations in the urban landscape;
  •   Public health and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design;
  •  The presence of a safe, efficient and comfortable public transportation network

(5)      The original idea of compactness and development density as a model for carbon reduction has been criticised as an over simplification of complex travel-behaviour models which may not result in the desired reduction in private car use (Breheny-1995, Feitelson & Verhoef-2001). Alternative urban forms suggested include ‘corridor-development’ and the ‘multi-centred city’ as an effective reducer of transportation related carbon-emission (Williams et-al 2000).

In conclusion, whilst current ideas of eco-cities and sustainable-transportation are changing the geometry of cities and urban centres, the final form of an eco-city is still evolving, driven by the conflicting demands of ‘institutional frameworks’ and the perception of grass-roots.

About Looi Hip Peu

President, Malaysia Green Building Confederation

Ir. H.P. Looi, is a practicing engineer with more than 30 years experience. He started his career with Schlumberger Overseas SA in Indonesia  followed by over 30 solid years as a design engineer in building services in Malaysia. His experience ranges from the large industrial complex to commercial, townships and small individual bungalows. The firm of which he is now a principal (Mektricon Sdn Bhd) has commissioned projects in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, and Seychelles.

Ir Looi is an active member of the engineering community. He was the Hon Secretary of ACEM from 2003 to 2006 and again from 2010 to 2012. He is a member of the GBI Accreditation Panel, member of the PAM-ACEM workgroup responsible for drafting and establishing the GBI RNC & NRNC environmental rating tool and is currently a key member of the GBI workgroup responsible for the ‘GBI Township’ environmental assessment tool. 

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