Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia
The city of Kuala Lumpur is both a vibrant expression of post-colonial nation-building and a formidable expression of the entanglements of a Malaysian national identity with global political Islam and Malay identifications. The attempts to manifest imaginations and power of the nation over time in post-colonial Malaysia through a city such as Kuala Lumpur may well continue to keep the focus on this city as the site of continuing contestations over what is ‘national’, what is ‘global’ and what inevitably is rooted in local sensibilities.
Formed in the 1850s the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur is the national capital of Malaysia. The city has an estimated population of 1.6 million (2006 census). Malaysia’s rich and diverse urban history developed primarily from the second half of the twentieth century when it shifted from a largely rural to a largely urban population. Following independence in 1957 and the formation of Malaysia in 1963, Kuala Lumpur became the administrative centre and took centre-stage in national development. From the mid-1980s Kuala Lumpur underwent policy shifts, notably privatization and economic liberalization.
It was fairly evident that the centralization of political authority, particularly within the Kuala Lumpur Federal territory, had made Kuala Lumpur the focus of spectacular mega-projects involving government-linked conglomerates and tycoons. Major development and supporting policy shifts were undertaken and within two decades there were major transformations and dramatic landscape changes not just in Kuala Lumpur, but in many of Malaysia’s urban regions. Since the early 1990s, Kuala Lumpur has again undergone another reorientation from local node to a national node in global networks. A principal aspect of the development of Kuala Lumpur, other that the expected population increase, spatial expansion and economic growth, has been the dramatic nature of infrastructural change. This change represents a Malay-centred conception of national identity through architectural designs and buildings.
As Part of the 1984 Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan, modern telecommunications and transport infrastructures were emphasized to ensure that Kuala Lumpur was building for a global network. A new light rapid-transit system (LRT), a commuter train-network and the people-mover rapid transit (PRT) in the commercial core of Kuala Lumpur were completed in 2005, all seeking to reposition Malaysia. The Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2020 indicates that the population base is set to increase from 1.4 million to 2.2 million over the next 20 years; and that optimizing limited land resources will be a priority. The new Kuala Lumpur 2020 Strategy Plan was undertaken in the early 2000s to revise the 1984 Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan and to cope with the unprecedented growth and changes in the urban landscape.
Our research in Kuala Lumpur includes a longitudinal study following the relocation of squatter settlement communities to new low-cost, high-rise complexes. This work has served as a catalyst to broader enquiry into the workings of national development, ethnicity and identity politics. Partners include the University of Malaya, University Kebangsaan Malaya, and University Sains Malaysia. Yaso Nadarajah leads the work of the Global Cities Institute in Kuala Lumpur.
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