Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Put abandoned buildings to clever use

RESIDENTS of low-cost flats in Bandar Bukit Sentosa 3 and Bandar Bukit Beruntung can hopefully sleep easy now that a RM15.6 million budget has been allocated by the prime minister to repair the broken roofs and improve the condition of their homes.

The story, which appeared several weeks ago, reminded me of the house-buying frenzy of the '90s that gave birth to these two townships. It was a time when city folk, frustrated by the daily gridlock to and from work, looked beyond the city's bright lights to settle down.

At the time, Bukit Beruntung, Bukit Sentosa, and several others nearby, came into being as developers saw them as viable satellite townships akin to Petaling Jaya in the early '70s.

The marketing hype that painted a rosy future for these townships as the "second PJ" churned up a buying frenzy that blinded purchasers to advertising fluff -- that the real PJ of the '70s was less than 20km away from Kuala Lumpur. The "second" PJ, on the other hand, was almost three times further, not to mention that the highway serving the latter would be later tolled, and toll charges, like fuel prices, would rise.

Many also forgot that the future of PJ was well charted during its formative years, supported by various economic activities in and around the Batu Tiga Industrial estate and Old Klang Road.

The townships of the north, however, did not have such advantages. Rawang of the '90s did not have the industrial might of Batu Tiga in the '70s which had formed a strong foundation for PJ.

Unlike PJ, the new townships were not located along the route to a port -- or an airport -- to tap the economic spillovers from regular traffic.

Today, one can only sympathise with the dwellers of Bukit Beruntung and Bukit Sentosa -- and the lesser heard Bandar Baru Sungai Buaya and Lembah Beringin. Although these places are now a far cry from the cowboy towns they used to be, some still bear grim reminders of the past.

But as the Malay adage goes, "Berat mata memandang, berat lagi bahu yang memikul" (the load being heavier for the bearer than it appears), one cannot possibly fathom the frustrations and sufferings of the owners who were caught in the situation. One can only marvel at the brave ones who dared to call the urban outbacks home.

Often when I take a detour off the highway to visit friends staying at Bukit Beruntung and Bukit Sentosa, I wondered if the abandoned sections of these townships could be revived and put to some economic use since water and electricity supply have been available for more than a decade.

I recall watching a documentary back in the late '80s on how some Taiwanese turned a block of unoccupied building into a hydroponic farm and fishery to grow vegetables and rear fish for food and the aquarium.

What started out as a means to overcome land shortage by creative re-use of an abandoned property gave birth to an entirely new economic activity and sustenance for the inhabitants.

Could the same not be done for Bukit Beruntung, Bukit Sentosa and their neighbours?

It would certainly require more than entrepreneurial gumption to make it work, but isn't it better than leaving the buildings unoccupied and at the mercy of vermin and vagrants?

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