Culture is at the beginning and the end of development
(Léopold Sédar Senghor)
Published on 19 August 2011
I ECHO the call by Tun Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid in his capacity as Badan Warisan Malaysia president on the need to have acomprehensive Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment (CHIA) for our built heritage “Comprehensive assesment needed for KL’s Chinatown” (The Star, Aug 16).
In my layman’s understanding, the CHIA is similar to what an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is all about when it comes to assessing certain crucial developments taking place at a given site.
CHIA should be applied urgently and made mandatory without hesitation, now that many old buildings have been bulldozed to the ground to accommodate progress in the name of national development.
No one would like to see their properties “flattened”, even though they would be compensated.
More so will be the frustrations if the properties have heritage value of more than 100 years of existence. Surely what goes with it will not just be the physical aspect but the soul of its culture and legacy as well.
This is the scenario facing some of the 30 pre-war shoplots owners in Jalan Sultan, Kuala Lumpur, located within Malaysia’s biggest Chinatown.
Their dilemma involving the realities of the Goverment’s biggest transportation project, the My Rapid Transit (MRT), and the impending acquisition of their properties should be of concern to all.
As much as we want the long-awaited MRT project to be fast-tracked to solve traffic woes in our capital city, must we do it at the expense of the loss of a built heritage that has been there for over a century?
Malaysia, being a late comer to the MRT, should seek the expertise and experience of notably Singapore and Hong Kong in solving this matter. They, too, had built heritage of over a century old, if not older.
Just don’t tell me that they too took the easy way out by demolishing “only some and preserving more”.
I am always intrigued to see how well an old part of a city is being preserved, sustained, rehabilated in the name of heritage, in the cities I have travelled to, such as Sydney, Zurich, and even nearby Singapore. They’re akin to showcasing the city’s “antiques and collectibles” amid the modern and affluent cityscape.
We, too, can do the same as Malaysia’s Chinatown, in the words of Tun Ahmad Sarji, “make up part of the original township of modern KL with roots going back to the 1850s”. What is demolished will never be the same again.
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