Green and gated (II), but also really hated: The right to the city in KL

In a previous post, I expressed my surprise at how ‘gatedness’ has become a social aspiration in KL. Therefore, rather than rejecting the formation of gated communities, it is actually something actively promoted and blatantly marketed by the real estate sector (Tedong et al., 2016).

Less surprising, however, is the controversy that this phenomenon generates. Constructing residential enclosures necessarily implies that less affluent fractions of the urban society are left out. In an alternate world with unlimited land this may be less contentious. But when the realisation of such real estate projects is founded upon take-overs and re-makes of once-public lands, it is not difficult to imagine why this consistently hits a raw nerve in affected communities around KL.

The bigger irony in KL’s land politics lies in how such land acquisition to build green residences often involves threatening existing green spaces.

The tussle over the fate of Taman Rimba Kiara, KL’s last remaining green lung

One day residents of Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) noticed a unforeseen City Hall notice regarding a new residential project that would occupy (read: remove) up to 47.5% of Taman Rimba Kiara:

‘Say bye bye to your green space because #tradeoff #development #weneedroads #weneedhomes’ (source:

Residents first protested this move on emotional grounds – that green spaces, especially lungs such as Taman Rimba Kiara, should be preserved for public use, particularly in the context of an overwhelming concretised landscape like KL.

It’s a space for bird-watching – hard to do that among the skyscrapers in most areas in KL. (source:
Children get to engage with the greens here as well. (source:
Recreational cycling away from the stresses of KL’s congested roads. (source:

“Land under Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan should not be involved in high-density projects… you can keep it reasonable or keep it green.”

P. Gunasilan, a retired town planner interviewed by The Malaysian Insight

Authorities who permitted this development took greater heed when these residents filed a public law suit on the legality of this permit.

A tale of many cities: Whose rights, what rights, what right is right?

Take out KL’s name and this narrative could easily be misplaced as the experiences of many other communities all around the world (Ealing, London; Melton, Melbourne; Bang Krachao, Bangkok; Hong Kong; Singapore). It’s a sobering reality.

I guess this poses a continual reflection on Lefebvre’s question – whose rights and what rights define the city? There are certainly legal structures in place to protect certain access to certain urban resources. Yet in this particular case, we see how there is no fixity in such safeguards, when those tasked with the responsibility of upholding them might be the very ones who disregard.

To complicate thoughts on this further, let’s consider the fact that part of this residential development is aimed to rehouse low-income residents displaced from this neighbourhood before.

David Harvey (2008: 23) has succinctly asserted a ‘collective power to reshape the processes of urbanisation’. Yet there remain many collective pockets in an urban society. The existing communities threatened, those in need of homes, nature-lovers, profit-seeking developers – when each collective group views their own interests as legitimate and principled, what is actually the rightful definition of a ‘right to the city’?

[427 words]

Read more from my sources:

  1. Agence France Presse (2013) ‘Hong Kong’s hunt for homes threatens green space’. Retrieved 19th December 2017 from
  2. Fyfe, M. (2002) ‘Melbourne’s green lungs fight for breath’. Retrieved 19th December 2017 from
  3. Harvey, D. (2008) ‘The Right to the City’, New Left Review, 2, 53, 23 – 40.
  4. Lefebvre, H. (1996) ‘The right to the city’, in K. Eleonore & L. Elizabeth (eds.) Writings on cities. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell.
  5. Looi, A. (2017) ‘TTDI residents are protesting against a new development, but do they actually have the rights?’. Retrieved 19th December 2017 from
  6. Nair, V. (2017) ‘Split in the middle over TTDI longhouse issue’. Retrieved 19th December 2017 from
  7. Reuben, E. (2017) ‘The battle to save Bangkok’s green lungs’. Retrieved 19th December from
  8. Tan, A. (2016) ‘More than 12, 000 signatures to rethink MRT line under nature reserve’. Retrieved 19th December 2017 from 
  9. Tan, W. P. (2017) ‘TTDI residents to sue City Hall to save Taman Rimba Kiara’. Retrieved 19th December from 
  10. Tedong, P. A. , Azriyati, W. N., Aziz, W. A., Hanif, N. R., Zyed, Z. A., & Aziz, N. A. (2016) ‘Planning implications of guarded neighbourhoods in Malaysia’, Community Development Journal, 52, 4, 558 – 572. 
  11. Watts, P. (2017) ‘Green space v social housing: The fight for the future of London’s oldest allotments’. Retrieved 19th December 2017 from

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Chin Lee

University College London Undergraduate Year 3 GEOG3076 Urban Political Ecology Module

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