It is time for local governments and citizens to be empowered to bring changes to our cities, writes Ronald Benjamin.
One of the focus points of progressive cities around the world is their landscape that has an aesthetic appeal, where its scenery, physical structures, land, environment, historical symbols and monuments have an integrative component that relates to the overall wellbeing of the people.
A city that is regarded as advanced takes a human-centred approach in its design: the overall psychological, physical and spiritual development of its citizens takes precedence in the overall scheme of things.
In my journey to Europe to cities like Geneva and London, I came across unique buildings, mountains that have aesthetic value, clean and transparent lakes, physical spaces for people to walk and exercise, and community gardens. These gardens not only bring communities to plough the land together but also enhance interaction and understanding among communities.
Public transport is encouraged and efficient. Toilet facilities are automated without the need for people to sit at the toilet entrance to collect dues.
Local governments in these cities play a significant role through their respective vision, mission, values and operational excellence. They engage the people and integrate their aspirations for clean, healthy and aesthetic cities that are human-centred, rather than profit-centred.
Cities are built from a unique and universal cultural vision of life, where there is a balance between identity and the universality of life.
Today, looking at our own cities, I find much to be desired. We can’t even get the basics right – like clearing rubbish and drains efficiently.
While writing this article, I got a message from a resident in Menglembu, Ipoh showing me a pile of rubbish in front of a local Tamil school. The children have to put up with the stench when they go to school.
Local citizens should ask if there is a proper assembly for them to share their aspirations for clean and healthy cities?
Are citizens themselves civic conscious and proactive in bringing about change instead of merely complaining?
Are there proper and transparent channels of contact between the mayor, his councillors and the local population?
Are there channels of communications that show progress in work being done?
Is there public accountability so that non-performers are not tolerated?
These are cultural questions that need be put in place before we aspire to be among the ranks of developed cities that respect a unique, universal cultural vision of life.
There is a primordial fear among certain national and political leaders that the moment local government elections are revived in Malaysia, the ethno-religious leadership of their parties will lose out.
This backward ethno-religious tribalism and superiority will continue to erode the multi-ethnic and multi-religious character of Malaysian cities if left unchecked.
We might lose the opportunity to draw tourists and business entities with a cosmopolitan make-up that respect integrity and are keen to address issues of the health and wellbeing of citizens, public transport, environment while providing attractive business opportunities.
It is time for local governments and citizens to be empowered to bring changes to our cities.
For a start, revamp our education system and inculcate human values of love for God, nature, fellow human beings and solidarity. These are far more important than the restless identity politics that
The Rukun Negara should be the basis for this endeavour. Creating a vibrant city should be part of the education curriculum.
Secondly, revive local government elections to create opportunities for leaders to emerge from the grassroots level. These budding leaders could provide ideas on how to develop cities without worrying about party affiliations.
We have to break from elite-driven political parties that tend to drive the country from a limited ideological perspective.
Unless these cultural and structural changes are visualised and implemented, we are not going to reach our potential. We will continue to argue over the basics of why our garbage has not been cleared from our cities – when in reality our cultural garbage remains.