KUALA LUMPUR: Amid the hustle and bustle of the city, living pieces of Malaysia’s history lie tucked away where generations have lived quietly and anonymously.
But canny developers know where these havens of calm are. So do the authorities. And they see opportunity, not sentimental memories.
When developers and councils connive together, there is precious little that home-owners can do to stop the bulldozers coming up the road.
As you enter Jalan Abdullah in Bangsar, you notice the attractive wooden houses, many nearly 100 years old. These family homes have been passed down through four generations but this may be the end of the line.
They withstood British colonialism and the ravages of Japanese rule. But their time may now have run out, not at the hands of foreign invaders but Malaysia’s own rapacious developers.
Ratnasothy Kandiah, 86, has lived on Jalan Abdullah for 80 years. She gazes at the tar road in front of her house and tells FMT she can still remember when it was red gravel.
Built in 1939, her house was passed down from her grandparents. She uses their furniture to this day. Her husband died in 2017, and now she lives there with her two sons and her maid.
She says wistfully this was always a peaceful neighbourhood until a madcap rush to development began not so long ago.
Ratnasothy is very concerned about what might happen. She has heard that the land next door is earmarked for a high rise building.
She is not aware of any plans for her own home but recalls the times developers have knocked at her door asking her to sell them her house.
She has been offered millions. “That’s just nuts!” she exclaims. “And anyway I will never sell my house. But now I am anxious every day.”
Ratnasothy is not alone. Other residents have been approached as well with similarly over-the-top offers.
Home-owners also claim to be harassed by state agencies, greedy for major development projects.
It came as a shock to residents when they found out that the area was going to be re-zoned from residential to major commercial in the KL2020 Plan.
All their protests and petitions have had no effect, and the neighbourhood is already changing.
Some properties have been turned into restaurants to cater to the influx of newcomers. The sudden increase in activity has sent air and noise pollution levels skyrocketing. Heavy traffic passes their doorsteps. The overloaded drainage system now floods every time it rains.
Another resident, See Lap Seng, 61, cannot remember the last time she breathed in fresh air after the forest reserve next to her house was cleared for a three storey TNB development.
See is the second generation to live in her 1940 house. The original structure is intact as she has only ever renovated her kitchen area. She still keeps the wooden wall in memory of her father. “He liked the wall, so I keep it,” she smiles.
Neighbour T K Sharmini has also experienced being approached by developers trying to persuade her parents to sell their home with outlandish offers.
Longtime resident J Jegathesan, 75, confirms the neighbourhood that he grew up in is no longer what it was.
“It’s painful to see the residential neighbourhood being turned into a commercial area. Malls and high buildings will wreck our precious memories of the old days.
“There is so much of sentimental value here,” he says. He looks suddenly resolute. “I doubt my neighbours will bow to the developers.”
His own home was affected by the massive development last year when a retaining wall collapsed. He had to bear the financial consequences as the contractors refused to be held responsible.
M Ali, deputy chairman of Save Kuala Lumpur (SKL), told FMT the government does not seem to be bothered about saving precious heritage.
“Our voices are dismissed,” he said. “There is no consultation with us. The new government is endorsing the previous regime’s policies and style.
“We have many times called on the government to leave this area as purely residential. But they never listen to us.”
Residents have repeatedly voiced their views in meetings with Kuala Lumpur MPs but to date, they are still in the dark, waiting for clarifications and explanations.
“We were disappointed they were not consulted about any potential development that would have an impact on them. They were not even informed when developments were approved,” Ali said.
DBKL promised residents they would receive Traffic and Environmental Impact Assessment reports last month. They still have not received them.
SKL is now urging the whole deal between the developer and the previous government should be revisited as there was no open tender, no transparency, and no consideration of the impact on stakeholders.
“Some residents say that it would be timely to bring in the SPRM to right a wrong, instead of insisting that they give up their rights so that the government of today can fulfil their responsibilities to the developer,” said Ali.
“We implore the PM to urgently intervene to ensure the interests of the community are given priority over commercial interests.”
It seems clear that certain people are determined to swing the wrecking ball in Jalan Abdullah. And they have the influence to ensure it happens.
One thing is certain, Jalan Abdullah is not the only neighbourhood they have their beady eye on.