Keep rural areas rural but give them vigour, says academic

The government should provide modern resources to rural folk while taking care to preserve their way of life, says a sociologist.

PETALING JAYA: A sociologist has called for the invigoration of rural areas without turning them into inhuman urban centres.

Denison Jayasooria, a fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, told FMT the government should provide modern resources to rural folk while taking care to preserve their way of life.

He was commenting on a recent call by Hew Gill of Sunway University for the building of cities across Malaysia to ensure the availability of quality healthcare and education to as many people as possible.

Jayasooria said he feared that unbridled urbanisation would have an adverse effect on the quality of life of Malaysians.

Denison Jayasooria.

“Cities are becoming too large and impersonal and there are major challenges to the quality of life of citizens, especially for those with low incomes,” he said.

He cited the lack of affordable housing and the deterioration of communities into impersonal neighbourhoods as major challenges.

The lack of deep personal connections among city folk could lead to loneliness and depression, he added.

Among the facilities most needed by rural folk, he said, were good public transport systems and easy connectivity to cities.

“We see this in Japan,” he said. “People commute daily to Tokyo because they live outside the city for the sake of their families.”

He said ease of travel would give rural folk quick access to medical and educational facilities in the cities.

He described the current state of national development as being out of balance, saying there was too much investment in cities and not enough in rural areas.

Carmelo Ferlito, a fellow at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, said it would be too simplistic to say, as Gill did, that urbanisation is the way to go for the country or the world.

“Let’s not forget we need agriculture and farming, and such activities cannot be conducted in the cities,” he said.

He said he could conceive of a development strategy in which quality services are made available to rural folk without destroying their environment.

Yeoh Seng Guan of Monash University Malaysia pointed out that the government did launch a national urbanisation policy in 2006 and that one of its objectives was to provide liveable urban environments with identity and with access to modern facilities.

He acknowledged the benefits of living in cities, citing job opportunities and a diverse environment, but he called for solutions to familiar urban issues such as the lack of green spaces and problems with public transportation, pollution and waste management.