Kuala Lumpur as ‘A World Class City’

In the 1990s, global financial capitals began spreading across the Asia-Pacific region. Major cities including Kuala Lumpur began to experience fundamental restructuring of their built environments to reconstitute the urban core for global management and service functions in the form of mega projects aimed at intentionally creating world class cities (Douglas et al. 2008). According to Douglas et al. (2008), as cities are the principle bases for foreign direct investment, both national and local authorities have been fully engaged in the business of attracting transnational capital to the city. It is hoped that these investments will build up the urban economy and bring about an increase in demand for the city’s workforce, and in turn create an enlarged market for local businesses. Kuala Lumpur has welcomed these developments in the global economy, on the assumption that they will open local economies and intensify global investment (Bunnell et al. 2002).

Bunnell et al. (2002) state that the ‘world class’ urban investment in Kuala Lumpur city was increasingly understood as part of a national agenda to ‘plug in’ to global political, economic and social networks. Douglas et al. (2008) suggested that the increased involvement of different capital circuits implies the pull of cities towards world city formation and this is reflected in the built environment via new commercial spaces of production (such as business districts, techno parks and science parks) and consumption (such as shopping malls).

As the globalising process went on, in 1991, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the Malaysian Prime Minister at the time, launched a ‘Vision 2020’ or ‘Wawasan 2020’, a national vision aimed at transforming Malaysia into a fully developed nation by the year 2020 (CHKL 2004). The vision, articulated in the document ‘Kuala Lumpur—A World Class City’, encapsulated the ambition to make a city that would assume a major global role, for the benefit of all its inhabitants, workers, visitors and

Table 1.1 The five goals identified to achieve the vision of a world class city in the Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan (KLSP) 2020

The goals


Goal 1: To enhance the role of Kuala Lumpur as an international commercial and financial centre

Kuala Lumpur city to be effectively competitive with other cities in Asia-Pacific Region such as Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta and Manila by maintaining a favoured position within the global economy for the benefit of all its inhabitants, workers, visitors and investors (CHKL 2004)

Goal 2: To create an efficient and equitable city structure

Kuala Lumpur city to have balanced development without compromising societal needs or adversely affecting the existing natural and built environment (CHKL 2004)

It is therefore essential for Kuala Lumpur city to have good transportation and communication linkages within the city, country and the world. This is to ensure that all citizens are able to access infrastructure, utilities and facilities that are equitably distributed (KLCH 2004)

Goal 3: To enhance the city’s living environment

Kuala Lumpur to establish the highest quality living, working and business environment with easy access to all facilities, as well as a healthy, safe and lively environment, so those who work and live in the city can enjoy the best possible quality of life (KLCH 2004)

Goal 4: To create a distinctive city identity and image

Kuala Lumpur to have its own distinctive identity which reflects the tropical climate and multiethnic population. It is expected to be manifested in the built and natural environment and the everyday way of life of the city’s inhabitants as well as the various forms of cultural expression

Goal 5: To have efficient and effective governance

Kuala Lumpur to encompass good governance in meeting the goals, strategies and policies set out in the Habitat Agenda-transparent, responsible, accountable, effective and efficient administrative practices

investors. According to Vision 2020, Kuala Lumpur will strive to establish the highest standard of quality living, working and business environments, benchmarked against the best in the world (KLCH 2004). This was seen as necessary as it was believed that the developed city will be able to attract and retain national and international investors as well as skilled and professional workers, both local and foreign (KLCH 2004). In addition to the ambition to create a world class city, the government believed that it is important to ensure that the infrastructure, environment, city management, cultural, social and community facilities meet the highest expectations of the majority of its residents, workers, visitors and investors (KLCH 2004; Douglas et al. 2008). Five goals were identified in order to achieve the Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2020, as listed in Table 1.1 below.

In order to synchronise with the city’s global aspirations of becoming ‘A World Class City’, two mega projects were undertaken at the beginning of the 1990s: the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). The two were subsequently followed by other equally important developments such as Putrajaya as a Federal Government Administrative Centre. They are discussed in the following section.

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