Mak­ing Me­laka re­silient

Me­laka’s chief re­silience of­fi­cer shares how he’s try­ing to make sure the his­toric city stays live­able and is able to with­stand pres­sures from devel­op­ment and na­ture.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Spaces - By WONG LI ZA star2@thes­

IT’S a Catch-22 sit­u­a­tion. In be­ing de­clared by Unesco as a World Her­itage Site, Ge­orge Town and Me­laka, both his­toric cities of the Straits of Me­laka, have ex­pe­ri­enced higher tourist ar­rivals.

Which is great for the econ­omy, but that puts pres­sure on the in­tan­gi­ble liv­ing her­itage of the cities – the peo­ple liv­ing there.

Is­sues like heavy traf­fic con­ges­tion and high rentals put a strain on the com­mu­nity and may cause some of them to re­lo­cate.

When that hap­pens, they take away with them the cul­ture and tra­di­tional crafts­man­ship as­so­ci­ated with the city, which may then af­fect the cities’ her­itage sta­tus.

July 7 marks the 10th an­niver­sary of Ge­orge Town and Me­laka be­ing de­clared as a World Her­itage Site by Unesco (United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion).

Last Septem­ber, the 100 Re­silient Cities – an or­gan­i­sa­tion set up by the US-based Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion to help cities around the world be­come more re­silient in the face of phys­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic chal­lenges – ap­pointed Malaysia’s first chief re­silience of­fi­cer.

Mohd Rid­hwan Mohd Ali – who joins 96 other of­fi­cers in other cities across the globe – works closely with the lo­cal mayor, Datuk Azmi Hus­sain, in de­vis­ing the city’s first re­silience strat­egy.

Ur­ban re­silience ba­si­cally means the abil­ity of a city to sur­vive, adapt and grow stronger should they face chal­lenges that in­clude high un­em­ploy­ment, en­demic vi­o­lence and chronic wa­ter short­age, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, dis­ease out­breaks or even ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

In a re­cent e-mail in­ter­view, Rid­hwan shares that one as­pect of a suc­cess­ful re­silient agenda is the abil­ity to help the com­mu­nity ab­sorb and ad­just to the pres­sures men­tioned above while con­tin­u­ing their nor­mal ac­tiv­i­ties.

He also talks about his role as chief re­silience of­fi­cer and the plans to cre­ate a re­silient Me­laka.

How would you de­scribe your jour­ney so far since be­ing ap­pointed Me­laka’s – and Malaysia’s first – chief re­silience of­fi­cer last Septem­ber?

It has been an in­ter­est­ing jour­ney. Through­out the time­line, I gained a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the im­por­tance of ur­ban plan­ning, es­pe­cially in a vi­brant town like Me­laka.

My work re­quires me to en­gage with and meet many peo­ple from var­i­ous back­grounds and that has shown me that Me­laka cit­i­zens are hun­gry for im­prove­ment in their city sur­round­ings that im­pact their daily rou­tine. The strong will and their open­ness to share their thoughts has in­spired me to in­crease the ef­fort in­volved in de­vel­op­ing re­silient strate­gies for Me­laka.

What has been your main chal­lenge?

Get­ting the right in­for­ma­tion from lo­cal agen­cies is part of our main chal­lenge. Repet­i­tive en­gage­ment ses­sions had to be con­ducted to bring out the right in­for­ma­tion con­cern­ing the var­i­ous is­sues in the city.

Part of your task in­cludes pre­par­ing an as­sess­ment of the city’s key ‘shocks and stresses’. What are the key shocks and stresses that you have pin­pointed in Me­laka, in lay­man’s terms?

The def­i­ni­tion of acute shocks is sud­den events that threaten a city. Chronic stresses are slow mov­ing dis­as­ters that weaken the fab­ric of a city.

From the in­for­ma­tion and data gath­ered, sig­nif­i­cant acute shocks fac­ing Me­laka city are dis­ease out­break (dengue), hazardous ma­te­rial re­lease (chlo­rine gas leak), rain­fall flood­ing (plu­vial) and coastal flood­ing (flu­vial).

The sig­nif­i­cant chronic stresses fac­ing Me­laka city are age­ing in­fra­struc­ture in the world her­itage site area, in­suf­fi­cient trans­porta­tion network, un­clear im­pact of the high speed rail project, loss of di­ver­sity at coastal ar­eas, and wa­ter pol­lu­tion and short­age.

What are some ac­tions listed so far and how will they make Me­laka a re­silient city?

One ini­tia­tive that we are cur­rently look­ing at is im­prov­ing walk­a­bil­ity in the city, es­pe­cially in tourist at­trac­tion ar­eas such as at Stadthuys and Jonker Street her­itage ar­eas.

Up­grad­ing and im­prov­ing the vis­i­bil­ity of ex­ist­ing back lanes as al­ter­na­tive routes to move around in is seen as a po­ten­tial pi­lot project that can be a cat­a­lyst to start pedes­tri­an­is­ing the road in the world her­itage site area.

Vis­i­tors tend to move from one point to an­other by us­ing their pri­vate ve­hi­cles. Long dis­tances be­tween places of in­ter­est might dis­cour­age them to walk. Nar­row roads and small walk­ing paths make walk­ing dif­fi­cult and in­crease the risk of ve­hic­u­lar ac­ci­dents.

Strat­egy and ac­tion to en­cour­age vis­i­tors to walk would help to re­duce the num­ber of mov­ing ve­hi­cles in the city and in­crease the num­ber of vis­i­tors in the ar­eas. This sce­nario would have a pos­i­tive im­pact on the lo­cal busi­nesses in the area and be able to en­cour­age more small lo­cal en­trepreneur­s to open busi­nesses. Walk­ing is also a good way to ex­er­cise and has good health ben­e­fits and im­proves qual­ity of life.

In­creased de­mand for busi­ness spa­ces in the world her­itage site area would help to re­vive the aban­doned premises and pre­vent them from be­com­ing a nui­sance to the city. Well-main­tained and oc­cu­pied premises would help in re­duc­ing dengue cases and pest prob­lems in the ar­eas.

In your opin­ion, what are three things that need to be done in Me­laka to make it a truly re­silient city?

Any ini­tia­tive we im­ple­ment needs to have buy-in from the cit­i­zens of Me­laka. Pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion is vi­tal to en­sure the ef­forts are long last­ing. A well-in­formed and self-sus­tained com­mu­nity will be bet­ter pre­pared to face any chal­lenge that might threaten them.

We need to deepen col­lab­o­ra­tion across the board. Break­ing down si­los among stake­hold­ers from var­i­ous back­grounds such as gov­ern­ment agen­cies, busi­ness own­ers, non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and res­i­dents as­so­ci­a­tions in tack­ling is­sues is vi­tal to en­sure we are think­ing and plan­ning holis­ti­cally.

In­te­grated ef­forts need to be co­or­di­nated to en­sure the funds are be­ing utilised to tackle our big­gest is­sues.

We should also re­con­sider our spend­ing pri­or­i­ties. Many agen­cies have al­lo­cated funds to carry out up­grad­ing and im­prove­ment in their re­spec­tive ju­ris­dic­tions.

How­ever, pri­or­ity and ef­fort should be given to projects that could close the gap be­tween what peo­ple need com­pared with what the agen­cies de­sire. Pri­ori­tis­ing spend­ing in a way that max­imises mul­ti­ple ben­e­fits will al­low Me­laka to use its re­sources more ef­fi­ciently and with greater im­pact.

— Pho­tos: Ma­jlis Ban­daraya Me­laka Berse­jarah

The Me­laka river­side area is a pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion.

— Hand­out

Rid­hwan was ap­pointed Me­laka’s chief re­silience of­fi­cer last Septem­ber.

Colour­ful wall art along the Me­laka river­side.

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