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Kampung Baru

Photographer: Ahmad Yusni


Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia was once a muddy mining town, but has transformed itself beyond the imagination of its first settlers. It is today a giant metropolis, a super modern city, with towering skyscrapers and arteries of roads and highway networks intertwined throughout its heart. Neon lights glitter at night from shopping malls as food and fashion and modern amenities lure tourists from all over the world.


But amidst the sophisticated development, there is a pocket where none of this transformation has taken place. Known as Kampung Baru, it is a misfit in the modern city, a testament of a time gone by. Spread across 230 hectares, the traditional village located at the Malaysian capital's modern core, is stuck in the past, keeping its looks of a time past, despite the advancing modern world. Kampung Baru nestles under the shadow of the Petronas Twin Towers, the world's tallest twin tower construction, that fill every angle of the view from the streets and buildings in the old fashioned village.


Mention the area of Kampung Baru, and many city dwellers react negatively, citing its lack of modernization and retention of old architectural values, that include some dilapidated houses with aluminum zinc roofs, food stalls on top of concrete-covered drains, haphazardly parked cars and motorcycles, unsafe pedestrian walkways, and faces of blue collared workers and immigrants among the majority.


Kampung Baru was gazetted in 1900 in Malaya, (the former name for Malaysia), and is the only village to have its own legislation, supervised by the Malay Agriculture Settlement (MAS), a special legislative body for the Malay community of Kampung Baru, established during the British colonial times 117 years ago. MAS has mostly resisted the push for development and modernization coming from other authorities, but since there are overlapping jurisdictions with local government Kuala Lumpur City Hall, agreement on a future plan is wanted...but difficult. MAS remains a powerful authority that is responsible for administering the village, including the approval and pricing agreements on property transactions, as well as regulating the safety and activity of Kampung Baru inhabitants.


The number of landowners has now grown to more than 5,300 people as the land and property titles are handed down from generation to generation of family, many who love the old ways and important history of their village and are not keen to see it consumed by modern architecture. Others want to sell as the price of the land, so strategically positioned, continues to skyrocket.


Currently, the price of the square feet of land is estimated around RM1,200 (254.32 euros) and the development could be worth RM45 billion (9.537 billion euros) or more - but the big question remains: How could 1,350 lots of land be developed when there has never been agreement among a majority of owners. Authorities have never been short of plans, most thwarted, to transform Kampung Baru, as there are just too many obstacles to deal with. According to a Malaysian news online portal, the government has only managed to secure 18 out of 1350 plots of land for redevelopment purposes. But in land fringing the area, large scale developments are underway, including a 78-storey two tower commercial building boasting the highest positioned Ferris wheel in South-East Asia and a underground MRT station is also under planning.


To date, the biggest success for those who wish to see the new replace the old in Kampung Baru, has been the start of Legasi Kampung Baru, a 29 storey office tower and 43 storey residential apartment now under construction that has been built upon the former area known as Pasar Minggu, a common meeting ground where residents once gathered for weddings, sporting events and political gatherings. But further transformation plans remain on paper, and the future looks are still to be finalized.


Only a minority of landowners still occupy their own properties and those that do mostly want to stay long term and preserve the heritage; but for immigrants and low income earners who occupy the majority of the houses there, Kampung Baru is a heaven.