REALITY BITES: All is not hunky dory in Chinese New Villages
Rapid economic growth and escalating property prices have possibly rendered the term “Village” in New Villages redundant. Some villages have prospered, while others are stagnant or being left behind. Some may even have untapped potential in terms of heritage and tourism. To get different points of views of the challenges and issues facing Chinese New Villages, we talk to Tang Ah Chai (CEO, KL & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall); Dr Voon Phin Keong (Director, Institute of Malaysian and Regional Studies, New Era College); and Sathia P Seelan (Cheras resident).
TANG: Economic viability: During the early years, education in these New Villages was a serious problem because drop-out rates were high. Economic opportunities were scarce. From the 1960s – 1980s, it became a hot-button issue within the Chinese community. Crime within New Villages was also on the rise. During the 80s especially, a lot of people from Chinese New Villages went overseas to earn a living. Many even went to the Middle East. Most of them were doing labour-intensive work. When you go to a New Village now, there are hardly any children or teenagers but mostly old men. The young ones will only come back to their Villages for the weekend or during public holidays such as Chinese New Year.
Development disparities: There are different types of development in Chinese New Villages. For example, New Villages in areas such as Kepong, Jinjang, and Serdang that are near to the city have prospered. There are proper facilities and amenities. But for the rest of New Villages in rural areas, development is very slow. For example, Papan in Perak that used to be a thriving mining town for many years has become an abandoned kampong.
Political factors: Usually during election year, more attention will be paid to Chinese New Villages. Political leaders from all sides will visit, talk to the residents and visit the children in New Villages. There are some funds allocated for Chinese New Villages, either from the state or federal government. The residents of New Villages hope that they will be included in the long-term development plans of the government. Government allocation is very important to upgrade infrastructure in New Villages.
Matters of definition: Many of these villages have been transformed into modern residential areas. Is it appropriate to still call them “Villages”? They don’t resemble or bear the characteristics of villages any more. For example, Seri Kembangan, which is one of the largest Chinese New Villages, has experienced rapid urban growth in recent years. People, especially the younger generation, don’t associate it with a New Village anymore.
DR VOON: Hidden resource: The New Villages have been around for 60 years. Yet their basic physical, social, demographic and economic characteristics have yet to be properly defined and categorised. There are many issues pertaining to the overall future of New Villages to contend with. These problems have been left to infest and it would not be a simple task to attempt to “solve” them in the immediate term.
New Villages constitute hidden resources in the social and economic development programme, but only if they are encouraged to play their proper role. The steps to allow New Villages to fulfill this role would be to promote transformation process that will make them more viable economically, more vibrant and full of life socially, and more pleasant and appealing as places to live.
Sustainability: My personal feeling is that the New Villages in their current form is not sustainable in many ways. Most have basically retained their physical shape and layout, some in rather haphazard fashion, though the majority of the houses have been rebuilt and upgraded. Most have remained to function simply as residential sites without the benefit of a diverse and vibrant landscape that features cultural, recreational and commercial facilities. Except where New Villages have taken advantage of proximity to large urban centres to venture into retail and commercial activities, most still retain their role as “dormitories”. As the young continue to move out, the result is increasing numbers of “abandoned” parents and young children.
SATHIA: Landowners’ windfall: In 1998-2000, I was renting a property in Damai Perdana, neighbouring the area of Balakong, a Chinese New Village. My landlord informed me that he was approached by a developer to sell his property in the Chinese New Village in Balakong. The developer not only offered him cash for his property, but he was also offered an additional incentive of 10 units in the new residential development! I assumed from my landlord’s story that he owned quite a large tract of land in Balakong. Now, my former landlord and his family occupy one house in the new residential area and he rents out the other nine “bonus” houses he received from the developer.
Holistic approach: In my observation, most of these Chinese New Villages are now pretty much left to their own devices. Most business activities are small retail and coffee shops. We should have proper planning to support the growth of all residential areas, regardless of whether they are New Villages or new developments. There should be a holistic approach to development. There could be a heritage element to these Chinese New Villages to attract tourism, but infrastructure has to be upgraded so that tourists will be able to visit them.