Beyond the plethora of planning guidelines, frameworks and policies, city- making is essentially the politics of the urban form, as I've come to learn over the past year.
The city can be read as a social discourse, where its plans, forms and function could be deconstructed and scrutinized to reveal the embedded conflicts and compatibility; consensus and compromises; as well as conformity and particularities.
And underlying all these is a complex narrative of power dynamics.
Recently, the Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah made a press statement that some property developers have been acting like local government councils as the latter have not been taking the lead, which has become a real cause for concern.
A thriving city is a livable city - which means it has to be about people. For that very reason, public participation must be allowed to unpack and challenge the assumptions behind oppressive systems and demystify the hierarchy that seeks to justify inequalities that lie in its wake.
An idealistic mark of a developed society is measured beyond GDP per capita or how much capital to be generated from urban development. A developed society is empowered by its capacity to hold a respectful discussion between and within discursive communities in order to drive a meaningful progress towards a more sustainable future. In reality however, vested and conflicting interests, frictions from differing priorities, unequal access to information/knowledge, the lording of privilege and hegemony, the gradual erosion of trust, and many other factors had often become the barriers towards making a city that we all deserve to have.
While nothing is absolute; looking at city- making in a binary perspective often presents a case of trade-off as well as advantages; including the blind spots which will only reveal itself in the hindsight. Do we possess the wisdom to achieve a balance between the two? Must we only choose to either pursue a vision of a utilitarian city in the name of public good, or an egalitarian city where nobody get left behind?
Again, who gets to make this decision?