Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tokyo - A Livable Metropolis?

Tokyo skyscrapers

As blogged earlier, I've just gotten back from Tokyo early this morning. As most of the time, I was stuck in the hotel attending the conference, I didn't manage to do too much sight-seeing, but I did manage to squeeze some time out to do some (will post pictures later - pics posted here from public sources).

One thing however struck me really hard during my brief visit was how remarkably "livable" the metropolis was (for those who experienced otherwise, do share your views here). Lets get some facts out of the way:
Over eight million people live within Tokyo's 23 wards. During the daytime, the population swells by over 2.5 million as workers and students commute from adjacent areas. This effect is even more pronounced in the three central wards of Chiyoda, Chūō, and Minato, whose collective population is less than 300,000 at night, but over two million during the day. The entire prefecture has 12,790,000 residents in October 2007 (8,657,000 in 23 wards), with an increase of over 3 million in the day. (source: Wikipedia)
The population density for Tokyo is 5,796 persons per km². This doesn't take into account an additional 2-3 million workers who commute from outside Tokyo into the city. In addition, this number does not take into account the fact that officially, several outlying islands are official part of Tokyo "land area" as well, which means that the density is likely significantly higher. This compares also against 6,489 persons per km² in Singapore.

Now, given such immense density and skyscrapers within the inner city, one would certainly have expected a certain level of traffic congestion, and probably a significant number of highways criss-crossing the city.

More Tokyo skyscrapers

But no! Right in the city centre, during peak hours, I hardly see many cars on the road. All cars which stopped at traffic lights will get to clear them in one go, and the lights actually switches pretty fast to cater to pedestrians. Where did all the traffic go? And trust me, their skyscrapers are just humongous!

And in the Tokyo suburbs (e.g., Seputeh or Petaling Jaya), most amazingly, the roads are tiny, often barely enough for 1 vehicle to pass through in their residential roads. Yet at the same time, the city generously allocates and cordon off a sizeable portion of the road for pedestrians and cyclists' use. Throughout my stay there, I've never seen these residential roads streaming with motor vehicles.

Yet in Petaling Jaya, many neighbourhood residential roads are becoming main access roads, while access roads have become thoroughfares, and highways such as LDP become massive car parks, especially during peak perids. And we don't have the population, its density and the skyscrapers to match cities like Tokyo or Singapore.

Very simply, the solution is really in creating and building an efficient public transportation system. And this unfortunately, is rather non-existent in Petaling Jaya. If you need to get from Taman Mayang to SS2, there is no option except taking a taxi or your own private vehicle.

In Tokyo, I've never had to wait longer than 5 minutes for any train, even during off-peak hours (didn't get a chance to try their bus system, especially since I'd seriously lack the language skills!)

Hence, if businessmen, developers, some politicians and civil servants are to argue that we need to develop Petaling Jaya further to boost our economy, raise income and wealth levels, I do not totally disagree. In fact, I would agree also with the fact that Petaling Jaya still have plenty of room to "develop" further, especially when contrasted against cities of the developed world.

However, as highlighted in my earlier post yesterday, all new (yet to be approved) major developments must cease so that the city and the state can catch its breath and take stock of the cost of unplanned development, without the necessary mobility infrastructure in place. And as long as the various federal ministries in charge of public transportation do not get their act together and drastically reform and improve the current system, then development will unfortunately have to be limited to the low-rise horizontal sort, instead of the more profitable vertical sort.

The Paradigm - Where did the hills come from?

Looking for example, at the "visual illustration" of The Paradigm mega-development project next to Lebuhraya Damansara-Puchong (LDP), you would notice how it gives a false sense of space and tranquility with all four corners of its surroundings lined with open spaces and pretty trees. There are even trees-covered hills at a not too far distance away (no idea which part of PJ is that! ;-)).

The buildings are in no doubt top class buildings from a reputable developer listed on Bursa Malaysia. I'm not questioning their quality. I'm just asking, whether we, the city, is ready to cope with such projects cropping up all over the town. Or should it continue to be build first, cope later, like the policies of the previous government.

The trip to Tokyo, sponsored by the Asia Society, certainly opened my eyes a fair bit on how "good" things can still be, despite humongous developments. It's much better than even the state of affairs in enviable cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

Footnote: I've received a fair bit of response from volunteers who are willing to help me with the petition in PJ. I'm still looking for more, so email me if you are keen to help turn PJ into a more livable city.


clk said...

There are lots of issue to overcome and amongst them:

a) Weather for cycling/walking
b) Super high density allows for a viable public transport, e.g. buses every 5 minutes; but less so in a lower density environment
c) Political will
d) National car policy
e) Privatisation and toll highway policy
f) Public transport vs local council vs state govt vs fed govt policies/enforcement

And many more...

Anonymous said...

The town planning that's implemented in this country Phua, doesn't even really thinks about what going to happen next in the future, example the congested Pantai Dalam, Puchong, Ampang, Sg. Buloh, K.L...e.g. All of this never really planned for a future development.

Rather then thinking how it will preserve heavy traffics, transports and all that, they build a PKNS flat with only 1 roundabout parking around the area.

Its been all over Malaysia, only money matters in the end. As long they can build and stuff all together and produce big cash at the end.Build first, cope later WILL ALWAYS STAY! no matter what government takes in shape in the future.

If you look at our very basic flats for our country.It tells more than the history itself of how saving the future for the next generation.

Anonymous said...

You’ve three consecutive postings, backwards there are: Tokyo, Mamak Stalls, and PJ Development. In the middle of these postings, Mamak Stalls, you confess to receiving numerous such demands and then pleaded ignorance into how to respond.

But don’t you see the relationship, the single governing thread, in all three postings? Did you see mamak-kind of stalls in Tokyo? If not, why not? Don’t you see that the Paradigm project is precisely the kind that you saw in Tokyo? But if the problem afflicting PJ isn’t about more Paradigm projects, also found in Tokyo, then what is? You ask for a freeze on “high-density” development, so then you’ll favour “low-density” development? What’s the benchmark you employ? Tokyo is high-density, recall, but it’s no problem – why not? You ask to petition the state government for a freeze, but aren’t you a party to the state government? Are we not in a situation whereby one government before you will build recklessly and when a new government comes along all previous works freeze up? How are citizens, businesses to plan their lives five years ahead not knowing what is to come?

One is reminded of a comment from one of your readers: the person says that mamak stalls are none of your business. What does this mean? An MP is above street level governance? This line of thought is completely specious. The DAP used it in the old days – and for obvious, political reasons – and it’s still same song today. Why? A chance to abdicate responsibility?

Vast areas in PJ (and elsewhere in the country as well) have been so badly, even fraudulently, managed, administered and governed, you’ve a job made out for you: just to clear the mess. Two things are suggested here: (a) start top to bottom; (b) rally your governing colleagues to work on the problems. After all that, the issue of mamak stalls will resolve itself.

Anonymous said...

As I see it, we need to solve transportation system in Klang Valley first. This is the first and critical step to create a 'livable' place.

Ideally, the authority to look after this transportation system should be under a 'sole' body with representatives from municipal councils involved. The 'obstacles' or 'beariers' of these municipal councils should be neutralised so to have a comprehensive transport system in Klang Valley, in particular KL and PJ.

Anonymous said...

Traffic congestion is a common problem faced by many nations. So, its up to the respective government to find the practical solution to address it.

In Malaysia, this problem was accumulated ever since Mahathir's era where town planning is just a matter of submitting layout plan. Full stop.Look at Kota Damansara, a township planned by PKNS- a state government investment arm, you can't even find a single bus stop with shelter. The problem clearly lies within the structure and system within the authorities. It needs a thorough revamp but surely it takes time.

The question now is can u holding up new development in PJ? You can but the economic well being of the state will suffer. Hence, you need to struck a balance where common people and business can co-exist with minimum conflict. How? a round table brainstorming will be ideal.

Note : i m not a business man but have little understanding of the issue.

d'Frog Prince said...

for effective public transport, we need high density on areas covered by public transport. the other way around would be to built high density residences around present KTM/LRT/MONORAIL station, medium costs preferably. do we have the political will to do so? is selangor state govt willing to flex their muscle, increase density in public transport hubs (train stations, bus stations - not stops) etc

we can even take a leaf from singapore's system of hub and spoke. most mrt stations would be located at central bus stations per district, so interconnectivity is but a matter of course.

as for our congested kelana lrt, the solution is so simple but not being implemented, double the coach and increase the frequency of the trains to induce even more people to ride lrt AND built a MULTI STOREY parking lots at Kelana Station, go and look how the cars were parked. is it your constituency? is selangor state govt willing to lease a land to a company to built a purpose built carpark in kelana lrt station in exchange, allow them some commercial/residential floors at the top? someone is sure willing to built if there is money to be made.

or even solution like opening a tender of BOT of a bridge in KLANG, connecting another part of North and South Klang, in exchange for some residential/government projects to divert traffic that is facing a nigttmare traffic due to "upgrading" works in the main bridge of klang town?


Anonymous said...

I was about to email you about Petaling Jaya and how things are upside down.

This is a great example how we plan our city. Its a horrible planning.

Anonymous said...

that's because it will be so damn expensive to drive a car into the city. that's why not so many cars. we can do it as long as public transport into the city is very good.

Anonymous said...

Today in parliament, Timbalan Menteri Sains dan Teknologi was blabbing about how prepared we are for earthquakes. They bought a whole bunch of seismographs and went and placed some accelerometers in some buildings in Putrajaya.

Someone should point out to the learned minister that all these seismographs and accelerometers do is only record the earthquake during the event. There is no way in hell that these instruments can provide early warning of earthquakes (for evacuation purposes). No such early warning instrument exists today. Your better off looking at pigs and goats for early warning.

(With regard to Tsunami warning, yes you do have a few minutes warning depending on how far from epicenter.)

k said...

It's not hard for KL or PJ to plan something to emulate Tokyo. But first, the people must take charge of city hall. Only qualified professionals involve, not some greedy incompetent you know who! And no ministries can 'campur tangan' in planning or approving.

Anonymous said...


I personally spend alot of time in Tokyo and many other parts of Japan. The main reason that Tokyo is livable, is because of the ppl. While the Government plays a part but its the ppl that make all the difference.

1)Did you notice that there are very little trash bins around but yet, the city is clean. Ppl just dont throw their rubbish everywhere.
2)Ppl are kind and very considerate of others. Notice that in Kanto, even when the train station is bustling with a sea of ppl (litterally) at rush hr, ppl still stand on the left of the escalator and keep the right side open for moving traffic.
3)When the train arrives, even like hundreds are queue to get on, everyone parts like the Red Sea for the ppl to get off the train before ppl start to board. In KL,what happens at our LRT Stations? Did the Government teach you to squeeze and fight your way thru? Does the government need to teach us to line up??

Japan is one place things are done proper, not because ppl have to but because ppl want to. Japanese mind-sets are completely different from a typical malaysian.

Not just frequent, on time. Go to www.hyperdia.com, you can plan your trip from any station to any station in japan with the exact time of departure and arrival. The Planned time will be = to Actual Time.Just the Yamanote line alone is enough.

Mamak in Tokyo
And someone mentioned there are no mamaks in Japan, if you never been there, please dont assume, they just dont call them mamak, there are plenty of roadside Ramen stalls, you just need to know where to find them... And where are festivals/occassions like Hanami in the Spring, Stalls will spring up everywhere to sell all kinds of food, just like mamak on the road side. the only difference, they are much cleaner.

Building in Tokyo
Its not about whether Tokyo has same kind of projects in, and yes they do, they call them City within a city. So you have places like Roppongi, Tokyo midtown & Asakasa Sarcas. One big difference, they are all well planned. You dont get traffic congestion, and ppl DONT DOUBLE PARK! Well, no one really drives in tokyo, you have the Metro, why you need to drive. So in the case of Paradigm, yes we should Freeze it! We need to evaluate the impact of the building on the overall neigbourhood. With a city do dense, yet they can set a side a really huge mini forest (not park) with tall and thick trees right in Yoyogi. Compare that with our Titiwangsa, its like the difference between Heaven and Earth. Why is that? Simple, we dont plan enough. So yes, perhaps a few businessman's plan may be disturbed but for the better of the whole community, we need to start planning. If the new government sees a mistake already made by the old one, does one correct it or just let it be because we can say “nevermind la, build already lor, what to do?”.

So Tokyo is a nice place because the ppl make it nice. Shouldn't we try to make our place nice as well? It starts we us

Anonymous said...

cannot one lar... our government won't let the public transportation system becomes efficient. If this happened, then Proton sales sure drop, then our gov profit drop, then they sure bising unless proton and perodua start making buses and LRT then that is different story...

Our transport dept only knows how to make more roads that create more jams, and encourage people to drive on highway on midnights with that stupid 10% discount... what a brilliant idea, and they thought we are idiots or what? Risking our lives just to save over a small packet of nasi lemak?

The next time if those public transport project going on i just only have one wish: please make sure when these project going on there are no extra banjir kilat created because of lousy city planning... and we don't need another not-so-smart tunnel to drain those flood waters that can mistakenly trap drivers inside the tunnel for no reasons... please use brain to think the next time you built something ok? god bless malaysia....