Saturday, January 27, 2007

Harmonious Community Living in Urban Neighbourhoods

Complete paper (PDF format) :

Harmonious Community Living in Urban Neighbourhoods:
A Case of Central Shah Alam

By: Habsah Hashim
Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM)
Faculty of Architecture. Planning and Surveying
UiTM, 40450 Shah Alam

Paper presented at the
8th. International Asian Planning Schools Association Congress
(APSA 2005), “Cities For People”
School of Housing, Building and Planning, USM, Penang
11 -14 September 2005
Grand Plaza Park Royal, Penang, Malaysia


One of the three components of the Total Town Planning Doctrine is the relationship between man and fellow man. In terms of planning for urban neghbourhoods, the residential layout design and the placing of facilities do affect the day-to-day community living and how people relate to one another. Another aspect that is important in ensuring harmonious community living is the provision of public facilities, effectiveness of community programs and the active role of community groups. This paper is based on a study done in central Shah Alam. Several neighborhoods representing the various layout design are analysed to look at their effectiveness in ensuring harmonious community living. Analysis of the existing public facilities, community programs and activities undertaken by the various community groups were also done. Aspects of social and community development should be emphasised in our effort to become a developed society.


This paper discusses aspects of community living in urban neighborhoods in terms of layout design, provision of public facilities and community programs. Other than gathering and analyzing secondary data, other forms of analysis include the assessment of the layout plans and an observation survey of the community facilities in central Shah Alam.

Central Shah Alam is the original designated area for the city, covering sections 1 – 24. It covers and area of 6970.63 acres and inhabited by 156,405 population in 1999. The population has increased tremendously from only 20,000 in 1980. To date housing development in this area is almost complete. Shah Alam is predominantly a Malay city. In 1995, 69 percent of its population was Malays, 18 percent Chinese, 20 percent Indians and 1 percent other races (Town Planning Department, MPSA, 1997). The development of Shah Alam started in 1963 when the Selangor state government officially agreed to open up a new town in Sungai Renggam. This new town is to become the state capital, replacing Kuala Lumpur that had become the national capital (MPSA, 1991). This primarily rubber and palm oil plantation area was developed by the Selangor State Development Corporation. Shah Alam was officially declared as a city, the seventh city in Malaysia on 10th. October 2000.

Harmonious Community

The Total Town Planning Doctrine stresses on harmonious community living through its second component i.e. the relationship between man and fellow man. The two principles relevant to neighborhood planning as outlined by Town and Country Planning Department (Jabatan Perancangan Bandar dan Desa, 2002) are as follows:

· Respect of private space and separation of space. This principle calls for separation of private, semi-private and public space. Surroundings that peaceful and harmonious will be achieved if the separation of space is respected.

· Encourage interaction. This principle aims at creating a community that is united, cooperative and harmonious. It also calls for the need to develop surroundings that encourage interaction and creation of community with an identity besides enhancing the neighborly concept.

Community living in the urban areas is significantly different than that of the rural villages. As urbanization rate increases, there is a pressing need to improve community living in today’s neighborhoods as “neighborhood is seen as the most important urban element that establishes the social and economic sustainability of the area, providing the community ties which hold it together...” (Neal, 2003: 8). Efforts to improve neighborliness in today’s urban community must be taken seriously because the social values in the urban areas are characteristically different than the rural community. Yahya Ibrahim (1995: 45-40) highlighted that in the urban areas, there are less cohesive relationships, greater individual freedom, breakdown of traditional values, problems of adjustment, differences in family relationship and increase in social distance.

Communities may be based on a geographic location or they maybe based on any shared characteristic. Community is often defined as “a group or network of people who share something in common”. The common aspect may take the form of territory (locality – neighborhood, village) or in the form of interest (job, religion, and ethnicity). As a value, community is characterized with “connectedness, through a sense of membership, through shared activity and decision-making and through a shared understanding of the world”. The emphasis is on sharing, cooperation and social solidarity (Butcher, 1994: 13 – 14). Meyer et al (1969: 185) defines community as “a group of people living in the same area under the same local government and laws. These people are bound together by a common environment and are held together by psychological as well as economic, social and cultural bonds”. This definition refers to community by locality or territory, also called “geographic communities” as in the case of people living in a particular neighborhood or village.


In a generic term, a neighbor can be defined as someone who lives near us. Suzanne Keller 1968: 21) states that “a good neighbor is not necessarily friendly or nice person, but one who conforms to the standards of the neighbor role common consent acknowledges”. A neighbor is a stranger, distant from a friend or kin, but has an advantage of being spatially (not necessarily spiritually) close.

De Chiara et al (1984: 3) defined neighborhood as “a residential area with homogeneous characteristics, of a size comparable to that usually served by an elementary school. A typical ideal neighborhood would be an area ¾ to 1 mile square and containing 6000 to 8000 people”. Neighborhood as defined by Gallion and Eisner (1963: 251) is “... a physical environment in which a mother knows that her child will have no traffic street tocross on his way to school, a school which is within easy walking distance from home. It is an environment in which the housewife may have an easy walk to a shopping center where she may obtain the daily household goods, and the man of the house may find convenient transportation to and from his work. It is an environment in which a wellequipped playground is located near the home where the children may play in safety with their friends ...”. A neighborhood unit is thus an ideal housing concept.

Based on the 1898 Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City concept, there are several other concepts of a neighborhood unit. One popular neighborhood unit is outlined by Clarence Perry. Clarence Perry’s principles of neighborhood building are summarized below (De Chiara et al, 1984):

. The size of a residential neighborhood should be determined by the population needed for one elementary school.

· The neighborhood should be bounded by wide arterial roads that eliminate through traffic to the neighborhood.

· Within the neighborhood there should be a hierarchy of streets, each designed to minimum widths.

· Streets are planned and laid out to discourage through traffic.

· About 10 percent of the area would be allocated for open space and recreation.

· The school is placed in the centre and a central point in the neighborhood.

· Other public facilities located near the center.

· Homes are within walking distance to the school.

In 1992, the Urban Village Group presented the concept of urban village in the form of an imaginary development called Greenville (Neal, 2003: 11). This concept was promoted to create successful and long-lasting neighborhood based on village qualities. The main principles of the urban village concept are as follows:

· A development of adequate size, or critical mass.
· A walkable and pedestrian-friendly environment.
· A good mix of uses and good opportunities for employment.
· A varied architecture and sustainable urban form.
· Mixed tenure for both housing and employment uses.
· Provision of basic shopping, health and educational needs.
· A degree of self sufficiency.

A study done by Nor Azlina (2004) analyzed five typical housing layouts found in central Shah Alam in terms of fulfilling the principles of Perry’s neighborhood unit. The analysis s shown in Table 1. Comparing the different housing layout, the analysis found that the “loop” and “curvilinear” layout design fulfills the principles of neighborhood unit better than other layout design. The “grid-iron” and “linear” design scored the least in fulfilling the principles of neighborhood unit.

Analysis of Layout Design in Shah Alam

The subdivision plans of the 15 sections in central Shah Alam were being studied and categorized by layout design and housing types as shown in Table 2 and Table 3. Each residential section was further subdivided into neighborhoods according to predominant layout design types. Based on Table 2, it can be seen that from 61 neighborhoods in the 15 sections, 39 percent were planned and arranged in the form of grid iron layout. The existence of monotonous rows of terrace houses can be seen throughout all of the sections.

Twenty percent of the neighborhoods were laid out in cul-de-sacs while another 18 percent, most of which are flats and apartments, were arranged in clusters. Curvilinear and loop layout design were not many, constituting only 13 percent. There were only 7 neighborhoods in sections 3, Section 8, Section 9, and Section 11 with curvilinear layout design and another neighborhood in section 18 with loop layout design. Though this form of layout design fulfills many principles of a good neighborhood, not many of such layouts can be found in central Shah Alam.

There are a total of 24,645 units of houses in the 15 sections in central Shah Alam. The types of houses are shown in Table 3 below. In terms of number of units, flats / apartments and terrace houses constitute more than 80 percent of the housing stock. Other types of houses like detached, semi-detached and quadruplex are fewer in numbers.

Table 4 shows that majority of the terrace houses were arranged in grid iron layout. Excluding the 11480 units of flats and apartments, this is the predominant form of layout design i.e. constitutes 70.4 percent of the housing units. Only 9.1 percent of the total housing units were arranged in curvilinear and loop layout. Another 20.5 percent of the houses were laid out in the form of linear and cul-de-sac.

Other than looking at the layout design of the various neighborhoods, an analysis of the distance between the houses in the neighborhoods to the nearest primary school was also done. Refer to Table 5 below for the data. Although the ideal walking distance to the primary school from home is ¼ mile, it was found that only 36 percent or 22 neighborhoods fulfill this principle. In another 19 neighborhoods, the distance is between ¼ to ½ mile and in 20 neighborhoods; the distance is more than ½ mile, making it impossible for a child to walk to school. This resulted in the utilization of school buses and private cars to ferry school children daily.

From the analysis of the subdivision plans in the 15 sections, it can be concluded that neighborhood design principles were not being applied in many of the neighborhoods. Most of the terrace houses which were arranged in monotonous rows portrayed poor visual quality in the neighborhoods. Attempts to introduce other forms of layout design were minimal.

Public Facilities

There are several community facilities in central Shah Alam as listed below. Photos 3(a) – 3(d) are examples of public facilities in the study area.

· Secondary schools : 9
· Primary Schools : 12
· Islamic Primary Schools : 4
· Public Kindergartens : 10
· Mosques : 7 (including the State Mosque)
· Suraus (small mosque) : 37
· Community Halls : 21

An observation of selected community facilities as shown in Table 6 was done for one week. Field observation was made at various times i.e. morning, afternoon and evening for weekdays and weekends. The objective of the observation is to note and record activities or programs being carried out by the residents and general public.

Analyzing the population and housing units with the planning standards adopted by the Shah Alam City Council (MBSA) and the provision of public facilities, the study found that many facilities are inadequate. In the northern part of central Shah Alam, only secondary schools and the 16,000-capacity state mosque are adequate. Refer to Table 7(a). All types of public facilities in the south of central Shah Alam are inadequate as shown in Table 7(b)

The observation on selected facilities in central Shah Alam over a one-week period revealed that though many public facilities were found to be inadequate, the irony was that most facilities were not being fully utilized. It was observed that most of the activities being undertaken were recreation and sports and were carried out in the evenings – especially between 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Observation at other times, including weekends, noted the lack of usage of existing public facilities except surau and mosques which were mainly used for prayers. As such there is a need to plan and organize community programs and activities to make full use of the existing facilities.
Other than the public facilities described in the earlier discussion, Shah Alam is lucky to have the first Kompleks Kasih Keluarga. This community facility, the first of its kind in Malaysia was built by the National Population and Family Development Board’s (NPFDB) in Section 16. The existence of this facility provides services such as family development and parenting and also human reproductive programs. As an agency under the Ministry of Women, Family and Community, NPFDB’s objective is to “contribute towards the development of quality population through strengthening and promotion of family well-being” (NPFDB, 2001).

Another community facility that can be found in central Shah Alam is the MBSA’s Community IT Centers. There are currently seven such centers in Shah Alam and five of those are located in the study area, i.e. in Section 8, Section 16, Section 17, Section 19 and Section 24. For a very nominal membership fee, the public could get access to the IT facilities provided at these centers. The objectives of establishing these centers are to develop a smart community through information and communication technology and to provide opportunities for Shah Alam residents to get in touch with the cyber world.

Open Spaces and Recreational Areas

In terms of recreation areas and open spaces by residential sections, an analysis of the detail
layout plans derived the acreage as shown in Table 8. In total, the provision of 9.17 percent open space is slightly short of the requirement of 10 percent of the total acreage. Only sections 4, 8, 9, 18 and 24 exceed the requirement of 10 percent open space.

Not only are the actual provision of open spaces is less that the 10 percent requirement, a further comparison with the open space standards reveals that the provision of public open space is inadequate in all of the residential sections except in section 4. Refer to Table 9 and Table 10 for the data. The one week observation on public facilities described earlier noted this lack of open spaces and play areas is critical during the evenings. It was observed however that most fields, playgrounds and open spaces were fully utilized as depicted in Photos 6(a) – 6(d).

Based on the findings, there is a need to provide more facilities to cater for the recreational
needs of the residents at the neighborhood level. The issue of underutilization of community halls, suraus and mosques need to be taken seriously. These facilities could serve as local community resource centers to benefit the local residents. Resources should be geared towards organizing specific programs to make full use of these facilities, rather than building new ones.

Community Programs

The Corporate Department is in charge of community affairs in the Shah Alam City Council.
There are four units in this department i.e. public relation unit, sports unit, community development unit and culture and tourism unit. The roles of this department involve public
relation matters; handling public complaints, producing press release & organizing events;
introducing and marketing of the Council’s activities and coordinating and organizing activities. Some of the activities that had been organized by this department are as follows:

· Waste management Campaign
· Mass Media Recognition Night
· City Day Celebration
· Handling Public Complaints
· Publication
· School Sports Sponsor Project
· Sports clinic
· Weekly Sports
· Game Tournaments – street soccer, volleyball, football, netball, archery etc.
· Public Forum
· Weekly Aerobic Exercise
· Activities for Youths (including MBSA’s 1221 Club)
· Spiritual Development Programme – Islamic, motivation and leadership
· Caring Community Programme
· Arts, Cultural and Traditional Performance (including activities at Laman Budaya)

In terms of community groups, there are currently thirty-one community groups in central Shah Alam as listed in Table 11.

Beginning from March 2003, all the community groups were being divided into twelve zones
according to the newly-formed Residents’ Representative Council (Majlis Perwakilan Penduduk – MPP). The objectives of the establishment of MPP are as follows (Jabatan Korporat MBSA, 2005):

· Strengthening and better organizing of the functions of the Council members as the agents for forging relationship between the city council and the residents.
· Becoming the intermediary in channeling the city council’s information and procedures to the residents.
· Becoming the intermediary in channeling the resident’s complaints, requests, problems and needs to the city council.
· Encouraging residents’ participation in all activities of the city council.
· Monitoring activities organized by the various residents’ association in each zones.
· Coordinating support fairly to the various residents association in each zone.
· Implementing Local Agenda 21 activities towards sustainable development.

Awareness towards community work is still low. A study done among middle class women in Shah Alam found that attitude and involvement in community work were not very encouraging (Habsah, 2002). In all types of community work listed in Table 12, the men seemed to be more involved compared to the women. However, the percentage of those involved is still low. The general finding from the focus group discussions showed a negative attitude towards community work. A forty-nine year old teacher said that she was not interested in joining associations. Another respondent, Azi, a forty-one year old professional with three children aged nine to sixteen said that, “Sometimes, like PTAs, I feel that, let others contribute…I have this kind of attitude”.

Many do not want to volunteer their time and expertise; instead waiting for others to do it or to invite them as expressed by Aida, a thirty-five years old working mother with two children.

"In our residential section, there is nobody in-charge to invite you. Unlike in the villages, our mothers had WI kan...there are people in-charge, but we don’t have that in the towns".
(Dekat seksyen area, tak de somebody yang betul-betul in-charge untuk ajak you. Macam kat kampong-kampung, mak-mak kita ada WI kan..ada orang in-charge, tapi kat bandar, don’t have)

However, there were also a few who were interested in community work, but were not able to
spare their time. Hana, thirty-three, also shared this opinion and said that, “I am interested, but always unable to find the time. Wan, a thirty-five year lecturer with five children said that, “No I am not involve in those things….may be when my children are older…at the moment, none”.

It is hoped that with the launching of the MPP, the organizational structure for community
development efforts has been strengthened for Shah Alam. The various community groups need to plan and organize programs at the neighborhood level. Planning and programming of activities should stress on creativity, responsiveness to change and integration of resources in
order to attract more residents to participate and become active members of the community.
Good community activities and programs would help create more awareness among the
residents, hopefully change their attitude towards community work and ultimately lead to
greater support and involvement in community programs and activities. This is the most
important ingredient towards the building of harmonious communities in the urban areas.

Recommendations and Conclusion

Harmonious community living in the urban neighborhoods needs cooperation from all parties
involved. Effective communication between residents and local authorities, as well as among
the residents themselves is crucial to achieving harmony in a community. Through frequent social activities, residents can get to know one another and strengthen their friendship and enhance neighborly spirit within the community. Communication is also crucial in promoting the spirit of neighborliness and avoids disputes. Building a harmonious community calls for the joint efforts of both the residents and the local authorities

In planning for new housing areas, particular emphasis should be given to the social aspect.
Housing layout design needs to be more creative and should promote acquaintance, interaction and encourage neighborly spirit. One example of such innovative housing design is the concept of tessellation planning and honeycomb housing. According to Mazlin, Durack and Davis (2005: 71), “this physical arrangement promotes communal interaction and safety from traffic and crime”. Many more new innovative ideas in residential planning and layout design have to be introduced in the urban areas to create cohesive and harmonious urban communities. The current practice of regimented grid iron layouts for residential areas should be discouraged.

In existing housing areas, awareness for community organizing and efforts in community development should be actively promoted and encouraged. The local authority and the community should work together to organize community programs and activities for every
members of the community – children, youth, women, elderly, the disabled etc. Existing social facilities like community centers, schools and mosques should be fully utilized to cater for the local residents. Community development effort needs cooperation from the public sector, the private sector and the community at large. The spirit of volunteerism is an essential ingredient for successful community development. As such, efforts to encourage and promote volunteerism at every level in the community have to be undertaken. Housewives, the elderly and youths are potential community volunteers who can help to organize community activities.

Husna and Abdullah (1991) stressed the importance of human, family and community development and states that, “development should be people focused”. Social aspects of development should be given greater emphasis if the vision of a developed society is to be realized.


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1 comment:

Mazlin said...

Do you know of the cluster houses done by PKNS in the 70s or 80s? Any studies?
Anyone interested in the Honeycomb housing mentioned in your paper can visit