Over the last decade, during the 10th and 11th Malaysia Plan periods, the Malaysian government has significantly recalibrated its spatial policies. It has reshaped its strategies and programmes on the role of cities as engines of growth and thus as key elements in national economic and social development. This transpired towards the end of the 9th Malaysia Plan (- 2010) from a decisive switch in approach towards the national space economy: from distribution/dispersal, balance and equity towards concentration/agglomeration, efficiency and productivity. The philosophy changed from place-centred to people-centred, as had been advocated at the time by the World Bank, among others. It entailed a different vision for urbanisation, urban growth and migration from lesser to higher opportunity areas.
A range of national policy documents, regional and local management plans, and linked implementation programmes have elaborated on the strategies for urban competitiveness, while simultaneously adhering to ambitions of urban liveability, inclusiveness, sustainability and resilience. With respect to Peninsular Malaysia, the concrete policy choices have been first, to focus enhancement of urban competitiveness on four main urban complexes (Greater Kuala Lumpur, Iskandar, Greater Penang, and Kuantan). Second, to maintain an urban balance by simultaneous enhancement of high-potential and catalytic centres throughout the territory, some connected through linking corridors.
As the 11th Malaysia Plan period is ending, accomplishments of policies, strategies, and programmes are not commensurate with stated targets and overall ambitions. From an analysis of the reasons for this it is clear that in the 12th Malaysia Plan and future physical and urban development plans a fresh approach is needed, for cities to play the role of ‘key movers’ of national economic and social development.
This policy note addresses the underachievement relative to ambitions, and the underlying causes. Equally important, it outlines the contours of a fresh approach, especially towards the inter-urban balance. We illustrate consequences of the current urban systems thinking, key urban questions, and the need for, as well as prospect of, alternative policy options through a case study of the South Perak urban system. In the middle part of this paper we discuss its current functioning and likely directions of future development.
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