A failure of progress: seven air-cons to sleep at night
When policy, planning and ‘progress’ go awry
Feeling the heat? Reading Bernama’s report » Heatwave a boon for air-con suppliers may make some people get hot under the collar: it tells of a middle-class home-owner with power bills of RM330-380 a month running seven air-cons. Many Klang Valley residents live similarly, and will not be shocked by the story. They’ll see it a mark of achievement, the ability to pay high electricity bills every month, having all bought into the consumer culture as a mark of “modernity”.
Modernity. Progress? Or a sign of society’s failure? A failure by government, universities, architects and developers, and big business? A failure to deal with the reality that we live in a humid equatorial country, where a temperature range of 27°C to 35°C is normal, and houses and cities must be planned and built accordingly so that people can live and work comfortably in short sleeves, not in three-piece suits made for cold climes. Thanks to imported westernised temperate-climate values, sweaters, three-piece suits and legwarmers seem to be stylish and modern. So, too, with the temperate-climate values that imbue the urban and suburban cityscape of “modern” Malaysia.
No sign of the tropics in this city
A failure of govt, varsities, architects and builders
When an ordinary family has to install air-conditioners in a family home because it is too warm to sleep at night, it is not progress but failure:
- Failure of governments to recognise that we live in a tropical country and to plan accordingly, with policies on housing design, building materials, and construction, and urban planning that recognises the need to cut heat, restore the natural balance and allow for living comfortably in tropical conditions. Instead policies have been (and usually are) driven by big business out for a buck, or are designed to look good for political capital.
- Failure of universities to conduct research and studies into tropical housing design and tropical urban planning, and provide input for, and proslytise the need for realistic government policies based on culture and climate.
- Failure of architects to design for mass housing most suitable for tropical conditions, and to convince builders and developers of the need for such designs;
- Failure of city councils and urban planners to plan tropical cities with tropical greenery, with provision to dissipate heat and rain, and not allow Los Angeles-style urban sprawl dictated by housing developers or consumers brainwashed into desiring temperate lifestyles with homes to suit;
- Failure of the media to report or analyse anything more than what property developers say
- Failure of society itself for buying into the “development is good” argument without weighing the consequences, or demanding more from government and the housing industry.
Waiting to be ‘developed’ into a heat sink
Here’s a typical situation: 15 acres in town waiting for a property developer to bring bulldozers to rip up the kampung. Away with the shady sea almond trees, the coconut trees and banana plants, the chicken coops, and the wooden houses. Let the media describe them as “dilapidated shacks” to be replaced with moderity: brick, cement, concrete, glass and asphalt, ready to soak up the tropical sun and radiate more heat. Surrounding the houses are a four-lane highway and a six-lane highway with overpasses, and other houses, shops and offices. All heat sinks, just like the cars, lorries and buses that ply the busy roads. And they all run on air-conditioning.
Houses built for power companies and air-con suppliers
• Subang Jaya resident: 2½ storey house with seven air-cons, one each in living room, four bedrooms, study, dining room; they run for three to four hours at night. “We cannot open the windows after 6pm as the mosquitoes will come in.” Electricity cost: RM330-RM380 a month.
• Bandar Country Homes resident, Rawang: “When I switch on the ceiling fan at night, the air that swirls inside my room is hot. When I open my windows, the mosquitoes start to fly in. Air-conditioning helps, but the electricity bill will certainly go up.”
A city that walks with air-conditioning
Even going for a walk can now be done in air-conditioning: a new elevated pedestrian corridor in Kuala Lumpur lets shoppers walk from Bukit Bintang shops to KLCC shops. Sponsored by Petronas: your petro-ringgit at work, paying for more electricity. (And who supplies it?)
Cool, right? Progress. Right?
*Links to the studies above are examples of some local research on urban planning and housing. No criticism of the authors, content or intent is implied.