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A failure of progress: seven air-cons to sleep at night

Tue 2012-Jan-31 @ +08 08:56:09 am

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.
The prime minister once suggested that people who live in flats should have electric dryers for their laundry instead of hanging them out in the sun. Unsightly, he said.
  • 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.
“We have been staying there for almost 8 years, and we could see the on-going development…Yeah, that very small housing areas will turn into a new township fills with excitements. Will have shopping malls, with cinemas and more!” » ‘Development’ envy among consumers drives urban sprawl, rejecting old values.

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.”

Progress, right?

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.

  1. Mr Bojangles permalink
    Tue 2012-Jan-31 @ +08 11:52:26 am 11:52

    RM330-RM380 a month for letrik bill? And 7 aircons working at full tilt? Must be getting a hefty discount somehow, somewhere.

    I who have no a/c, only fans whirring away the mosquitos and letting me hear the rain through the open windows, am landed with half that amount every month.

    Then, these folks with their temperate climates in their houses will go out and buy RM300 comforters and thick blankets to remain comfy under the covers.

    Such is the signs of progress. Bolehland style.

    Oh, and sipping lattes and puffing on their ciggies besides the dank drains and dusty lorongs. And calling it dining. And pretending they are on some sidewalk in gay paree or london or barca.

    Such are the delusions of the mighty bolehlanders.

    • uppercaise permalink*
      Tue 2012-Jan-31 @ +08 11:55:35 am 11:55

      No I exaggerated a little in the headline. It’s probably only four air-cons all going at one, in the bedrooms; .

  2. leithaisor permalink
    Tue 2012-Jan-31 @ +08 12:08:47 pm 12:08

    When I was a teenager 40 years ago, I often cycled from the middle of KL into Bukit Belacan in Ampang, and right at the border between the old Ampang town itself and the kampung area, there was, even then, a surprising and distinct drop in the ambient temperature. On a bicycle, it was easily felt. The lush vegetation made all the difference. Lesson learnt which stayed with me since.

    In my housing estate in PJ which I moved into more than 30 years ago, trees used to lione the main roads as well as my own road. Most of the big trees along the main roads have fallen victim to the mangling of the local council’s “pruning” contractors, neglect, more car-parking and road widening.

    Along my own road, only one of the original trees remains, the rest gone due to termites and worse, residents who thought they were bad for fung-shui and what-not. Of late, the yuppies have been moving into my area, and many of them seem seem to think that trees and their leaves are banes to their lives.

    Need I say that the number of air-cons have gone up and up in my area?

    So it is not a matter of just urban planning, the government and developers. The mindset of residents has to be changed too.

  3. Patrick permalink
    Tue 2012-Jan-31 @ +08 12:51:50 pm 12:51

    The problem with Malaysian housing and town planning in general is that it appears to go for the most-value-for-money approach. Which is why we tend to see the many housing estates built in a barracks-like formation, with little regard for greenery or weather concerns.

    Did you know that the Klang Valley (or at least early urban Kuala Lumpur) was designed to match the Garden City movement, courtesy of British town planner Charles Reade? In other words, a city that would have “proportionate” areas of greenery, housing and all manner of industry.

    It seems to be heading towards the opposite, with hyper-development being the order of the day. There have been some local studies done however.

    Heard of Mohd Peter Davis, formerly of UPM? He (and some others) came up with a concept called Honeycomb Housing (, which would apparently address security, climate and other concerns that plague housing estates today.

    Though he however admitted (in his academic report — ,Thermal comfort Honeycomb Housing, UPM 2006′) that the concept was less value-for-money than terrace housing. Less houses to be built in one area, in other words.

    With the greed of local developers and the short-sightedness of our town councils and urban planners, can you expect any less?

    • Tue 2012-Jan-31 @ +08 13:45:18 pm 13:45

      There was supposed to be a “green belt” between KL and PJ, between Kerinchi and Gasing. That was sacrificed, though some battles are still going on for Gasing Ridge (which a condo coming up on the KL side. That’s been typical of how politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats connive to chip away at common assets. Shah Alam was another “garden city” but it’s an unliveable sprawling mess, unless of course you’re a member of the original elite who took up homes in the quadrant around the palace.

  4. Tue 2012-Jan-31 @ +08 15:38:09 pm 15:38

    What a coincidence! Our topic at breakfast among fellow retirees was on electricity bills. Personally, I was least affected because our house since day 1 has been without air-conditioners. Yet, I was affected to a certain extent: a vacant house bill exceeded Rm20 (below that is free) because meter was read 4 days later; late reading causes increase due to higher rate applied which can be substantial to those with high usage during CNY. Examples: In my case, vacant house used to be free (<Rm20), latest bill Rm23.33; house occupied usually by two, with 3 guests over long weekend, latest bill Rm82.35 (previous Rm53.60); a friend's, also usualy two occupants (1 air-cond), with 3/4 guests over long weekend (3 air-conds), latest bill Rm280 which was double their usual! This is in Perak, where there were more people during CNY. I suppose, electricity usage in Klang Valley was generally lower during the festive period.

  5. leithaisor permalink
    Tue 2012-Jan-31 @ +08 21:05:27 pm 21:05

    And what does Najib think about our town planning?

    Bernama reported:

    The Federal Territories should be the best showcase for Malaysia’s development planning expertise and implementation, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.


    “We don’t want our Federal Territories to be well known only for their skyscrapers and all the negative elements associated with urbanisation but instead, for their greenery, cheerful atmosphere and healthy environment.

    PM: Federal Territories showcase of development planning expertise

    But will the talk be translated into action and reality? I know I won’t be holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

    • uppercaise permalink*
      Wed 2012-Feb-1 @ +08 11:52:06 am 11:52

      So what rubbish was he spouting in that speech? He’s the same guy who is championing the monstrosity known as Greater Kuala Lumpur to urbanise the Klang Valley and fill it with *10 million people*. It’s already a mess. Now this govt, which is a champion of road builders, property developers and construction companies, makes fancy talk about the FT being a “showcase” but they say nothing about making it a liveable city of people. He’s the same guy who said people in flats should all buy electric laundry driers instead of hanging their clothes out in the sun. (And I think he was quite serious.) Poor people who use free sunlight for their laundry are bad? People who buy an electric drier to use twice a week and spend more money on electricity are good? Why? Because laundry hanging out of the windows doesn’t look nice. That’s all that politicians want. You spend your money to make them look good. Do they care for how you live?

  6. Joe Tan permalink
    Wed 2012-Feb-1 @ +08 05:24:18 am 05:24

    I currently live in Sydney, Australia. Rising electricity bills is not confined to Malaysia and other tropical countries(as well as equatorial). We are living in the same house we bought 6 years ago. 2 adults, no children. Constant power usage is limited to the water heater and the fridge. We only switch on and use 1 lighting fixture at any one time. Yet when we compare the bills we paid 6 years ago until now, it’s always been rising despite our frugal usage. On one hand the utilities are giving us discounts to switch over to another provider and get a 10% discount and a few months later we are slugged with a goverment approved power price rise of 15 %! All this, I call the “curse” of modern day living! With so much advancement in science and technology, it’s amazing how hard working people are made to pay never ending increase in power bills and also other utilities bills. It’s just all talk!Why can’t we enjoy cheaper solar powered bills? I do not think the Government is not aware of this ever rising utilities price phenomena, they just want to protect the giant corporations that control the supply of such utilities to the ordinary hard working citizens. There is no sense of urgency within the government agencies and housing developers to implement a totally energy efficient housing package which encompasses the design, the choice of building materials, proper landscaping which can result in a cooler living enviroment which would then mean lesser power usage and in the long run more efficient and properly managed use of whatever sustainable resources we have. As long as consumers keep quite and bear with the ever more expensive utility bills they have to pay, this trend will continue!

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