Kuala Lumpur has its origins in 1850s. She is situated at the confluence of the two rivers, Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang. Chinese labourers were hired to developed tin mines in Ampang, Pudu and Batu. The river was used to transport materials and food. Soon Kuala Lumpur became a frontier town consisting of single storey buildings with timber panel walls and attap (thatched) or corrugated metal roofing.
Around 1870s, the third Kapitan of Kuala Lumpur, Yap Ah Loy, played an important role in the development of this small trading post into a booming town. Double storey brick houses with design influences from Southern China were built and some of it still stands till today.
Rent Control and Stunted growth
In 1966, Malaysia enacted the Rent Control Act which included buildings built before January 1948. This act prevented landlords of these private buildings from raising their tenants rent. This act was supposed to have lasted 30 years but it was finally lifted in December 1999. The growth and renewal within the City became stunted during this period. Landowners were not able to evict their tenants and rebuilt their buildings. Some lucky landlords were able to overcome this problem with great costs and rebuilt their buildings to take advantage of the rising commercial demand.
Kuala Lumpur – The Way Forward
There is now a Conservation Movement lead by NGOs who objects to the destructive renewal of these old Art Deco buildings that gave Kuala Lumpur its distinct character and history. However, personally I feel that without compromises these social pressures could lead to haphazard planning and traffic flow would inevitably grind to a halt making this part of the City unliveable.