Urban Conservation and Policies: Actors or Reactors for a Renewed Meaning to Urban Growth and Development?

Globalisation and economic development have meant that cities have exhibited tremendous growth over the last three decades or so. This has given rise to superinduced development with its concomitant negative externalities. One such consequence is the growth of the city at the expense of heritage buildings and sites. Whether it is Kuala Lumpur, George Town, Manila, Hanoi or Jakarta, there are ample examples where heritage buildings have disappeared. Some examples from Malaysia are Eastern Hotel, Metropole Hotel, and Bok House. This paper looks at some of the values of these heritage buildings to show the need for urban conservation and heritage policies to preserve the architectural and social history of cities. In spite of the Heritage Act (2005) in Malaysia, many heritage buildings continue to be in danger of being demolished to give way to modern apartments and offices especially private properties. Whereas stakeholders, landowners, developers, local authorities, etc., have been identified as urban drivers to bring about so-called positive changes in the urban morphology, heritage laws have often been viewed as “reacting” or “hampering” the processes of urban development. This paper argues that conservationists are not “reactors” but should be given due cognisance as “actors” to ensure that cities continue to have an endemic Southeast Asian flavour and soul because of their inherent architectural, historical, social or engineering value. In view of that, not only should urban conservation and heritage policies be given higher priority but redevelopment of city areas should, whenever possible, adopt the “uriwebanisation” concept whereby Southeast Asian (rather than post-modern) culture and architecture be the basis for development and redevelopment.