Displaced by development
Writer: Sharyn Shufiyan
Published: Fri, 29 Jun 2012
I drive through Segambut Dalam every day to get to work and back. I’m not native to this area, having only moved to the Segambut sub-district about four years ago.
My earliest ventures to this area were slightly after high school when I used to frequent Desa Sri Hartamas.
Segambut Dalam reminded me of Kampung Baru, a stretch of quaint rural smack in the middle of a bustling city, encapsulated within the walls of high rise buildings.
Driving through Segambut Dalam, you are instantly transported back to Kuala Lumpur in the 60s. Kampung houses, makeshift cafes, motor kapcai, road-side markets.
In less than 10 years, the area underwent significant changes and the pace of how it changed awed me.
Awe, but with a slight tinge of apprehension. It reminded me too much of impermanence, how things don’t last.
I suppose there is an end date to everything, and Segambut Dalam’s own end is looming.
Before, luxury condominiums were limited to Mont Kiara and just within the Segambut Dalam periphery.
Today, these condominiums creep into Segambut Dalam, pushing its wealthy might further into the enclave.
Kampung houses are being demolished to make way for more condominiums. The construction that’s taking place also seems to be bringing in foreign workers into the neighbourhood.
I always see them walking back as I drive pass them, safety helmets still in hand.
They seem to have settled well; walking to the neighbourhood mosque along with the locals.
These luxury condominiums are occupied by expats and what a sight they are! I see them taking strolls or jog into Segambut Dalam, imposing their alien lifestyles onto the community.
Segambut Dalam is not even conducive to jog – a narrow two-lane road serves the area and there are hardly any footpaths.
You’re pretty much jogging against oncoming traffic and zig-zagging motorbikes.
I always wonder why they don’t head towards Mont Kiara where they’ll feel more at home.
You can hardly ignore class structure when you’re in this area. The boundary is so thin, it’s hardly there anymore.
No longer are squatters just a hidden part of the city; its right outside your window, or in this case, guardhouse.
The social make-up is interesting; although the population of Segambut Dalam is already mixed with locals and immigrants, adding Westerners into the mix just makes it look odd.
Socially, Segambut Dalam is going through an overhaul.
On one end, you got Indonesian, Bangladeshi and Burmese immigrants, on the other, expats.
Never mind that they both fall under the category of foreigners working in Malaysia, economic hierarchy has made it so that they belong in two extreme ends – living in the same space but treated differently.
Yeoh Seng Guan quoted Henri Lefebvre in Creolized Utopias: Squatter Colonies and the Post-Colonial City in Malaysia, that the “city” should be viewed as the domain where episodes of the hegemonic expansion and capitalist drama are being played out. Modern, luxury condominiums are replacing kampung houses. Expats and wealthy locals living in high rises looking down on families who have barely enough to survive the city. Big cars driving past kapcais. The outsiders, like the colonizers of Malaya’s past, are moving in, settling in, pushing out. Slowly, but surely, the whole stretch of Segambut Dalam will be consumed by capitalism.
I’m not sure how these corporations are able to develop so quickly and so profusely but perhaps developers leveraged on the fact that Segambut Dalam is already adjacent to property hotspot, Mont Kiara.
Racheal Lee wrote in The Edge, “Astute developers have already discovered that an effective strategy for success in the Segambut area is to rename their developments and distance themselves from the Segambut name. This has been done with relative success for upmarket developments such as Dutamas and Bukit Prima Pelangi.”
Since the process is gradual, it’s such a peculiar sight. Perhaps because I pass by every day, as a constant outsider, observing the changes of this particular community. It’s as if you’re driving through history, witnessing the demise of a civilisation to make way for a new one.
Perhaps, that is just the nature of space. It changes, merges, stretches and shrinks over time. Segambut Dalam, already boxed in, will continue to shrink further into the abyss.
But what about the community, the people who have made Segambut Dalam their home?
As more land is being acquired and development of upmarket areas increases, where would they go? Will they get pushed further away from the city, further away from their rice bowl? Will they be placed in low cost units, in cramped spaces? Or will they then create new shanty towns and thus the cycle continues?
Yeoh further wrote, “The most controversial amendment (to the Land Acquisition Act in 1991) provided powers to the state, allowing private property to be compulsorily acquired for any use that is deemed to be economically beneficial to the country’s development.”
Clean up the city, attract foreign investors, but don’t show the problem.