||Cyberjaya is Songdo’s forefather. Conceived as the means of transforming Malaysia into an IT world power, the new town was built as part of the Multimedia Super Corridor in the early 1990s. Since then, however, the new town has failed to attract enough big names or enough residents, and currently runs the risk of ending up as a big brain park.
The land now called Malaysia has known human habitation for tens of thousands of years. It was ruled as a series of dynastic empires for many centuries. Most of what is now called Malaysia was ruled as a British colony or protectorate until the nation achieved independence in 1963.
After WWII, Malaysia faced a serious shortage of housing. In 1952, Petaling Jaya (or ‘PJ’) was planned and constructed by the British colonial government as the nation’s first new town. Designed by Sir Gerald Templer, PJ was conceived as a satellite township for overcrowded Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia continued to employ a new town building policy after achieving independence from the United Kingdom. In the mid-1960s, Shah Alam became the first new town planned and built by the new Malaysian government. Until the 1970s, new town construction was concentrated in the Klang Valley, but development soon spread beyond Selangor. Over the next two decades, Malaysia built 50 new towns, largely divided into two approaches - one type of new town was a suburban satellite, sited on the fringes of large metropolitan areas, with the prime objective of mitigating metropolitan problems and congestion. The second type was a sort of frontier town, meant to supply the urban services generally lacking in rural areas. These frontier towns were seen as a way of developing agricultural and industrial processes throughout the country.
At the end of the 1980s, in the midst of rapid economic growth and spreading urbanization, the Economic Planning Unit of the Prime Minister’s Office began developing the idea of a New Federal Administrative District. After examining a series of alternative sites, the national government decided on Perang Besar in Selangor.
In 1993, the decision eventually led to the establishment of Putrajaya Holdings Sdn. Bhd. Putrajaya’s success became the catalyst for Cyberjaya, which was imagined as a complimentary new town. While Putrajaya was the political and administrative centre of the country, Cyberjaya was expected to become the national core of IT innovation and development; a ‘cyber city’ for the future.
Two years earlier, in 1991, former Prime Minister Mahathir introduced Wawasan 2020 (‘Vision 2020’). The Vision provided a comprehensive analysis of how Malaysia might move forward, with the ultimate goal of becoming a fully industrialized nation by 2020. A major part of this vision was the creation of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), a huge swath of land to be used, according to Mahathir, as a giant test-bed for experimenting with not only multimedia technology, but also, and more importantly, the evolution of a new way of life in the unfolding age of information and knowledge. The implementation of the corridor was planned for three phases: Phase 1 (1996-2003) – the establishment of MSC-Malaysia designed towards a human oriented intelligent city in harmony with nature; Phase 2 – an establishment of a web of similar corridors and a global framework of cyber laws; Phase 3 – a development into one Multimedia Super Corridor.
In 1995, McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, suggested the idea of an ‘Asian Silicon Valley’, or ‘cyber city’ to the Malaysian national government. The solution, in the form of Cyberjaya, was heavily promoted by Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister, Yabhg Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. In 1996 the various agencies agreed upon a 29 km2 site just west of Putrajaya, originally covered in oil palm plantations, rolling hills and natural lakes, as the new town’s future home.
Cyberjaya was planned with an emphasis on a series of ideal characteristics, including “Intelligent City, City in a Garden, Neighbourhood Concept, Environmental Friendly, Efficient Transportation System, Effective Public Utility and Green Belt Concept". The concept of the ‘intelligent city’ or ‘smart city’ is not unique to Cyberjaya, although the new town was one of the earliest applications. Cyberjaya’s other characteristics are more familiar to urban planners and designers. The idea of a planned city with a low-density urban fabric and a high percentage of green space has been around since Howard’s Garden City movement. In general, we can imagine a neighbourhood as an area of walkable scale, with a high proportion of residential units and an identifiable centre. The centre generally offers a combination of public green space and community facilities such as religious buildings, schools, or other civic structures.
The roads sweep through the new town in wide arcs and organic forms, allowing access to the extremely low-density urban fabric. As built, Cyberjaya is surprisingly sparse. The centre of the new town is almost entirely offices. Forests and undeveloped green space block sight lines and obscure a clear impression of the 30 km2 area. The ten-lane highway dividing Cyberjaya and Putrajaya is the new town’s only proper boundary; to the west, construction trucks gradually give way to natural vegetation. Cyberjaya is clearly still a work in progress.
Symphony Hills is one of the more recently built neighbourhoods in Cyberjaya. The homes flow seamlessly into dramatic landscapes of lush greenery. At the heart of this suburban paradise lies a spectacular floating resort clubhouse that serves as the nexus of the community. The neighbourhood is broken into four communities – Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann and Schubert. Each community is made up of a specific housing typology. Beethoven is filled with large twin villas, Mozart with garden terraces, Schumann with townhouses connected to the park and Schubert with terraced housing, also connected to the park. In Beethoven, the most luxurious villas are 525 m2-large enough to accommodate an extended family. Security is ensured by gated entrances that require visitors to obtain permits, video intercom and CCTV.
In terms of transportation connections, the new town is well connected to both Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya. Kuala Lumpur is accessible by the Express Rail Link, as well as the new Maju Expressway (MEX) which shortens the commute time from 40 to 20 minutes. The KL-Putrajaya/Cyberjaya dedicated highway is another quick link between the old capital and both new towns. The North-South Highway, B15 Highway, LDP, SKVE and ELITE highways provide additional access. The Express Rail Link connects Cyberjaya to the Kuala Lumpur Airport in 30 minutes, and Cyberjaya is virtually next door to Putrajaya – just ten minutes away by car.
An aspect of the plan that may be less familiar to planners is Cyberjaya’s ‘brain’ - the City Command Centre (CCC). The CCC integrates systems and subsystems within the city and providing value-added services for the residents within a citywide community network, which provides interactive broadband services and fast Internet access. The CCC will enable all the serving authorities in the city to provide efficient and responsive services to the residents and businesses. It will be the single point of contact for all types of inquires, service requests, billings, payments, etc. The CCC will act as a central monitoring hub for the integration, management and monitoring of emergency services, traffic management, utility services, fault tracking, distribution of work orders, etc.
Cyberjaya was designated as the nation’s pioneer green city. As part of the new focus on green technology, Cyberjaya subsequently introduced ‘iGREET’ (information on green technology). iGREET is a series of monthly workshops and lectures held at the Cyberjaya Clubhouse that provide a public forum for discussions on new sustainable urban strategies. Cyberjaya’s interest in green development is relatively new, but encouraging pubic dialogue is certainly a step in the right direction.
As part of the strategy to encourage education and grow more domestic experts, four universities are spread across the new town. Though they attract day students, the universities are vacated by evening and do little to inject vitality in Cyberjaya. Lack of nightlife is thus a common complaint among residents. In fact, most inhabitants claim that neighbouring Putrajaya is more exciting.
There are, however, advantages to the new town that maintain their appeal in today’s market - labour costs are low, land is cheap, corporate taxes are null for a minimum five years and a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual population gives incomparable advantages in regional and even global communication. But one of the new town’s biggest problems has simply been getting built.
Much like Cyberjaya’s contemporaries in Indonesia and Vietnam, safety and security are major selling points, and developers continue to be optimistic about the new town’s prospects. Over the next ten to fifteen years, Cyberjaya is expecting a major population growth with residential developments expected to reach a population of 210,000. Business developments are to provide up to 120,000 jobs and institutional establishments provide for 30,000 students.
It is doubtful, however, that Cyberjaya can become the economic and educational driver that was first imagined. Although it has certainly contributed to Malaysia’s place on the global stage, the new town is simply not attractive enough to compete with neighbouring Singapore and other regional ICT hubs. Attracting residents and building up a lively social environment can only increase the value of this not-so-intelligent new town.
Today, Cyberjaya is home to many multinational companies such as Shell, HP, Ericsson, BMW, HSBC, DHL and many more. It is also the chosen location for the nation's top smart schools and institutions such as Limkokwing University College of Creative Technology (LUCCT), Multimedia University (MMU) and Cyberjaya University College of Medical Sciences (CUCMS). Many call Cyberjaya a home within its residential developments such as the exclusive Perdana Lakeview West, Perdana Lakeview East, The Serenity Garden Homes and D'Melor Condominiums, offering a wide array of homes.
source: Rachel Keeton