Uh oh. DBKL may have picked the wrong fight...with TTDI folk over Taman Rimba Kiara
Cilisos Media Sdn
New Jo-Lyn
03 October 2017

Remember last year in June Taman Tun Dr Ismail residents were protesting against The Kuala Lumpur City Hall's (DBKL) new development in their beloved Taman Rimba Kiara?

For TTDI residents (and for many more outside TTDI), Taman Rimba Kiara is their escape spot without having to travel far. A favourite with families, hikers, cyclists, fitness enthusiasts A green haven in an urban city, and as you’ll find out below, an important source of biodiversity. So imagine their horror when DBKL announced the new development #brokendreams.

You can’t paint with all the colours of the wind if you replace this park with a condo.  Image from The Star

We first covered DBKL’s proposed developments in March earlier this year. In a nutshell:
DBKL wants to develop Taman Rimba Kiara park into a luxury condo, and is highlighting that the profits will be used to relocate longhouse residents who have lived there for generations.

Among the complications are:
The longhouse residents who are families of the plantation workers who used to work on the rubber estates that covered Bukit Kiara decades ago don’t actually want to be associated with the luxury condos.
The part of Taman Rimba Kiara allocated to the condo used to belong to the gomen, but was conveniently sliced off to be given to Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan, of which Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan is also a Director. FYI a very similar case is also going on in Titiwangsa.

Now, the TTDI folks agree with affordable housing for longhouse residents who have been waiting for it since the decade bell-bottoms were cool. It’s just the RM3 billion luxury condo they didn’t have the hots for.

Why is TTDI’s protest different from others?
Today, it’s been more than one year now since the protest, and if anything, things are heating up, and people are slowly realising that TTDI is a bit different from other neighbourhoods.  If we take previous protests as examples, it can be said that residents protests tend to blow over quite quickly, sometimes without achieving anything.

In 2014, residents of Kampung Chubadak Tambahan were evicted from their homes after a developer won a contract. Not only did residents get kicked out, they didn’t even get compensation at first. So they challenged local authorities for ownership of the land, but lost and were even called “squatters” by the judge. Later they tried to protest for compensation and the Court of Appeal at least ruled to give them that. But the sad thing is they still lost their homes.

Kg Chubadak’s residents living in tents after their houses were reduced to rubble :'( Image from Malay Mail)

And of course who could forget last year’s highway protests. Residents were against felling and degazettement of vital forest reserves and water catchment zones for the Klang Valley to build the proposed DASH, SUKE and EKVE highways. In spite of this protest being a big one (they collected 15,000 signatures) and getting a lot of media attention, it appears that the developments will go ahead.

But as you (and we) are beginning to notice, just a teensy smidge, TTDI residents really care about this park and they are not.backing.down. We spoke to Hafiz Abu Bakar who is the Chairman of the TTDI Resident’s Association (RA) and Leon Koay the Taman Rimba Kiara Working Group committee member, to tell us what makes TTDI so unique.

DBKL was about to find out that they messed with the wrong neighbourhood!

DBKL put up the notice in June last year

One day in June 2016, a signboard came up showing a notice put up by DBKL. Immediately, the Residents’ Association called for a town hall meeting on a Saturday.

“More than 200 people turned up. The purpose to inform residents of what the project is about, what we thought of it, and why we wanted to protest the next day. So on Sunday we had first protest in Taman Rimba Kiara itself where 1,000 people showed up.” – Hafiz told CILISOS

They managed to rally so many people by using social media to get the word out. With the prospect of the much loved Taman Rimba Kiara being chopped away and replaced with concrete blocks was too much to bear for park users, so the issue resonated with the public, who came to show their support.

TTDI protest.  Image from NST

Some months later, they organised their second protest where they went with a friendlier approach – a picnic protest! 200-300 residents came and they had a barbeque, balloons and games. The reason they went with this soft approach was just to show the authorities that the park is widely used residents and public at large, explained Hafiz, who has lived in TTDI slightly more than 30 years.

On top of that, the RA started a petition where they managed to collect 5,000++ signatures. Wah, it sounds like the TTDI RA is super organised! If you’ve ever been in an RA before, you’d know that some of them are not the most efficient and things hardly get done in meetings.

At the same time, their meetings swelled to about 700 attendees. They’ve never had this many people, according to Hafiz.

Their meetings are swinging

When DBKL realised that these people meant business, they invited them for a hearing, chaired by Datuk Najib (not the PM). It was attended by around 20 residents (at this point, Leon wasn’t part of the group yet), representatives from developer also there, plus officers from DBKL. So they discussed back and forth, the developer tried to show what the project is about, but they could not change the residents’ stand.

“From day 1 we have been telling DBKL that the longhouse should go ahead. They were rubber estate workers and were promised proper housing. But you don’t need 8 blocks of multi-storey condos for them. We want the project to be called off entirely.” – Hafiz

In spite of the hearing, DBKL continued to ignore their petitions to save the park. Finally, TTDI residents put their foot down and told DBKL, see you in court. The hearing has been set for 12 Oct. WHOA shizz just got real!

TTDI RA’s efforts have been impressive so far, but wait, it gets better…

After that, they created a working group and engaged the engineers, architects and lawyers of TTDI

TTDI RA holding a press conference. Circled are Hafiz (left) and Leon. Image from tamanrimbakiara.net

TTDI RA is made up of volunteers from various professions and skills, but among committee members, they didn’t have the necessary skill sets to approach this case beyond the usual neighbourhood issues, like dealing with potholes. So TTDI’s lawyers, engineers, and architects volunteered their expertise. Also, Association of Accredited Advertising Agents (4As) CEO Khairudin Rahim roped in the media and many other NGOs. Khairudin managed to get them covered in 50 articles this year alone, no money spent.

They set up a legal sub-committee, created a Working Group of about 10 people, out of that they created Technical Working Group of 10-12 people, and a Strategy Group. At this point, Leon, who was formerly a lawyer, turned Treasurer with Standard Chartered, turned Managing Director of investment and consulting firm, Bangsawan Group, joined the cause as a Working Group committee member. He has lived in TTDI for 14 years (to TTDI residents that’s considered still a rookie 😀 ).

You know what they did next? They got their volunteer architects to come up with an alternative blueprint for affordable housing for the longhouse residents!

One that obviously did not include a luxury condo and would only cost RM15 million, according to their architects, not RM3 billion, which is DBKL’s estimate figure for the project. To do this, Leon tells us they really spoke to the longhouse residents to understand their needs, ie. how many rooms they need, etc.

Whoah. TTDI architects proposed this alternative for housing for the longhouse residents

“The drawing done by an architect firm based in TTDI. We also have town planners who are residents. They work with engineering firms now. Some used to work with Ministries, some are retired. We have engineers, environmental engineers, sustainability consultants, etc.” – Leon told CILISOS

Through multiple WhatsApp groups and mamak meetings, they divided and delegated tasks. It’s insane!! You should see the number of documents to emailed to us. So detailed. These folks really went all the way.

This was what they emailed to us, omg

In fact the residents went as far as to take photos of surveyors for proof and stuff.

It was in the Dropbox folder Leon shared with us

As Leon and Hafiz explained, the residents have tried to be polite and constructive, but due to the disappointing response from DBKL, they decided to take the City Hall to court. In order to do that, they needed to have something called a legal standing, which means they needed a legitimate reason for taking legal action.

Fortunately, the group strategically decided that the best chance for legal standing came in the form of 5 condos that are closest in proximity to the development – the people most affected by the new condo. Leon and the others spoke to the condo managements, who then convened their own AGMs. All of them were unanimously unhappy with the development and agreed to participate. However, to pay for lawyer fees and such, of course they needed to raise funds. So, they hired Alliff Benjamin Suhaimi from Thomas Philip.

“We went around the community and asked quietly who wanted to donate. We spoke to people who were a bit affluent first and the issue resonates with them, so they contributed. We got a base fund together, a few tens of thousands. We had to set up a fund first, to show the people living in the condo, let’s work together, you know, we’re not at zero.” – Leon
[P/S: The reason why they raised funds quietly was because there are quite a few people in TTDI who are ‘a bit up there’, who can’t be seen to be antagonistic towards the Government, but they still wanted to save the park.]

TTDI residents pledging their support to the protest. Image from The Star

All they had to do was set up a cash box during townhall meetings and the donations poured in. In the end, whatever their financial background, the residents of TTDI really stood united and gave whatever they were able to.

Because Taman Rimba really means something to them
Amazingly (or perhaps not so amazingly), Hafiz and Leon have not encountered anyone who is against their cause, everyone has been supportive. But why? We asked Hafiz and Leon what the park means to them.

If you remember in our previous article we mentioned that DBKL wanted to turn Bukit Kiara into a botanical garden, but they aborted the project. The park became the base where they planted larger trees to relocate around the botanical gardens afterwards.

“The choice of trees was deliberate, there are lots of fruit trees which attracted lots of birds. The bird life in the park amazing. You can find hornbills there. Where in KL could you find hornbills?! Biodiversity shows how rich this place is. We don’t have many of these places left in KL, so if we don’t protect, we will have nothing left.” – Leon

“All of us in KL are not always fortunate enough to have houses with large compounds and gardens. So a park is very precious to us. We have a place here where we can do our brisk walks, our kids can play football. People have come together and started to get to know each other. We want it to be as livable as possible.” – Hafiz
The entire process has gotten them closer to their neighbours

TTDI residents protesting in June 2016.  Image from The Star

As far as Hafiz can remember, the RA has never had a protest of this scale before, but they are quite determined to protect the park. “It cost DBKL RM30 million to create the public park ages ago in the first place. If they can do this to a public park, they might even take a school padang and build a condo there, who’s to say,” he added.

The issue has stirred up something in each of the TTDI residents’ hearts and many have eagerly contributed of their time, money and resources where they can. It has also showcased how mature, independent and constructive their RA can be. When an Opposition politician offered help, they politely turned it down, saying this is something they have to do on their own!

“It angers us when DBKL said we have been influenced by the Opposition. We can think for ourselves, we have not engaged any politician from any side. It’s not a political agenda, it’s a community agenda.” – Hafiz

More than that, the issue has gotten them closer to their neighbours. The RA has seen a significant increase in signups. People just bring the forms and become members. Last year alone they received 70 new members, which is so much more than the regular number, Hafiz explained. And if TTDI residents can do it, it gives hope to other RAs everywhere.

So the court hearing is happening on 12 October. If you want this to succeed, share this widely and hopefully it will set a strong precedent for residents everywhere.

top  contents  chapter  previous  next