Kuala Lumpur - from a tin mining settlement to a neoliberal stronghold of Southeast Asia

Marek Kozlowski, Simon Huston, Yusnani Mohd Yuof

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Purpose: Kuala Lumpur (KL) emerged as the capital of the newly independent Federation of Malayan States in 1957 with a population of 316,000. Over the next 60 years, the city expanded into a major urban regional conurbation. It now covers an area of 2,790 km 2 and has a population of around 7.7 million. In the last two decades, market-driven, fast-track development, underpinned by road infrastructure has accelerated the city's urban transformation. Especially over the last two decades, a spate of urban redevelopments, including commercial and retail complexes, specialised centres, industrial parks, educational complexes and residential estates have transformed the Kuala Lumpur Metropolitan Region (KLMR) beyond recognition. KL is only one example among many of intensive Southeast Asian property-led urban development, fuelled by demographic pressures and global capital inflows that transformed the regional natural and built environments. The purpose of this study is to investigate the influence of globalisation, neoliberalism and property-led development, on the built form and socio-cultural legacies of the KLMR. Design/methodology/approach: The major aim of this study is to determine how neoliberalism and property-led development have impacted the urban form and structure of the KLMR. The methodology applied in this study concentrates mainly on the use of qualitative research methods. The major qualitative research methods include qualitative analysis, field surveys and observations, primary and secondary data collection. The approach in this study is to exemplify the shift from government-sponsored development in the post-independence period to the current globalised-private oriented development. Findings: The major findings of this research suggest that the global, property-led mode of urban development, whilst superficially successful, undermined traditional and tropical-climate urban landscapes. It also bequeathed many urban or property level problems, including traffic congestion, air pollution, planning governance and building management issues. The paper outlines narratives for a more balanced and sustainable mode of urban development, which is more in tune with local culture and climatic conditions. Originality/value: This paper provides a deep insight analysis and evaluation of KL's growth from a small town into a global metropolitan region where property-led development dictates the rules and determines the character of the city.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)706-724
Number of pages19
JournalProperty Management
Issue number5
Early online date22 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sept 2022

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  • Thematic analysis
  • Urban planning
  • Colonial legacies
  • Property-led development
  • Regional planning
  • Urban planning and design
  • Neoliberalism
  • Climate responsive design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Administration
  • Strategy and Management
  • Urban Studies
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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