Kampung Baru, a rustic hamlet in the middle of the Malaysian capital, has staved off development for decades. Can it continue to hold out?
Kampung Baru, formed by British colonial authorities in 1900, comprises seven villages over about 300 acres. Its prime location—it’s the sole remaining large tract of developable land in the city’s center—makes it a developer’s dream. Its worth is estimated at more than $1 billion. Malaysia’s government has not had much luck in its decades-long quest to develop the enclave. Much of the land has been passed down through Malay families for generations and divided among descendants, yielding a whopping 1,355 lots owned by 5,300 people. This, as well as the fact that the British designated Kampung Baru a Malay Agricultural Settlement, which allowed a local board to govern it, has made buying and building on the land difficult.
Though officials say they plan to preserve the settlement’s Malay heritage through the conservation of a number of buildings and the construction of a Malay arts and crafts center, the architectural sketches of what Kampung Baru would resemble post-development look like another world. Shiny skyscrapers—one with a Ferris wheel on top—and sleek pedestrian areas reminiscent of New York City’s High Line replace meandering streets and small shops.