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Grassroot Planning For A Liveable City

This Master graduate with a City and Regional Planning qualification from Ohio State University in Ohio, US, needs no introduction. TPr. Hj Ihsan Zainal Mokhtar after all, has come a long way in transforming various urban and rural areas into systematic and strategic gridlines on the local map.

Currently holding the position of President of The Malaysian Institute of Planners (MIP), Ihsan is a well-rounded person who has clocked in a wealth of  experiences. For one, he was among the first batch of scholarship students who pursued his further studies in city and town planning in the US in 1984.

After his return to Malaysia in 1986, he was posted to a rural town to lecture at the School of Economics and Public Administration, Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) in Bandar Darul Aman in Kedah.

“I had a cultural shock due to a vast jump from hyped up US to a tiny paddy-field town,” he recalls.

Ihsan who is also Principal of IZM Consult Sdn Bhd now, has served as a Lecturer at the MARA Institute of Technology from 1987 to 1995. He enjoys teaching as in this way, he can contribute to the community at large.

“Though the recession engulfed the nation in the 1980s, I was blessed to be able to embark on my lecturing position immediately,” reflects Ihsan.

This was despite the initial setback when his Degree wasn’t widely recognised during the time when priority was given to UK graduates instead.  

Ihsan’s first stint with the private sector was with a company called  Magna Park Sdn Bhd in 1996. There, he was in charge of the development spanning 88 acres of land in Kepong, Kuala Lumpur that was valued at RM500 million.

He was worked at Renong Berhad’s subsidiary called Prolink Development Sdn Bhd on its 10,000-hectare development of Nusajaya, Johor.

Ihsan was also attached to Fadason Holdings Sdn Bhd as General Manager until the year 2000 on a privatisation project with Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) that was valued at RM400 million, after which time he embarked on his own private practice.

EARLY PLANNING STAGES

Ihsan emphasises that planning stages are crucial as the process can contribute tremendously towards the development of a country. He says that back in the US, planning was more participatory as compared to Malaysia which is more towards a “follow the instruction”approach.

Since  this nation was going through drastic infrastructure changes and economic challenges in the 1990s, town planners had to adapt and evolve to accommodate the city’s needs.

Ihsan was also involved in developing Kepong back then. There was a situation whereby 1,000 squatter homes called Kg Suria – also known as JKR Batu 7 Kepong which is now called Magna Prima had to be relocated as part of its town planning.

“This was aimed at improving the lifestyle of those living there. Those living in the now demolised squatter areas were compensated and given alternatives on housing.  Therefore, Planners are always at the forefront of social and lifestyle growth,” explains Ihsan.

Ihsan’s passion for planning and creative design was obvious even during his school years but became even more pronounced after he spoke to an Australian Planner residing in Terengganu who has dedicated his 20 years in the industry whose inspiration in planning is to contribute back to the society in a bigger way. 

TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS

Ihsan’s first trial started in the mid-90s after he came back to Malaysia. Times were tough during that period of recession and many were jobless and found it difficult to secure a job. However, he obtained his chance to be a Lecturer at UUM. Out of the 50 candidates, he was among five shortlisted.

He says that the approach to studying in the US tend to be opinionated and open whilst in Malaysia, students tend to  abide via standard rules. Although his qualifications were more grounded in the arts and humanity, he discovered that his Master’s qualifications were not recognised by the professional bodies or authorities here. This was a challenge which he endured throughout the years.
However, he persevered and overcame the many challenges that came his way.

Ihsan regards Tun Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as his inpiration and mentor as he has played a significant and integral part in many people’s lives.

In addition, he has also contributed towards elevating the well-being of the community in terms of adding value to their lifestyles by putting in place the necessary infrastructure and proper town planning details in place for the benefit of the rakyat.

MISSION POSSIBLE

After assuming his position as the President last year, Ihsan has also taken it upon himself to take up the responsibilities of achieving the goals for the organisation. These include to create more awareness among the community and giving an attentive ear to various sectors and segments of people concerning their views and voices.

Currently, MIP has around 2,500 members. It is his wish that members would gravitate and exhibit the same passion, role, responsibility towards society. Ihsan also wants more people to know on the guidelines within the framework of the law concerning various issues including fire and water guidelines, technicalities, processes as well as challenges involving city planning and other upgrades.

Ihsan says that MIP would continue to advise both the private and Government sectors on the best policies as well as methods which are feasible for the community to implement and promote  the importance of planning.   

PAVING THE WAY FORWARD

Ihsan asserts that in looking for good deal in properties, the mantra would still revolve around “location, location, location”. He says that the potential buyer must anticipate and consider his property investment move seriously. Investors he says should best know when is the best time to be speculative by planning ahead of time.

The same principle applies to town planners as Ihsan says that good planning should also involve avoiding the cutting down of trees and forests.

He says that where there are more skyscrapers, proper landscaping should be planned besides including recycling measures and beautifying the city to enhance its liveability in future.

In general, he adds that property developers are following this path of greening the city which would be a benefit to city dwellers and the environment. These planning systems are achieving sustainability goals required for a low-carbon future for cities and buildings.

“To me, the property market for the coming years seem pretty stable. There are some housing problems but these apply only for certain segments of the society,” adds Ihsan. He encourages the younger generation that once they are ready, they can purchase their first property instead of holding on.

“I feel it is better to rent and save on housing costs, use bicycles instead of cars, and live a healthy and secure lifestyle,” says Ihsan. He ends by quoting Socrates on city planning, “By far the greatest and most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to plan and beautify cities and human communities.”

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