(See part 1, Singapore) My first impression of Kuala Lumpur on arriving from Singapore was that it was the poor relation, formed mostly from the same DNA but with some very noticeable sequence differences. A bit like in the nineties when Manchester United, the “glamorous” team vied with Manchester City, the fanatically supported, but underachieving neighbours to be (well in their minds at least!) the “true kings of football”. After spending a few days in KL and learning a little bit more about the place I can see they are a closer genetic match, its just that they both started from different places. In this case, nurture over nature gave Singapore the head start, a small strategically placed island is an easier canvas to work than a large geographically, climatically and culturally diverse country.
Malaysia is a more conservative place (with a small c), probably as culturally integrated as any country can be, its ambitious, the economy and infrastructure have grown year on year and there is a sense of optimism around the place. In KL especially, this growth is shooting up everywhere in a fusion of free enterprise and Islamic conservatism making for a proliferation of striking structures that to my reckoning lack much of the sense of real warmth and connection with the human spirit found in truly great architecture.
I don’t think KL will ever catch up with its glamorous neighbour, in financial terms (GDP per capita) it may surpass Singapore in years to come simply based on resources available. But it will take some time and an incredible effort if it is to begin to out dazzle its sparkling neighbour. The flagship high rise projects to be seen everywhere are undermined by the many pockets of deprivation, smelly sewers and overstretched infrastructure that are still to be found at street level. It’s a much bigger task to do this than to chuck up another tower or mall especially during a time of fast rising population (projected to rise by 50% at 2020).
Sadly for KL, Singapore (like Manchester United) has a world wide fan base, everybody’s heard of it and even in the flat times, its place in regional history provides a candle to keep a light in the window. KL will always be the upstart, (like Manchester City) it’s spent lavishly, bringing in lots of individuals, each with immense talent and flair but then it just extracted the talent with little of the flair. No doubt KL will stay in the the top half of the Asian city league and grind out trophy wins from time to time but I’m not so sure it will achieve the “loved” status it craves. S