Common Ground for Growth Management in Malaysia

What strikes me most about the many, many conversations I’ve enjoyed with professionals, community groups, and government officials here in Malaysia is how much we share the same challenges.  One basic fact rings true, which is that our land is finite and our needs are growing.  The tensions brought by global investment in real estate, feelings of urgency around economic development, and the sheer speed of change are intense and real for everyone working in the field of planning.  These tensions are also real for the leaders and communities affected by change who are seeking a way forward that protects what we love about where we live.  Across the spectrum of sustainability – environmental concerns, community health and equity, and creating opportunities – the risks and potential gains hang on each decision.

I’ve been received with incredible grace, openness, and hospitality everywhere I’ve visited.  I can’t imagine a more comprehensive itinerary or a more intense focus for a short fellowship.   From the seat of the Federal government in Putrajaya to the City Hall of Penang, to the consultants and community activists, each conversation has been a rich exchange of ideas and practices.  I’ve been so impressed with the depth of caring and interest for the future of Malaysia, and the rigor of the efforts to stake out a worthy vision at multiple levels.

As best practices become more available through global communications and exchange,  implementing what we’ve learned together becomes a more and more relevant focus.  Although we’ve had great conversations in terms of technical practices and policy, many discussions ultimately turn towards the subject of how we make decisions about our future, which is the foundation of planning, and how we realize the benefits on the ground.

Reflecting on my own community in Eugene, the relationship between our slow, careful progress in making big decisions with far-reaching impacts – while a source of frustration for some – also gives our leaders confidence that each choice is well-informed, and in the best interest of the whole community.  Although every action (or inaction) will impact someone, and some will always disagree, the depth of the conversation and the rigor with which we evaluate the alternatives against our shared values will determine the outcome.

Each community makes decisions according to its own unique decision making process and within the structure of its governing bodies.  One of the many wonderful things about this fellowship is the clear, personal reminder that each of us can act in many small ways, at many levels, to evolve our systems and attitudes in the common interest and towards a more sustainable future.  As planners and leaders everywhere discover and share new ways to engage our communities in conversation, the outcomes will increasingly reflect the values of those we serve.  I feel lucky to be part of that process and to have learned so much from this outstanding, unique culture and part of our global heritage.  I’m filled with tremendous hope by the people I’ve met in Malaysia and the important work they’re doing every day.

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