Lure of urban living
Joseph Wong 
An artist’s impression of the ongoing RM8.7 bil Bukit Bintang City Centre project

AS with many big cities, Kuala Lumpur has seen an ebb and flow of its population.

Of late, the tide of internal migration is again shifting back towards the city’s central business district (CBD), attracted by a multitude of advantages and a change in lifestyle preference.

Mega projects like the on-going RM8.7 bil Bukit Bintang City Centre (BBCC) and RM40 bil Tun Razak Exchange (TRX), coupled with improved public transportation, are adding to the attraction of city living.

What is interesting is that both millennials and baby boomers are drawn to the urban lifestyle, says BBCC Development Sdn Bhd CEO Low Thiam Chin.

The pull of city living for these two demographics has been growing of late, believed to have been triggered by the government’s mass rapid transit (MRT) project, light rail transit (LRT) extensions and upgrading of the monorail, he says.

Both millennials and baby boomers are drawn to the urban lifestyle, says Low

Despite their age difference, the two groups are surprisingly looking for a lot of the same things. “They want the excitement of the city, they want that kind of lifestyle. The baby boomers are interested in that lifestyle as well,” Low tells FocusM.


He says part of the shift is also due to the realisation that too much time is spent on the road, commuting between work in the city and home in the suburbs, not to mention the traffic jams that occur during peak hours.

“You can easily spend three hours a day on the road, going to and from work. That’s just not productive time,” says Low, who is also Eco World Development Group Bhd (EcoWorld) divisional general manager.

EcoWorld, along with partners UDA Holdings Bhd and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), are developing BBCC through BBCC Development. UDA and EcoWorld have a 40% stake each while EPF holds the remaining 20%.

The older generation is growing weary of maintaining a bigger home especially at the “empty nest” stage of their lives as their children have grown up and moved out, he says.

Combine this with the desire for a more transient lifestyle, both demographics are spiking a burgeoning movement of growth in urban living.

They can enjoy a higher standard of living in the city, get together with family and friends, walk to shops, restaurants and bars and play their role in bringing urban centres to life, Low says.

What is also interesting is that the current property slowdown has made this a good time to acquire a home within the city, says Reapfield Properties (KL) Sdn Bhd head of sales Matt Tian.


Price gap narrowing

The gap between prices for homes in the CBD and first- and second-tier properties is narrowing due to the property slowdown, he says.

Surprisingly, prices as low as RM800 to RM900 per sq ft (psf) are still available within the city, albeit these are not the upmarket properties, Tian says.

Some of the high-end developments outside of the CBD like in Old Klang Road, Cheras or Sentul are already at the RM900-1,000, RM700-800 and RM600-700 psf levels, respectively, he says.

“Therefore, the residual amount doesn’t make much difference for CBD properties,” he says, adding that the same could be said of the rental market.

The price difference is only more distinct in the high-end market where buyers can pay in excess of RM2,500 psf, like Binjai on the Park by KLCC (Holdings) Sdn Bhd subsidiary Layar Intan Sdn Bhd or 8 Conlay branded residences by KSK Land Sdn Bhd.

Such properties including BBCC, TRX and PNB 118, soon-to-be Malaysia’s tallest building, are all within the “Golden Triangle” of Kuala Lumpur.

Being within the city’s prime business area has been a boon for BBCC. “In early October last year, we launched BBCC’s Lucentia 2, the second block of service residences which saw 50% sold at the time,” says Low.

“That was about 10 months after the launch of Lucentia 1. The response as always was overwhelming, cementing BBCC’s status as one of the most sought-after addresses in Kuala Lumpur,” he says, adding that the first tower was over 80% sold at the time of Lucentia 2’s launch.

“To date, there are still a few units left,” he says of the total of 666 units launched thus far.

The Robertson is within walking distance of two LRT stations and one MRT station, making it very accessible, says Ngan

The 47-storey Lucentia 1, comprising 393 units with sizes ranging from 454 to 882 sq ft, was priced at RM1,650 psf while Lucentia 2, at 36 storeys and offering 273 units, was priced at RM1,750 psf.

For Gamuda Land Sdn Bhd’s recently completed The Robertson in KL city centre, its value has risen past the RM1,500 psf mark from RM1,300 psf at launch, says its chief operating officer Ngan Chee Meng.

Over 90% of the units have been sold, he says of the RM878 mil mixed development project at Jalan Robertson. “The Robertson is within walking distance of two LRT stations and one MRT station, making it very accessible,” he says.

And like BBCC, The Robertson also has foreign buyers. This is not surprising.

The Robertson units come fully furnished

Foreigners in the mix

When it comes to foreigners moving into Malaysia, the CBD is always their first choice, says Reapfield Properties’ Tian.

“In most cases, they are unfamiliar with our roads and so would depend on public transport,” he says.

Moreover with ridesharing services provided by UBER and Grab, those who are unable to drive or do not own a car can find greater accessibility through a simple click on a taxi app, he adds.

Low agrees: “We have sold a number of units to international buyers. Unlike local buyers, they are more concerned with the property’s vicinity to public transportation.

“This is what many of them are used to in their own cities. They are used to taking public transport and walking to and from the stations and their destinations.

“That’s what we noticed for BBCC. That it is directly linked to the existing Hang Tuah LRT and monorail interchange and a short walk to the Bukit Bintang MRT station is important for international buyers.

“While BBCC itself offers a plethora of attractions, like the Entertainment Hub which offers the world-class Zepp performance hall, Malaysia Grand Bazaar, Cineplex, LaLaport shopping mall, Lifestyle Street and more, accessibility is the key factor,” he adds.

The availability of public transportation also means that they can leave the city easily to travel or explore other parts of the country, he says.


Government support

The improvement of public transport is an undeniable advantage because it allows people who don’t live in the city to travel there easily and economically, whether for work or leisure.

The government has also been enhancing the walkability of city areas and has provided walkways to the rail stations.

“The improved convenience and safety through the covered walkways in the city centre that connect most of the shopping malls, offices, hotels and tourist spots is vital to encourage greater use of public transportation,” says Tian.

The government’s policy of a RM1 mil minimum price for foreigners buying property in Malaysia has not deterred them from purchasing because regionally, Kuala Lumpur is among the most affordable and yet, rental return is one the highest for Southeast Asia and even Asia, he says.

“Plus the friendly foreign policies such as the MM2H (Malaysia My Second Home) programme, easy school enrolment and fast working visa approval, among others, make it easier for international buyers,” he says.

Socio-economic issues of city living

THE current pull of city living is generally seen as positive but beneath the lights, glamour and glitter lie issues that need to be resolved or they will add cost and give rise to unwanted social problems.

While the improvement in the public transportation system may be a catalyst for the renewed interest in urban living, it is merely a hardware, says architect firm Veritas Design Group principal Ng Yiek Seng.

The people should take ownership of the areas they live in, says Ng

“By nature, it is the people who determine the socio-economy of the area and how they use public transport will determine how the city will be lived in,” he tells FocusM.

“Already we have incidences of vandalism and throwing of rubbish,” he says, pointing out the reality of having first-world infrastructure but third-world mentality.

“Which is why the idea of pride of place and community living must come into the plan in making the whole city liveable,” he says.

Inner city living situations are always difficult to control. As long as private ownership is in place, the pressure of a free market forces development to go into high-density mode, Ng says.

“Of course there are still areas comprising low-cost flats such as the older parts of Jalan Pudu and Jalan Alor,” he says, adding that these should be spruced up to make them as presentable and liveable as possible.

“Ultimately it is about the people and how they take ownership of the areas. Can the government or DBKL (Kuala Lumpur City Hall) do more? Yes! But with the people subscribing to the idea of the city as neighbourhoods and not as fortresses, (it will lead to) a see-sawing balance of socio-economics,” he says.

The Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2020 is the blueprint that will guide the development of the city and provide key guidelines for its transformation into a world-class city, says BBCC Development Sdn Bhd CEO Low Thiam Chin.

Done correctly, the city would have the vibrancy, dynamism, passion and environmental-friendliness to push it to the next level, he says.

Confusion over definitions

THERE is usually some confusion between living in the centre of the city and inner city living as there is no proper delineation.

Veritas Design Group principal Ng Yiek Seng says inner city is by definition an area within the city centre that is poorer and usually within an older part of the city.

“The confusion here is the term inner city which sounds like it is in the centre of the city and within a certain radius from the actual city centre.

“The term inner city was coined not so much as a location from the city centre but as a socio-economic situation within the city, usually close to its centre,” he explains.

This is not to be confused with city living which has glamour and vibrancy attached to it, he says.

“Of course, some of the city areas are poorer due to (a less than ideal) location such as the site being an odd-shaped area at an interchange that is hard to access by cars and other vehicles,” he says.

The idea is to rejuvenate such areas to attract youths as well as bring a sense of pride and neighbourhood, creating positive experiences as well as propagate safety and greater interactions, he says.


This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 268.