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Kuala Lumpur's Controversial Plan to Develop the Last of Its Low-Rise Villages

Kampung Baru, a rustic hamlet in the middle of the Malaysian capital, has staved off development for decades. Can it continue to hold out?
A cyclist passes small businesses in Kampung Baru.
A cyclist passes small businesses in Kampung Baru.Reuters/Olivia Harris

It’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a metropolis of millions when walking the streets of Kampung Baru. Despite the fact that the world’s tallest twin structures, the Petronas Towers, hover over this Malay settlement in Kuala Lumpur, the atmosphere is serene. Banana and palm trees skirt one and two-story wooden homes. An occasional car or motorcycle passes by.

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.