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Joel Koktin has a good article on smart cities. He defines it as not just on environmental and liveability standards, but economic fundamentals. Part of that is best illustrated in Amsterdam:

Amsterdam’s relatively small size–740,000 in the city and 1.2 million for the entire metropolitan area–belies its strategic location in the heart of Europe and proximity to the continent’s dominant port, Rotterdam. The city’s Schiphol airport, Europe’s third-busiest, is only 20 minutes from the center of Amsterdam, a mere jaunt compared with commutes to the major London or Paris airports. Schipol has also spawned a series of economically vibrant “edge cities” that appear like more transit-friendly versions of Houston or Orange County, Calif.

Sounds somewhat familiar, no? Subang Airport used to be close to both Kuala Lumpur and Klang, and right next to Petaling Jaya. Alas, upgrading Subang Airport wouldn’t be the highlight megaproject Mahathir wanted for the pointless 1998 Commonwealth Games (other Commonwealth-related stupid infrastructure investments include our two separate, incompatible, loss-making LRT lines).

Rather than allowing Subang Airport to continue normal operation, it was closed so it won’t compete against KLIA. AirAsia was forced to a more inconvenient, more expensive KLIA – while Terminal 3 (since renamed Skypark) was relegated to handle turboprop airlines (MAS’ Firefly, competing against AirAsia, seems like a key beneficiary).

The airport switch-up mirrors that of Hong Kong (building of KLIA was rushed so the opening preceded Hong Kong by a few days). But unlike the retired Kai Tak Airport, Subang Airport wasn’t a safety hazard and expansion wasn’t a problem. Had Subang Airport been owned by a different operator, and the government didn’t go all out to make KLIA a “success”, Kuala Lumpur would have been better off.

P.S. The article is brilliant on highlighting several aspects of what make cities “smart”. Singapore leapfrogged Kuala Lumpur for a reason. That Changi Airport is about 20 minutes from the CBD is a nice touch.

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