Putrajaya, an "Intelligent Garden City" and the federal administrative capital of Malaysia, is a showcase city under construction some 30 km south of the 'real' capital Kuala Lumpur.

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor

Putrajaya was created with the guidance of three simple ideologies:

  • Man and his Creator
  • Man and man
  • Man and nature
The concept is simple. Putrajaya is a city within a luscious garden, hinging on a balance of ideal qualities of living, working environment. Architecturally, Putrajaya will be an indigenous city with a modern look. Planned to the most minute detail, this intelligent garden city will enhance the goal of the nation in nurturing a caring and progressive society.

-- www.putrajaya.net.my

Riiiiiiiiiight. But what's the real scoop?

History and Rationale

The project was started in 1993 and the federal capital officially moved in 1999, although the site is still far from complete. Putrajaya became a self-governing federal territory (wilayat persekutuan) in 2001, the third in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur and the little oddball island of Labuan.

The name literally means "princes' (putra) excellence (jaya)", "princes" here meaning the "princes of the soil" (bumiputra), which in turn is an euphemism for ethnic Malays (as opposed to the richer Chinese minority) and one of the key concepts of Malaysia's affirmative action program. In other words, like so many of Dr. M's prestige projects, the primary motivation is to show the world that Malaysia boleh! (Malaysia can!), all on their own without outside help (except maybe a petrodollar or billion).

Do note that, officially, the site is named in homage to Malaysia's first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra.

Status

Ever since the Asian economic crisis of 1998 development has slowed down markedly, and while there aren't any of the rusting half-built concrete shells that still litter KL and Bangkok, the careful eye will spot more than a couple of once cleared and dug-up but now abandoned fields (often with a crane or two stuck in the mud too). Basically, the infrastructure is largely in place but the buildings and occupants aren't, leading to the impression of a giant swath of hilly jungle crisscrossed by 8-lane highways with no other cars on them, and the occasional beautifully sculpted lake garden with no people in sight.

This assessment is, however, perhaps a little too harsh. Even in the development plan the area was split into the Core Area of Precincts 1-5, containing the government buildings and their support facilities, and Precincts 6-11, containing, well, everything else. The Core Area's trio of important and/or gigantic buildings, namely the mind-bogglingly huge Seri Perdana (Prime Minister's official residence: eat your heart out, Lee Kuan Yew!), the Wisma Putra center housing the Foreign Ministry and the Masjid Putra (15,000-capacity Putra Mosque) have been up and running since 1999. A fair bit of housing, the odd shopping mall and the luxurious IOI Resort have also sprouted up, and the KLIA Transit connecting Kuala Lumpur International Airport with Kuala Lumpur also stops at Putrajaya every half-hour for zippy 170 km/h connections to both capital and airport.

Notably absent, on the other hand, are functional public transportation -- the official site talks much about the Putrajaya Monorail and evidently some construction has actually taken place, but no opening date has been hazarded yet so for now you're stuck with infrequent buses and price-gouging taxis -- and ordinary people and companies. There's a little university-affiliated research park ("Putra Infoport") opposite the IOI Resort (a good thing, since if there wasn't I wouldn't be writing this), and that's pretty much it. Cyberjaya, the IT wing of Putrajaya and self-proclaimed hub of the Multimedia Supercorridor (cringe), has also had a rather slow start: current stats say 200 companies and 8000 inhabitants, as opposed to a planned 120,000. The oversized hotels that sprang up to service the expected host of high-flying VIPs are feeling the pain: you can get a spiffy room at the IOI's Renaissance Palm Garden Hotel for $25 US, and the gargantuan Putrajaya Marriott next door can't be doing much better. Right in the center of it all, the superlative Shangri-La Putrajaya, at $50 for a double, is quite possibly the cheapest 5-star hotel on the planet.

There's also another big problem: abbreviation-happy Malaysians (cf. KL, JB, KK, BB) can't abbreviate "Putrajaya" as "PJ", because that's already reserved for the older satellite town of Petaling Jaya. I suspect a Cabinet committee is already looking into introducing a new letter into the Malay alphabet to solve this.

On the Bright Side...

But hey -- at least it looks really, really pretty from the air when flying into KLIA, especially at dusk when the 300-meter-wide Dataran Putra square in the center of it all and the surrounding monoliths are floodlit. And construction is still proceeding, with a couple of high-profile convention centers and malls opening up within the next year. It'll be interesting to see what Putrajaya looks like in 10, or even 5, years time.

References

Personal experience
http://www.i-putra.com.my (updated and useful)
http://www.putrajaya.com.my (mostly outdated propaganda)

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