Inside Iskandar: Hot city needs to cool down

Businesses and property prices are heating up but city needs to chill to be more liveable

STANDING in the intense 34 deg C heat in the middle of Legoland, I mustered just enough energy to take a few photos of Lego Angkor Wat on my phone to show the folks back home and then admitted defeat and trudged to a bench under a wooden shelter.

"I'll leave it to the professionals," I told myself, as I watched my colleagues Nuria Ling, a photojournalist, and T. Kumar, a RazorTV cameraman, soldier on under the punishing Johor sky with their heavy camera equipment.

On the bench next to mine, I spotted a tourist drenched in sweat removing his T-shirt, then taking out a towel from his backpack to dry himself, before putting on a fresh shirt.

"You know, in Singapore, we've mastered the art of air-conditioning open spaces and still making it look quite natural," I told the Legoland employee accompanying us in what I hoped was a helpful tone. "Maybe you could think about doing something like that? Or maybe plant more trees?"

Her reply: "Legoland Malaysia is modelled after the other Legolands in Europe, the US and Japan, so there's a consistency in the landscaping and architecture. We want people to know they're getting the real thing, not a copy."

Somehow, I was not entirely convinced I was in Denmark, home of the world-famous toy bricks that gave rise to Legoland.

In the process of writing this Iskandar Malaysia feature, I visited Johor six times over the past five months to look at new housing estates, factories, schools and theme parks, which have sprung up there over the past few years.

That's not much, but it's more than the number of visits I had made to Johor in the previous five years combined. I have rarely had the need to visit Johor, nor the desire to do so.

However, I couldn't help but form a sense of affinity for Johor over the past months, mainly because of how good the food is there. So good that I've been mulling a return trip just for fun, after this special feature is published.

It was also hard not to be caught up in the locals' enthusiasm and their belief that Iskandar and Johor will someday be as developed and successful as Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

But before they get there though, I think they seriously need to embrace the idea of air-conditioning or trees. Or both.

It's not just Legoland. A lot of the new developments in Iskandar are paved over in concrete and mown grass, resulting in approximately the feel of a sauna bath.

These new projects are mostly located in Nusajaya, which was until recently covered in palm oil plantations and dense jungle - they had to raze all the trees.

But it's about time developers started adding trees back to the landscape, and, maybe, invest in some of those air-conditioned domes at Singapore's Gardens by the Bay.

I think tourists would be more willing to make return trips and spend more time and money there if they don't have to take along a fresh change of clothes for the whole family each time they want to venture to Nusajaya.

Plus, I'm sure more people from around the world might be drawn to work, invest and live in Johor if the environment were greener and more comfortable. This would also contribute to Iskandar's success.

It may require substantial investments in trees and air-conditioning, but it will pay off in terms of making the place more liveable.

So, in short, as a tourist who hopes to make return trips across the Causeway, I hope that while Johor beats its path to a bright new future, it would also consider planting some trees or installing air-conditioning along the way.