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Malaysia’s Forest City champions sustainability

June 2016

Built on four reclaimed islands, Forest City aims to be a model for sustainable and smart living when completed.

Strategically located between Singapore and Malaysia, Forest City is an eagerly anticipated eco-city which will be built on four reclaimed islands.

It’s by far Southeast Asia’s largest and most ambitious residential and commercial mixed-use project, and is expected to take two decades to complete.

Covering an area of 3,425 acres of man-made islands, Forest City, a duty-free zone in Malaysia’s Iskandar region, will serve as an economic corridor between Singapore and Malaysia. Its budget, rated at USD 170 billion, is expected create about 200,000 to 220,000 job opportunities.

Dr. Yu Runze, Vice President of Country Garden Malaysia Region, developers of the project, says that along with eco-friendly features, economic sustainability will be key. “You have to create a conducive environment that is attractive to residents and businesses that could generate an economic engine.”

Forest City is expected to absorb 40% of the investment to Iskandar while also contributing MYR 197.6 billion (AED 180 billion) in GDP. For Runze, this points to an opportunity to build a bridge that facilitates an integrated economy between Iskandar and Singapore.

While it’s a positive sign for Malaysia, the development has been at the centre of both criticism and praise since the announcement. While it’s been hailed as one of the most sustainable developments in the world, it has also come under attack for issues around land reclamation and the potential impact on Malaysia’s fisheries and ecosystem– leading many to question just how sustainable Forest City is.


“With the rare opportunity to build on reclaimed land comes great responsibility to ensure that development will be balanced with a robust and sustainable ecosystem. With this in mind, resiliency planning at Forest City was a central principle integrated into all aspects of the project and sets it apart from many other coastal developments on reclaimed lands,” says Michael Grove, Principal at Sasaki Associates, the architects of Forest City.

For the architects from a planning perspective, rising sea levels were a primary factor guiding the design approach. Various climate models, says Grove, suggest that sea levels in southern Malaysia will rise an estimated 0.2 to 0.8 metres by 2100.

“Edge conditions at Forest City are designed to absorb the impact of increasingly powerful storms and provide landscapes with the necessary space to evolve as waters rise over time. Terraced conditions at the edges provide habitat opportunities, and also can accept rising seawater. In fact, 4% of the total land area at Forest City is dedicated to a gradually ascending coastal zone that allows for shifts in the landscape as the high tide line rises over the next century,” he says.

Forest City is projected to include about 700,000 permanent residents. Urbanisation was another key factor that architects needed to address.

“Much of this area of Malaysia, especially on the mainland just north of Forest City, is experiencing expanding suburban sprawl. A high-density, transit-rich alternative at Forest City creates market forces that will hopefully act to limit further suburbanisation of the mainland,” he says.

PRESERVING MALAYSIA’S ECOLOGY                                                 

“As a result of the environmental impact assessment and hydrology studies, Forest City’s four islands were reconfigured to allow for the protection of a seagrass bed at the centre of the development,” says Grove.

“Along with mangroves, shallow-water seagrass is a critical component of Malaysia’s coastal ecosystem.  Rather than turning our backs on this resource, we decided to honour it by making it a visual focus and an inherent part of the identity of Forest City. To celebrate the symbiotic relationship between development and the natural environment, Forest City is organised around the central Seagrass Preserve – a 250 hectare marine sanctuary that restricts motorised boats, limits human access, and creates opportunities for ongoing education, monitoring, research, and conservation,” he explains.

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