A tech-focused township welcomes visitors to its open spaces and scenic cycling routes, writes Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup.
IF you're familiar with city-building games such as SimCity, you'd know that one of the blanket objectives is to take care of the population's morale. You do not want unhappy residents so you do things to make or keep them happy.
The easiest way to achieve this is by building parks to meet their recreational needs. As you progress in the game you can set up stadiums or opera houses, but having green spaces is the most basic thing you can do to keep the population smiling.
Of course, city development in real life is more complex, and there's no handy icon to indicate how the folks are feeling. Yet, I chuckle every time I pass this tiny plot of green space by Jalan Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur because it reminds me of a SimCity beginner park. It's too small to really be useful to the population.
I get that city-building in the Klang Valley is, shall we say, more organic than strategically planned for long-term happiness. Empty spaces in a lucrative property market don't stay empty for long, even those areas that weren't originally marked for development.
So people here fret over the lack of comfortable spaces to exercise in and spend their free time. One solution is to go outside of the greater Kuala Lumpur area. Some 30km away, Cyberjaya in Sepang, Selangor offers urban convenience, wide roads with not a lot of traffic, open spaces and recreational facilities.
The tech-focused town celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, and despite its earlier reputation as being quiet and empty, it has slowly come into its own. Its malls are filled with people, its parks visited regularly and its streets, while not busy by KL standards, are certainly lively.
Some weekends can see the town explode with people. In early December, the Viper Challenge obstacle race reportedly had 40,000 participants - more than Cyberjaya's live-in population of 30,000.
"The race circuit is 20km around Cyberjaya starting at Centrus Mall," says Ahmad Soalahuddin Termizi, senior manager of business development for the master developer of Cyberjaya, Setia Haruman.
"There are 20 obstacles such as wall climbing, running through mud and crawling under electric wires. It's the Viper Challenge's largest event and its longest circuit," adds Ahmad Soalahuddin, who also took part.
Meanwhile, the Twincity Marathon 2017 had close to 8,000 runners, and about the same number of participants is expected in this year's race on Jan 21. The course has yet to be finalised but organisers are keen to take runners on scenic, less-explored roads.
There are also the oil palm trees-covered hills around town that are utilised as mountain bike trails. The Cyberjaya XCO Challenge 2017 in April had riders going up and down the undulating terrains while navigating tricky bends. Road cycling events such as the Fit Malaysia Grand Ride were also held in Cyberjaya.
"Space is what we have here," says Ahmad Soalahuddin. "Part of our marketing plan is to encourage organisers to hold their events in Cyberjaya. We want people to experience the town through their sports or hobbies."
WHEEL OF FUN
A relatively recent addition is a 30km bicycle lane, retrofitted from the existing emergency lane along Cyberjaya's dual carriageways. The town is not very hilly, and there are elevated pedestrian paths if you're not brave enough to cycle next to cars and buses on the road.
"The bicycle lane was done by Majlis Perbandaran Sepang and the council wants to cover the entire town. We also worked with them to line the main road, Persiaran Multimedia, with a canopy of trees. So if you walk on the pedestrian path or cycle on the side, it's quite shady and comfortable," says Ahmad Soalahuddin.
"We're also lucky that early last year, we saw investment in bike sharing schemes.
It started with Obike, then Mobike. Both companies felt Cyberjaya was the perfect place to pilot their initiatives. So we have bicycle lanes and bicycles for people to use."
According to Obike data that Ahmad Soalahuddin shared, there were 32,000 Obike users from May to November last year, travelling a distance of 72,000km. The bikes are used more for commute than recreation - something he deduced from how long the rides were.
"Most people use the Obike for 15 minutes. Recreational use would be longer, maybe an hour. There's no gear on the bike and it's quite heavy. But you don't need to bring it back because it's tracked by GPS. Staff will go around once a week to collect the bikes and put it back at designated locations."
One location is the park on Putrajaya Lake, which as its name suggests, falls under Putrajaya's jurisdiction. But there's a lake bank in Cyberjaya and it receives many visitors in the morning and late afternoon. Its wide path caters to joggers and cyclists, and connects to the administrative capital.
Cycling there one afternoon, I find myself in the heart of Putrajaya in no time at all. There's no path that covers the entire length of the lake, so you may find yourself having to climb up or down stairs to cross a bridge to get to the other side. But the views are lovely with lots of places to take a break, and you can easily get 30-40km on a return ride.
"For road cycling, Cyberjaya is the only urban area aside from Putrajaya that has very wide roads without a lot of traffic. There's enough range and distance for cyclists to go around without getting bored, because some places may have good routes but it's within a small space," says Ahmad Soalahuddin.
"From here you can connect to Putrajaya, or go further to Bagan Lalang and places like that. We get many people from out of town who cycle here. We have street lights and there are riders at night too," says Ahmad Soalahuddin, adding that the Cyberjaya Recreation and Cycling Club organises community rides every Wednesday.
But Cyberjaya is not forgetting its tech roots. Even as it embraces conventional sports such as cycling, basketball and football through the various facilities around town, it also wants to have a hand in e-sports.
Says Ahmad Soalahuddin, "Recently it was announced that the Asian Games 2022 will have e-sports as a medal event, and the Youth and Sports Ministry has recognised it as a proper sport.
"We've hosted small scale DOTA tournaments and we want to improve on that because we have the infrastructure. Our Internet can be as fast as you want - the Prime Minister launched the 1Gbps broadband service last year."
All these make Cyberjaya an attractive place to live in. Yet out of 100,000 people who make up the town's daytime population, only a third actually live there. The rest live elsewhere and make daily trips to and from the office.
Interestingly, many Cyberjaya resident homeowners - attracted by the space and lifestyle - don't even work there, and commute to Kuala Lumpur. This imbalance comes from the lack of affordable housing, although the good news is that efforts have been made to address the issue.
"We've just completed 960 units of Selangorku homes and there are several Pr1ma housing projects so in a year or two, we'll have about 4,000 units of affordable homes. With more affordable housing and homes below RM500,000, it is hoped that people will choose to move here," says Ahmad Soalahuddin.
"The MRT Line 2 will pass here with two stations," he adds. "That's due to complete in 2022 and once that happens, we will be on a level playing field with any town in the Klang Valley in terms of travelling time and distance."
In the meantime, Cyberjaya is offering its open spaces to be used by those not fortunate enough to have it on their door step. I was told that 50 per cent of its 2,833 hectare land has been allocated as green space. Hopefully that will remain even as the town grows over the years.
UPCOMING EVENTS IN CYBERJAYA
1 - Score Warzone, military-inspired obstacle course race, Jan 20. www.operationwarzone.com
2 - ArsenalMy Run, night run and football telecast event, Jan 20. www.arsenalmyrun.com
3 -Twincity Marathon, running event, Jan 21. https://event.howei.com/event/twincity-marathon-2018