Iskandar Malaysia, the first "smart metropolis" of Southeast Asia founded on principles of social integration as well as low carbon emissions thanks to a green economy and green technologies, is a potential template for urban development in emerging countries with burgeoning populations, international experts say.
Malaysia's ambition for the massive new Iskandar development: a model of sustainable development and an economic hub in league with Hong Kong and neighboring Singapore.
And Iskandar is already a powerful magnet for foreign investment, exemplified by openings of expansive new facilities of the UK-based Pinewood Film Studios, Asia's first Legoland theme park, and remote campuses of several western universities (including the UK's Newcastle University, Southampton University and Marlborough College, co-located in Iskandar's 140-hectare "edu-city").
Ongoing creation of the new metropolis is the focus of special meetings of Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC) -- a unique assembly of all-star national and international experts created to inform and assist the nation's sustainable development. GSIAC is chaired by its founder, Prime Minister Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Iskandar has been planned since its 2006 inception as an environment-friendly, socially-responsible metropolis, demonstrating innovations many international experts consider essential for meeting the growing challenge of 21st century urbanization.
Separated by the Strait of Johor from Singapore and three times the area of that city state, Iskandar covers 2,217 square km of land on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula -- comparable in size to the African island nation of Mauritius or Luxembourg in Europe.
Iskandar's population of 1.3 million people in 2010 is expected to reach 3 million by 2025.
"We envisage in Iskandar Malaysia a mixture of skyscrapers, high rises as well as low-carbon, self-contained cities, townships, villages and neighbourhoods," says Datuk Ismail Ibrahim, Chief Executive Iskandar Regional Development Authority.
By 2025, he adds, the anticipated GDP of Iskandar will be US $93.3 billion, a 465% increase from 2005, and a per capita GDP of $31,100, a 210% increase.
Datuk Seri Zakri Abdul Hamid, Joint Chairman of Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) and science advisor to the Prime Minister, says Malaysia is determined to become a high-income country in an environmentally-responsible way through the creation of "smart" urban areas and villages.
Says Ellis Rubinstein, President and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS): "Malaysia's Iskandar 'smart metropolis' seeks to offer a model to countries needing to accommodate the social and economic needs of fast-rising populations and environmental challenges."
Together, Dr. Zakri and Mr. Rubinstein head the GSIAC secretariat.
"Seldom has any country ever had the opportunity to create a complete urban metropolis of this size virtually from scratch," says Dr. Zakri. "This massive Malaysian project is benefitting from the best proven ideas in sustainable development shared by renowned world experts via the country's unique Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council."
MIGHT President Mohd Yusoff Sulaiman notes that over 600 initiatives are being pursued under more than 20 blueprints so far (http://bit.ly/TCxCmf) covering every aspect of Iskandar's development, including environmental planning, energy efficiency, land use, housing, community safety, social infrastructure, education, tourism, business development, communications, road design, public transportation, maintenance, and solid waste, stormwater and shoreline management. The Low Carbon Society blueprint is scheduled for launch at the 18th Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change next month in Qatar.