Sunday, November 6, 2011
Why do terrace houses in Malaysia have back lanes?
Why do we have to have back lanes at the back of terrace houses? Underused and hardly maintained they become a favourite access route for thieves.
Many people say that it's a fire requirement -as access for fire fighting equipment. But if you look up the bye laws you will not find any clause that says so. Fire fighting access is from the main road and that's where thehydtants are located.
Alternatively, people may say that theFire Department requires the rear escape routes as an alternative to escape via the front door. This too is not true. Fire bye laws allow even 5 storey flats to hVe only one escape routes. The same for apartments above shops, which often can carry quite high fire risks,
Another excuse is that the rear lane required to drain surface water and sewerage from the houses. But surface water from the back garden can also be easily piped to the drains in front of the house.
And sewer from the toilets can be easily piped to go to main sewers on the main road as in the case of detached or semi detached houses.
This last answer though, provides a clue. Have a look at this clip from self-styled hero Huang's adventures in a back lane in"Nasi Lemak 2.0":
Walking down a Malaysian back lane - notice the doors...
The fact is sewer lines became common only in the second half of the 20th Century. Before that there was another system which served the terrace houses well enough. If you look at old prewar terrace or shophouses you will see that the toilets were built on high platforms located at the rear. The wc would be a simply a hole above a bucket. Every night, a "night soil" workers would remove the day's deposits and transport them out for recycling (I am told) in gardens that produce sumptuous vegetables.
Many young people of course haven't even heard of the term "night soil", and this sewer system has long been abandoned. But sadly, the practice of building back lanes still persist as if it was still something we cannot do without. You know In the UK there is no tradition or compulsory requirement for backlanes. And, closer to home, there are also non in the Brunei. Why? Well because they are just simply not practically necessary and just waste space. And, of course, they didn't have a "night soil" disposal system.
So in Malaysia, backlanes are an anachronism. Well, at least that's what I think.