Urban and rural divisions are reinforced by ethnic diversity with agricultural areas populated primarily by indigenous Malays and immigrants mostly in cities. Chinese dominance of commerce means that most towns, especially on the west coast of the peninsula, have a central road lined by Chinese shops.
Other ethnic features influence geography: a substantial part of the Indian population was brought in to work on the rubber plantations, and many are still on the rural estates; some Chinese, as a part of counter-insurgency, were rounded up into what was called “new villages.” A key part of the 1970s affirmative action policy has been to increase the number of Malays living in the urban areas, especially Kuala Lumpur.
Governmental use of Malay and Islamic architectural aesthetics in new buildings also add to the Malay urban presence. Given the tensions of ethnicity, the social use of space carries strong political dimensions. Public gatherings of five or more people require a police permit, and a ban on political rallies successfully limits the appearance of crowds in Malaysia.
It is therefore understandable that Malaysians mark a sharp difference between space inside the home and outside the home, with domestic space, carefully managed to receive outsiders: even many modest dwellings have a set of chairs for guests in a front room of the house.
Land ownership is a controversial issue in Malaysia, where indigenous groups are struggling to protect their claims from commercial interests.