Think City celebrated Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur’s (DBKL) KUL Design Month in October 2017 with programmes targeted at enhancing public spaces in the city. In line with the festival’s theme of Connectivity: Jalan-Jalan, the focus was on people-centric design and connectivity.
DR. NEIL KHOR, Programme Director, Think City, walks us through the first of the programmes – the improvement of Lorong Bandar 13, a backlane in the city’s historic centre, with efforts to make it safer, cleaner and to encourage public usage of the space.
Why was Think City involved with KUL Design Month?
KUL Design Month was a celebration of architecture, design and culture in Kuala Lumpur, organised by DBKL. The aim was to create opportunities to highlight and advocate important ideas on how design can make our capital city more liveable.
As urban regeneration is at the heart of what we do, we’re working with DBKL under an MOU to improve the public realm. The public realm typically refers to all areas that the public can access including roads, streets, lanes, parks, squares, bridges and open spaces. This includes the publicly available spaces between buildings, along with the spaces and buildings or other structures that enclose them.
We then took the opportunity to run a Demonstrative Laneway Improvement Programme at Lorong Bandar 13 to showcase how efforts like these, if undertaken by both public as well as private organisations, and the communities within an area, can improve a city.
This is one of three programmes we were involved in, with the others being a study to improve the streets of downtown KL, and a series of talks on the topic of connectivity, the historic urban landscape and the youth.
Tell us more about this project.
Our built environment, designed more than a century ago, was developed with specific functions in mind, suited to the time. In upgrading the design, it’s important to involve the people who work in the area because they will use it today. So, we kicked off the project gotong-royong-style with surrounding community members, volunteers and Think City employees in September.
In order to make public spaces serve a broader community, we need to make sure we meet basic needs, so we looked at addressing cleanliness, safety and security issues before we looked at enhancing the aesthetics of the space.
DBKL worked with us for project delivery, while Alam Flora and SW Corp advised us on waste management strategies. Aku Design was our mural artist, KVRGO contributed in terms of design, and Ground Control enabled our community garden installation with plants provided by Free Tree Society. Meanwhile, the neighbourhood community provided feedback and ideas while Dope Films videoed the process of transforming the space.
Within the space, we used bright paint patterns on the ground to act as wayfinders, helping users navigate the laneway, and also to demarcate the different functions of the different areas. We installed a raised platform and some hardy furniture which can be used as an interactive space for talks, discussions and even performances. As there are a lot of eateries in the area, we created an alternative dining space for workers in the area to sit and eat, especially if they have brought their lunches from home, or if the surrounding restaurants were too crowded. At night, this could also work for those who live in the area and just want a different environment to have their meal. We also created a community garden with plants to beautify the area as well as provide herbs and vegetables for cooking which the community can care for, harvest and enjoy. And there’s also spaces for the more conventional functions such as for trash, and for loading/unloading.
Why improve back lanes in the first place?
Back lanes are typically used as loading bays, parking lots, waste disposal areas and for storage. The cleanliness, safety and aesthetics of these laneways are usually neglected.
The lack of foot traffic could also attract undesirable activities such as substance abuse and other illegal activities. We’ve heard about instances of muggings and other crimes being committed in back lanes, or seen it in movies so many times that it’s almost become something we expect. This, of course, deters the public from using the space to get from one block to another, and therefore disrupts connectivity within the city. It also makes a city less pleasant to live in.
What other benefits are there?
This is definitely not the only back lane project that Think City has been involved in. We kickstarted a similar project in Johor Bahru recently with a back lane pop-up park in Jalan Pahang, and we saw multiple benefits resulting from the project.
The idea is that if back lanes are habitually maintained, it will definitely increase public safety as more people will use the space. Fire safety rules can be practised as intended, and hygiene and cleanliness can be observed, which is important for the community’s health.
When people feel that the area is safe and pleasant, it opens up many possibilities for how the space can be used, and therefore it becomes more functional.
More importantly, community interest gets a jumpstart and people begin to feel responsibility and ownership of the space. When people care for the spaces they occupy, the spaces and people thrive, and in small increments, the city becomes that much more liveable.
What are the desired outcomes for this project?
Definitely, a more seamless and enjoyable experience for anyone navigating the city on foot.
We also hope that it will increase public interest to find out how they can improve back lanes in their own neighbourhoods, and to lead and participate in this effort.
We hope that this will also create a momentum with similar projects popping up all over the city, and that it not only manifests greater appreciation for public spaces, but also begins to create soul and identity for Kuala Lumpur that truthfully reflects its citizens.
What is the cost estimate to improve a laneway in Kuala Lumpur?
The estimate for a permanent upgrade of Lorong Bandar 13 and other similar laneways is RM350,000.00, with approximately 200 hours of manpower.
As a pilot demonstration project, our efforts are only intended to last several months, before wear and tear sets in. Our aim was to kickstart the project, and inspire the imagination of the community and passers-by. It is then up to the community to take charge and continue to maintain the space.
What is the next step for this project?
We hope that the public will drop into Lorong Bandar 13 and subsequently share their opinions on the space with us. Their feedback will help shape the final design of the laneway, and for other public realm improvement projects by DBKL and Think City.
We’re also very proud to announce that the laneway will be featured during the World Urban Forum in February 2018.
Meanwhile, UTA DIETRICH, Senior Manager, Urban Solutions at Think City, tells us what the feedback has been and how the project will benefit the city in the long term
Think City x KUL Design Month Part 1: Lorong Bandar 13
November 19, 2017
Think City Channel / Uta Dietrich, Senior Manager, Think City
Think City reinvents Lorong Bandar 13 in downtown Kuala Lumpur as part of KUL Design Month. Uta Dietrich, Senior Manager, Urban Solutions at Think City, tells us what the feedback has been and how the project will benefit the city in the long term.