By YIP YOKE TENG | firstname.lastname@example.org
THE many issues plaguing the oldest parts of the city leave one to wonder if the Heritage Trail project undertaken by Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) is really the antidote.
Two well-known Chinese coffeeshops closed only seven months apart, after some 85 years in business. Other century-old shophouses are in bad shape or have been left vacant for years due to rising rental rates and dwindling business.
Meanwhile, migrant workers create trails of rubbish that have put Jalan Petaling and Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin, both included in the Heritage Trail, into Alam Flora’s list of top 10 dirtiest places in Kuala Lumpur.
Public buses from all over the Klang Valley converge on that area, choking up the already narrow streets with traffic while emitting heat and fumes.
Keeping trail of heritage
The Heritage Trail is one of the highlights of the River of Life beautification programme.
AECOM, a Fortune 500 company, is involved in the masterplan and design encompassing 750ha of central Kuala Lumpur and a 10.7km stretch of the Klang and Gombak rivers. The construction value is estimated to be RM1bil and work should be completed by 2018. It comprises 11 precincts, and the Heritage Trail falls under Precinct 7, which is to turn the Masjid Jamek area into what is called the Heritage Quarter.
AECOM vice-president and director of development for Malaysia, Scott Dunn, said construction of the first phase had begun in the Bangkok Bank triangle last month. The work should be completed in four months.
He said the next step would be the call for tender for Precinct 7’s other projects called the Riverfront, which covers St Mary’s Cathedral, Leboh Pasar Besar, Dayabumi Promenade and Central Market.
“We wanted to start with Precinct 7 as the substantial changes will have the greatest impact to the most number of residents and visitors.
“It is also one of the most challenging areas due to the density of the population as well as the hundreds of years of layers of culture, history, lifestyle and infrastructure you have to peel back prior to sensitively introducing new elements,” he said.
While at the moment pedestrians mostly scurry through the area, the team will make it pleasant enough for them to take a stroll, to enjoy the colonial architecture and a forgotten river view.
Better signage, connected walkways and galleries that offer more information on the historic buildings will enrich visitors’ experience.
“Now city folk can only look at the rivers surrounding Masjid Jamek from afar, but when the project is completed one can actually touch the water,” he added.
The project also includes adaptive reuse of old buildings in the area. The company has compiled an inventory of the buildings to determine if they are being fully utilised increase public interaction.
Dunn said many of the old buildings are owned by the Federal Government which was willing to incorporate these structures into the river and heritage project.
He said owners of some private buildings, such as Dayabumi, had also adjusted their plans to be in tandem with the project.
As for the shophouse owners, he believed they would make the right move eventually as the value of the place increases.
“Many owners have responded positively to the measures outlined in the public engagement sessions held,” said Dunn.
Pedestrian friendly streets
Several streets will soon be made accessible only to pedestrians to allow for greater human traffic. This is also something architects and conservationists advocate as Kuala Lumpur was not built for the high traffic volume it presently has.
Pedestrianisation involves the Bangkok Bank triangle, part of Jalan Tun H.S. Lee and Jalan Mahkamah Persekutuan while part of Lebuh Pudu will be shrunk to create larger sidewalks.
Sidewalks in the area will also be widened whenever possible for enhanced comfort and connectivity, and shaded by lush tropical foliages.
As for public buses, Dunn said this was a priority. “DBKL and the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) are working on changing the bus routes so that they do not have to enter the heritage zone. There will also be new transport hubs and stations,” he said.
Earlier, some experts had questioned if the Heritage Trail was supported by the necessary research and expertise to best capture the city’s history.
Dunn responded that research by DBKL, the Heritage Society of Malaysia, experts and stakeholders had been taken into account in the river and street beautification project.
The inclusion of new structures has also drawn criticism from some who think that the look of the area should be maintained.
“Heritage should not be something put behind glass like artefacts in a museum. Heritage should be able to blend into the environment, breathe and transform over time, and interact with the people who use these spaces. Its value lies in how it can change and adapt over time but still be in a good state.
“It does require the addition of some new elements, such as the introduction of adaptive reuse to create new revenue streams and putting in place public facilities that make them a living heritage.
“In European cities, 1,000-year old heritage buildings stand right next to modern structures, and this works as long as it is designed carefully,” he said.