Strong crowd pullers are becoming a part and parcel of newer developments
By Joseph Wong
The times have changed and things will never be the same again. This cannot be more true for the property industry that has undergone so much disruption over the last nine years from a slowdown of the sector since 2013 to the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, new trends have come to the fore with the changing times.
One of the most impactful is the emergence of placemakers, and many property developers beginning to see the value of such additions to their projects, especially those with bigger acreage and further away from Kuala Lumpur City.
While the pandemic saw the majority of the population restricting their movement, the relaxation of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and the pent-up desire to return to the norm have heightened this new phenomenon. Nowhere is this reflected better than in how the use of public spaces has been transformed.
Historically, Malaysians generally love to flock to the newest hotspots, drawn by the latest placemakers and crowd pullers. Among the property developers who are prominent for their placemakers are heavyweights Gamuda Land and Sunway Property with their play on promoting the placemakers that they have created or natural sanctuaries they have taken advantage of.
An example of the latter is the 1,111-acre Paya Indah Discovery Wetlands next to Gamuda Cove. Along with the development’s many heart-pounding outdoor escapades like the Goosebumps Rope Course and panoramic viewing experiences at the Cove Aerobar, Discovery Park, these placemakers have the potential to draw the footfall of millions of visitors every year.
“Malaysians are keen to get out and about and connect with nature in the new normal. Goosebumps Rope Course caters for this demand, with a fun and safe environment and exciting challenges for all ages, including 11 elements just for children. In addition, its strategic location next to the 1,111-acre Paya Indah Discovery Wetlands allows residents and visitors at Gamuda Cove to really experience, enjoy and learn about Malaysia’s natural heritage,” said Gamuda Land commercial real estate executive director Larissa Chan.
The same placemaking strategy is also used in Gamuda Land’s Gamuda Gardens and Twentyfive.7 developments. But Gamuda Land is not the only property developer that uses placemaking to enliven its projects.
Sunway Property’s fully-integrated green township Sunway City Kuala Lumpur is equally impressive with its placemaking initiatives covering a full range from daily conveniences to outdoor activities like Sunway Lagoon.
And they are not the only ones. Ironically, many were already successfully making use of placemakers without acknowledging the terminology like Genting Group with their Genting Highland projects and other big players such as Mah Sing Group Bhd, Matrix Concepts Holdings Bhd and Tropicana Corporation Bhd.
Interestingly, placemaking has already been within Malaysia for a long while. It is only that the industry and stakeholders are beginning to realise its worth now that a term has been used to describe it.
What is placemaking?
In the recent past, this property terminology was perhaps best described as crowd pullers, a term used by shopping malls.
However, until now, placemaking remained a vague term that encompasses anything and everything that inspires people to want to use and stay in a space, and become a community, said Knight Frank Malaysia research and consultancy executive director Amy Wong.
So, who is bringing in placemakers? “I think that right now, in the Malaysian context, they are the ones who reimagine (and sometimes, redesign) public spaces into an inspirational place that draws people in. And I am happy to note that some property developers have taken the concept of placemaking seriously, as the way to elevate the community address,” she said.
Are placemakers effective in encouraging buyers and investors to buy properties nearby? The answer is a resounding yes, if the younger generation has a say about it (see page 4).
“By nature, humans are social creatures. We are not natural hermits. People buy homes close to amenities that they find useful like schools, parks and malls that they frequent the most. Investors buy commercial properties in busy attractive locations that have a reason to draw in the crowds because investors know this makes for good rental and capital appreciation,” said Wong.
The way forward
“I am a supporter of placemaking, so I would naturally say yes. About 10 years ago when I first embarked on my research into placemaking for an assignment, this term was quite unheard of in Malaysia.
“We analysed why cities like London and Shanghai and Hong Kong continued to attract talents to relocate to those cities – and then we asked what was lacking in Kuala Lumpur. Then we saw what ThinkCity has successfully achieved in Penang’s Georgetown and in KL’s Chinatown.
“Developers then realised that they couldn’t just build bricks and mortar, the hardware. Their developments needed a soul, the software. And so, successful placemaking efforts have increasingly become a selling point for astute developers because all we want is to be in a great place,” said Wong.
StarProperty Awards 2022
Acknowledging this new phenomenon, the StarProperty Awards 2022 has introduced The Placemaker Award to its list of accolades, recognising the efforts of property developers who have played a role in the creation of such crowd pullers.
“This new category will bring attention to the initiatives carried out by the property developers that help their communities become lively again after a tumultuous period,” said StarProperty general manager Mindy Chia.
The award was created to showcase projects rolled out to help communities make use of public spaces and support local businesses, she said.
Ideas for property developers
By implementing placemaking in community engagement initiatives, property developers can tailor their approaches to issues like the need for more green spaces or encourage a healthier lifestyle. Here are five ideas to add to placemakers.
- Improve walking and biking infrastructure
More pedestrian and bike-friendly spaces that the public could use to get around are being encouraged by many local governments, non-governmental organisations and individuals. Developers should not just create such pathways but also consider how to create spaces for rest, play and connection along the way. Through such placemaking, they can address several issues within their community, including traffic and air quality, in the specific part of their city that was most affected.
- Nature preservation
Residents can be approached to share their favourite landscapes, weigh in on which roads could be improved for cyclists and pedestrians, and what the town square of their dreams would look like. This creates resident engagement and they can be a source of ideas for future placemakers. Developers would be wise to preserve natural sanctuaries or incorporate them into their developments as the community has become more aware of the importance of nature preservation, which could be a selling point for the projects.
- Greening the city
Trees and shrubs can be used to lower temperatures in dense areas and bring the nurturing elements of nature into an urban setting. In addition, having a green rooftop can help to reduce cooling costs and add a placemaker for residents. Similarly, introducing scrubs and miniature trees to facility podiums that are exposed to the sun can cool down these areas to make them more comfortable spaces for residents.
- Safer streets
Residents place value on safer and community-friendly aspects. By employing the crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) approach, landscape designs are very carefully arranged to deter criminal opportunities. This makes for practical safe designs and at the same time encourages residents to make use of the placemakers like children’s play parks which have incorporated the CPTED approach.
- Think big and small
It pays to think alongside residents on a variety of topics. While there is a shift to eco-friendly power sources, and some developers turning to solar and wind power generation in their developments, the small steps are equally important. Having the people’s input by giving them an understanding of opportunities and constraints from the beginning of the process, initiatives for placemakers will be better received.