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  • Writer's pictureMultilogue Collective

By People, For People: Observing Public Spaces in Kuala Lumpur

“Exciting, surprising, enticing” are the words used to present this “city of contrasts & diversity” - otherwise known as Kuala Lumpur to the visitors and tourists. City dwellers do tend to take a lot of pride in their own city, and this isn’t a bad thing. Major cities across the world boast their own personal identities which have come largely due to its population’s pride and sense of ownership over the city. It is a well-known fact that 2/3 of the global population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050. This projection alone iterates the importance of designing efficient, sustainable and conducive city spaces. Strong cities are at the heart of every nation which wishes to grow a prosperous and durable economy. But ultimately, what drive cities are people.

“The city is less about its physical spaces and more about how people can use them. The city is for people.”

The culture which grows and thrives in a city is one of a complex melange of diversity: of which could be celebrated or conflicted. When all levels and classes of society come together each bringing with them their own set of ideals – it makes for an interesting movement. Every city will have its mix of the urban poor, homeless, migrants, tourists, middle-class and the very rich from other parts of the country, as well as from other countries. A city’s provision of public spaces must cater to all – and ideally, bring them together. Spaces that allow social interaction without restricting people from being themselves. But also spaces not commonly thought of public spaces- such as the street. Cities should provide freedom and liberty for city-dwellers to walk and cycle safely and comfortably, and not limit the movement of people to motor vehicles.

A city’s public spaces should belong to the public, and allow them to use it as they deem fit. It should allow for freedom of expression, especially through the arts. Music, dance and other forms of artistic expressions should be celebrated and not condemned. And when we decide to celebrate them, we must also be wary to not exploit them for commercial gains – human life cannot be institutionalized. Public spaces can be incubation spaces for a stronger role of arts which could address a host of social issues.

More and more, cities must learn to accept and address the culture of very late nights and capitalize on this. And how do public spaces enhance the lives of those of us who need a late night every now and then?

An effective city would provide for public spaces that diversify and strengthen the economy. Increasingly, public spaces are being privatized for the sake of generating an income. Perhaps, we have been illusioned by a system to disregard investing in the social capital. After all, it is the people who are building, and it is the people we are building for. An effective city would provide for public spaces which diversify and strengthen the economy. It would allow for communities to gather together and invest in each other. It should empower local and independent businesses. It should celebrate diversity, create opportunities and realize the potential of the locality – which in a city is a beautiful mix of foreign localities.

We must understand that in order to be achieving sustainable living, it starts with the people. We must maintain and provide a good quality of life in order to attract people to stay and function within a given environment. Cities must have public spaces which can provide greenery, fresh air, and clean rivers. It must allow for people to move and exercise. Public spaces must be accessible to anyone and everyone. Public spaces can also be used to address important issues such as sustainable food production. Currently, urbanites access food through a long supply chain which completely desensitizes them from the food they’re eating. We have forgotten where our food comes from, how it’s grown and who grows it for us.

Public spaces could be used to grow our food right in the city. This would strengthen the community, empower local businesses and contribute positively to the environment. As a planet, we grow enough food to feed more than the world’s population but the problem lies in distribution and storage which leads to food wastage. Public spaces should be looked at as opportunities to solve issues such as this. And it will happen once we were given a sense of ownership to the people – to create a truly public space for the public.

We need to realize what public spaces are meant to do and that is to allow people to be people. We are a species which thrives on social interaction and we have done well as a species because of this. Public spaces, if done well, should be cures for the physical and mental health of its users. And this becomes terrifyingly important given the fact that 66% of the population is set to live in cities by 2050. We must also approach city spaces as organic spaces, which are meant to be built and rebuilt constantly to address current issues and needs of the current users. We must learn to be critical, honest and sensitive. We must learn to ask the right questions and approach these questions with hopeful solutions and lively discussions.

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