Step into KL: walking group invites you to uncover the city’s secrets


Kerja Jalan, a Klang Valley group promoting walkable streets, encourages Malaysians to join community-led walks. Photo Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

What does your daily commute look like? For most, it involves getting into a car and dealing with monstrous traffic jams. For others, it’s jostling for space on packed buses or trains.

But how many of us actually walk around and explore the cities and towns we live in?

Kerja Jalan, a Klang Valley-based group that advocates for making our streets more accessible and walkable, is trying to get more Malaysians out and about through community-led walks.

Founded in 2019 by Yasmin Lane, 34, and Awatif Ghapar, 33, Kerja Jalan was originally known as Jane’s Walk KL, part of the global walking movement celebrating Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), an American-Canadian activist known for championing community-based approaches to city building.

Participants of the recent ‘Museum and The City’ heritage walk stop to take photos at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur.  Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan Participants of the recent ‘Museum and The City’ heritage walk stop to take photos at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan

“Our very first Jane’s Walk took place in Sentul, and what was intended to be a one-off experience became a regular event, as we found ourselves really enjoying the experience of organising, researching and meeting like-minded people who share the same joy of walking, so we’ve kept on going from there,” said Awatif.

They rebranded to Kerja Jalan in 2022, and over the past five years, the duo have gone on more than 40 walks – most of them have been conducted in-person, though they did have to switch to virtual walks during the pandemic lockdowns. It was also part of the Klang River Festival programme in 2022.

“During a walk, we will explore different neighbourhoods together as a group, sharing various localised perspectives, such as the area’s history, architecture, food and accessibility,” said Lane.

“When we do this as a group, it’s more fun, and it’s also a safe way for some people to explore if they otherwise wouldn’t do so alone,” she added.

According to Lane, Malaysians have been conditioned as a society to rely on cars to get around.

Kerja Jalan co-founders Awatif Ghapar (second, right) and Yasmin Lane (far right) plan to expand the urban walking group’s activities, uncovering more about the city. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal HishanKerja Jalan co-founders Awatif Ghapar (second, right) and Yasmin Lane (far right) plan to expand the urban walking group’s activities, uncovering more about the city. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan

“But in order to truly get to know your neighbourhood or city, you need to walk around it. You need to experience it to feel it, because only then can you realise what’s lacking.

“When you walk, you also slow down, talk to people more, and somehow you stumble on things from time to time which connect you to your surroundings in a way that a car journey just never could,” she added.

Eye-opening experience

To put the theory to the test, the recent “Museum and The City”, a heritage walk that was co-organised with the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) in conjunction with its 25th anniversary, provided fresh insights for the Kerja Jalan participants.

“We usually interact with our visitors inside the museum building, so we felt that it would be a nice change to discover more about our surroundings and neighbours outside of the museum, in addition to getting new perspectives on Islamic art and architecture that can be found outside of the museum,” said Nailah Ahmad Faez, IAMM programme coordinator.

For those who don’t regularly walk around Kuala Lumpur, the elevated walkway between the Kuala Lumpur KTM station and Pasar Seni MRT/LRT station was a revelation. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan For those who don’t regularly walk around Kuala Lumpur, the elevated walkway between the Kuala Lumpur KTM station and Pasar Seni MRT/LRT station was a revelation. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan

Starting from IAMM, tucked next to Perdana Botanical Garden, the small group first got to learn unique Islamic elements and motifs that were incorporated into the museum’s architecture, such as the vaulted space at the museum’s entrance that is reminiscent of the “iwans” of Isfahan in Iran.

Next, the group walked down the road to the National Mosque, which was built between 1963-1965 and was originally designed by British architect Howard Ashley and Malaysians Hisham Albakri and Baharuddin Kassim of the Public Works Department, featuring both traditional and modern Islamic design, as well as some local touches.

“What does the mosque’s design remind you of?” prompted Awatif.

Apparently, the minaret and pleated rooftop was inspired by the umbrella – the former a closed umbrella, while the latter an open one – symbolising royalty and the divine protection of Allah. The blue-tiled domed roof also has 18 points, representing the 13 states of Malaysia and five pillars of Islam.

Passing through the mosque’s courtyard, the participants arrived at what’s known as the Dayabumi underpass, which allows pedestrians to bypass crossing the busy Jalan Kinabalu.

For Jane's Walk 2024 in May, Kerja Jalan hosted a walk around Kampung Batu, Sentul, supported by Women of Will Malaysia and the PPR Batu Muda community. Photo: Kerja JalanFor Jane's Walk 2024 in May, Kerja Jalan hosted a walk around Kampung Batu, Sentul, supported by Women of Will Malaysia and the PPR Batu Muda community. Photo: Kerja Jalan

Lane and Awatif highlighted the multitude of large bollards at the underpass entrance, which were likely built to discourage motorcyclists from parking there, but would also be an obstacle for those with strollers, as the space between the bollards were narrow.

Wheelchair users aren’t even able to use the underpass at all, due to the lack of an elevator or ramps.

After the underpass, the group strolled past a somewhat dilapidated green space next to the multi-level City Parking lot. Known as Taman Megalith Petronas, it used to showcase over 80 megaliths that had been discovered in Negri Sembilan by Petronas during excavations to lay a gas pipeline.

Unfortunately, the area now stands empty, as the megaliths have since been moved to Laman Megalith in Putrajaya. Here, the group members shared their thoughts on the importance of green spaces in a city, and how they could be better utilised and maintained for public use.

Next was a climb to the top floor of City Parking, where there was access to a pedestrian walkway that connects to the Pos Malaysia headquarters, the Kuala Lumpur KTM station and the Pasar Seni MRT/LRT stations.

The former Taman Megalith Petronas in KL highlighted the need for more properly maintained green spaces for community use. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan The former Taman Megalith Petronas in KL highlighted the need for more properly maintained green spaces for community use. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan

It’s interesting to note that if you were to look up walking routes between the National Mosque and Pasar Seni, taking the underpass and walkway wouldn’t turn up as an option, nor is there much information about it online. There was also little to no signage to guide pedestrians.

When asked how people knew about the route, Lane answered, “The people who often use it are commuters who take public transportation. Most of us only find this path through trial and error.”

The rest of the walk took the group to Pos Malaysia, Dayabumi – which Lane pointed out was often prominently featured in old movies set in Kuala Lumpur – and Central Market as the route looped back towards IAMM via the River of Life pathway along Klang River before crossing the road between the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and Majestic Hotel, which honestly felt like a real-life simulation of Frogger.

A walkable future

The verdict? A more walkable – and rollable, for those in wheelchairs – Kuala Lumpur would do wonders for the quality of life of urban folk.

“More Malaysians are expressing the desire to have walkable and accessible cities, with better access to jobs, parks, hospitals and other facilities. However, I don’t think developers have caught up yet,” said Lane.

'When you walk, you also slow down, talk to people more,' says Lane (left). Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan'When you walk, you also slow down, talk to people more,' says Lane (left). Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan

She suggested that one possible solution would be to have urban policy and plans done by individuals who actually walk on a regular basis.

“We must take into consideration the first and last mile, including any obstructions to different groups of pedestrians/road users, like parents with strollers or cyclists,” she added.

Awatif pointed out that organising community walks allows us to observe our surrounding cities and opens a platform to discuss ways of improving the urban landscape.

“It’s also a fun way to meet new people, feel like a tourist in your own backyard, and celebrate the hidden gems and stories that make up Malaysian neighbourhoods.

“So we hope to see more people walking and having more critical discussions about the barriers to walking and accessibility. We hope to also see positive action being taken in the city, by the city,” she concluded.

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Kuala Lumpur , heritage , walk , discovery , community , group

   

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