THE Government will establish a task force to find ways to increase Kuala Lumpur’s chances of being recognised as a heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
Deputy Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik told StarMetro that a task force to study ways to enhance Kuala Lumpur’s appeal for the Unesco recognition would be made up of officers from Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), National Heritage Department, Federal Territories Ministry and Tourism Ministry.
“Kuala Lumpur no doubt has a lot of potential for the Unesco listing but there are many elements that are ‘disturbing’ the landscape of the city,” he said adding that more studies were needed to make it into the Unesco World Heritage List.
“It is still in the early stage and we need time to study the work and process required. Some areas may not even qualify for that due to these elements that are messing the landscape.”
When pressed to explain, Muhammad Bakhtiar said the areas around the city’s heritage trail had been disturbed by the LRT lines that cut across some of the old buildings.
“In the midst of all these heritage buildings, you have LRT trains passing through and that alone will make it difficult,” he said.
“This it is necessary to set up the task force. Perhaps, we can identify a 1km radius site in the city that we can push for the Unesco listing but it is going to take a lot of work and commitment from DBKL and the stakeholders.”
He said it was unfortunate that Kuala Lumpur was jumping on the Unesco bandwagon a little late, but it took a lot more than 100-year-old buildings to be eligible to be listed.
“With Georgetown (Penang) and Melaka, it was five centuries of history and the urban historic landscape that went with it. Even our first attempt to get the Unesco recognition failed,” said Muhammad Bakhtiar.
“The second time we tried, we decided to submit a joint application for Georgetown and Melaka and that took about eight years.”
There are only four Unesco sites in Malaysia – the historic cities of Penang and Melaka (jointly listed), Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, Kinabalu Park in Sabah, and Lenggong Valley archaeological site in Perak.
To be eligible for the Unesco World Heritage status, a site must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of the 10 selection criteria.
Leveraging on tin-mining and Merdeka theme
The tin mining era and Tunku Abdul Rahman’s vision of independence are some of the “pull factors” that Muhammad Bakhtiar plans to use to attract tourists to Kuala Lumpur.
The study to identify the 1km stretch will involve DBKL as well as rezoning or gazetting the stretch.
“The area needs to be gazetted so that specific guidelines can be followed. Old buildings within the stretch must have uniformity so that everything is in harmony with each other,” he said in reference to the colour of the buildings and originality of materials used.
Muhammad Bakhtiar cited Penang as example and in particular Hotel Penaga, which was the first heritage building restored with a green rating.
“In Kuala Lumpur, there are hundreds of buildings here from the pre-war era and with adaptive reuse, so much can be done to preserve the buildings,” he added.
StarMetro recently reported Kuala Lumpur mayor Tan Sri Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz saying that he wanted to push for Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Dataran Merdeka and the century-old Sultan Abdul Samad building to get the Unesco recognition.
The mayor said these places had potential to be inscribed in the Unesco World Heritage List.
Dataran Merdeka or Merdeka Square, as it is often referred to in tourist brochures, is the historic field where the Union Jack was lowered and the Malayan flag hoisted for the first time at midnight on Aug 31, 1957.
The Sultan Abdul Samad building, located opposite Dataran Merdeka, is a late 19th-century building in Jalan Raja.
Constructed in 1894, the building with its Moghul and Moorish architecture was designed by architects Arthur Charles Alfred Norman, Arthur Benison Hubback and Regent Alfred John Bidwell.
Reviving tourism assets
Muhammad Bakhtiar is also spearheading measures to revive the country’s ageing tourism assets such as arts and culture monuments as well as museums which are potential currency earners.
The deputy minister said there was a need for collaborative efforts with private companies to find innovative ways to improve the performance of these institutions.
He added that buildings like Muzium Negara, Istana Budaya, the National Visual Arts Gallery, the Malaysian Tourism Centre, National Archives Malaysia were assets that needed to be rejuvenated.
“We have to find creative ways to work with the private sector to revive our monuments like Muzium Negara and Stadium Merdeka — which are all embodiments of Tunku’s vision,” he said.
“We have been approached by Aga Khan Trust for Culture to rehabilitate Muzium Negara, which is in dire need of an upgrade.
“In European cities, museums are the top three attractions tourists visit but in Kuala Lumpur, Muzium Negara is not as popular,” explained Muhammad Bakhtiar.
He said tourism generated a revenue of 100mil euro (RM466,609,125.00) in one year after the Guggenheim Museum was built in 1997, in Bilbao, Spain.
“That museum was the catalyst for Bilbao, and we want to do that for Kuala Lumpur with our museums. We have to do more, and I also want to work with the Education Ministry to get more students to visit museums,” he said.
“During a visit to Australia, I saw how the cities put so much effort into their museums and how they work with schools to get students to visit the museums.
“They were running an exhibition on the Egyptian treasures when I last visited and it was nice to see that it was packed with school children. I want to see the same for Muzuim Negara.
“There is so much we can do with our historical assets, but we need to make them interesting and interactive; working with Aga Khan will make that possible,” he concluded.