This World Urbanism Day, let's commit to making our cities more liveable

This filepix of the Kuala Lumpur skyline with skyscrapers and an LRT train captures the urbanisation of the city. - ART CHEN/The Star

EACH November, World Urbanism Day - also known as World Town Planning Day - is said to be celebrated in over 30 countries in four continents.

Founded in 1949 by the late Professor Carlos Maria della Paolera, an Argentine urban planner, it is touted as “a special day  to recognize and promote the role of planning in creating livable communities” by the American Planning Association.

To me, it is a yearly reminder that the quality of town planning invested into the construction of a city, can and will impact the daily lives of communities that reside within it. 

And if the old adage of “prior preparation prevents poor performance” holds true, then local town planners need to do what they can to promote the development of Malaysian cities as livable ones. 

Here are some thoughts on where we can begin. 

Wider, safer, all-accessible sidewalks 

When you are a public commuter, generously-sized sidewalks are reason to rejoice.

Most locations are best experienced when you can take in the sights on foot, with Seoul, Singapore and Melbourne being examples of marvellously walkable cities.

Here, unfortunately, sidewalks are often narrow and ill-maintained, with broken tiles underfoot, flimsy drain coverings, and lamp posts smack dab in the middle of an already too-tight pathway. 

This may also contribute to high rates of snatch theft: if a bag-toting pedestrian had the convenience of a broad sidewalk, they would keep well away from the sides, and distance themselves from ill-intentioned motorists. 

Currently, they are practically squeezed onto the road and into the path of incoming traffic, and ripe for the picking and pilfering! 

And while most of us can just sidestep the obstructions in our path, the same cannot be said for people with disabilities. Poorly-maintained, inaccessible footways can effectively keep them indoors, if they do not have the luxury of being chauffeured around. 

If we are to enjoy our cities, then we must first be able to travel on its pathways with relative ease and safety.

Let’s take this outside 

Think back to your travels to other cities, be it local, regional or international. What do you remember most dearly?

For most, it is not the endless traversing of gargantuan shopping malls, but the enjoyment and celebration of nature. 

Whether you are taking in unfamiliar sights from the cool shade of a great old tree, walking through a well-maintained garden city, or eating a store-bought sandwich on a park bench, a sigh of contentment is hard to repress. 

Though the hot weather remains a deterrent for those who enjoy air-conditioned comfort, our lush green parks can be made easier to enjoy. 

This includes the provision of amenities such as water dispensers, upkeep of the bodies of water within them (there is little pleasure to be found in the murky sight of great brown lakes), and more shaded areas. No need for expensive gazebos, cheerful picnic table umbrellas are a start.

Community investment 

For any city to truly thrive, the communities it hosts must feel a sense of love and ownership for the place they call home. 

This can be manifested in daily habits, such as an aversion to littering, or the simple act of treating others with kindness and respect (like resisting the urge to tailgate someone dangerously after they overtake you on the road!).

It can also involve a more active interest in how to improve your surroundings, and #BetterCities is one such grassroots initiative focused on improving urban living in Southeast Asian cities through “creative intervention, critical discourse and grassroots participation”.

When enough of us are sufficiently interested and invested in making our city a more livable one, there will be little to stop us.

What are some small, measurable steps that we can take to start the improvement of urban living in Kuala Lumpur and other Malaysian cities? Do comment with your suggestions!

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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