Street walking has always been my thing, ever since my post secondary school life. For some reason, i just like to walk directionless, stick to a corner in the chinatown with some drinks and observing all walks of life around me, or well, just non stop walking. Later on in my years of Architecture studies, i became more aware of urban planning and infrastructure. Well when it comes to connectivity, there’s a lot of aspects to be said, but it’s irrefutably true to say that connectivity is one of the most crucial aspect in achieving a liveable city. Think New York, Singapore, HongKong, Tokyo.
Walkability and Identity
To understand what it really means about walkability of a city is to understand how does this term came about. Walkability is mostly western oriented, generally known as the pleasantness of walking in a place, it is part of the architecture element generated through the pedestrian oriented micro-design and micro-management of urban space. However, things in Eastern Cities are very different, particularly SEA countries with multi community cities in particular. The pleasantness of walking is also caught in the issues of the unease of traversing ethnically claimed spaces. Anyone from Kuala Lumpur will know that different areas are generally dominated by different race or business or social landmarks. But the point i am saying here is, to design a walkable kuala lumpur, this is one of the crucial factor to be studied first. This can be further read at Dr Wong’s PHD Thesis at Melb U.
The reality of Kuala Lumpur today is not a pedestrian friendly city, as it currently has inefficient design, poor walking pavements and poor respect to pedestrians in terms of traffic planning and spatial distribution. Everything is still very much segregated, not interlink to ease connectivity. This is based on a public opinion survey done by Seranta Awam, and personally i think it’s irrefutable true, let’s not talk about connectivity or walkability but the quality of the walkable pavement itself, as much as it may be upgraded but having hardscape from one plot to another can be somehow quite aesthetically disturbing.
Walkability is a sub issue within Connectivity, if i have to say about connectivity is a much wider aspect where i wrote before that the answer to urban design is NOT about DENSITY but a lot of attention towards LOCATION and mixture of elements HERE. The lack of planning for the past few decades have caused a lot of inconvenience today as developments have already taken over a lot of significant plots that can be a vital improvement to the public connectivity instead. Transit nodes is still an issue, and furthermore recently, social security is also important to ensure urban design on pedestrian linkage grants safety and effectiveness in sight provision.
So knowing this problem, the government rolled up its plan to buckle up this issue, and it is addressed in the ETP Economic Transformation Program Chapter 5 (Developing Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang valley). There are a lot of aspects in this chapter addressed different solutions from macro to micro stages, but i would bring this closer to EPP Entry Point Project 8 : Creating a Comprehensive Pedestrian Network.
As extracted from Ministry of Federak Territories and Urban Wellbeing. Currently, DBKL and the private sector have initiated programmes to construct 4.5 kilometres of covered and elevated pedestrian linkages in the city centre, with an expected completion date of mid 2012. DBKL will complete two sets of walkways by late 2011 with the first linking Berjaya Times Square to Pavilion and the second pair linking Jalan Perak and Pavilion with Crowne Plaza and Jalan P. Ramlee, and linking Jalan Sultan Ismail with Jalan Pinang.
Additionally, Syarikat Prasarana Nasional Berhad (SPNB) will complete six linkages in the city centre by the end of 2010 as part of its broader public transport investment programme, while a PETRONAS-led effort to complete an elevated walkway around the KLCC area will be completed by 2011. In parallel, a long-term plan will be developed by DBKL to deploy a full pedestrian network across KL city totalling 45 kilometres. Implementation of this extended corridor will begin in 2012 and is expected to be completed by 2014.
To create an efficient pedestrian network, DBKL and other relevant local authorities will proactively solicit and incorporate public opinion throughout the design process, conduct a detailed cost analysis to cut construction costs and integrate the design to link with other major developments (e.g. MRT, River of Life,and retail outlets).
Solution or Problem?
It’s quite interesting to see how the planning made its way to accommodate higher pedestrian capacity and yet maintaining the car flow rate capacity without having to underground much. Which in contradict to that, you see cities like Shanghai and Singapore fully utilize their underground MRTs to start various undergrounds interlink to each individual building that ultimately offers the best connectivity it could be. But what disturbs me the most is that so we did not go underground, we build bridges, this can affect urban fabrics very much, imagine looking at a straight axis street and there’s a nice building at the end of it and now suddenly you have a pedestrian bridge blocking that view. I think basically what we went through is trying to create a solution for the problem that we never need to create in the first place (speaking from the point of view of a freshgrad with no expertise*)
Urban Planning is best when it’s Scratch. This is what i notice on Shanghai where in the short 10 years they can develop so fast and so many MRTs to move its 28million people around the city. Now that KL has already been developed for the past 55 years and you want to start a new MRT or pedestrian linkage, it makes a lot of complications and thus also directly affecting higher cost. If it’s being thought earlier on, who knows the rivers itself can offer a good water mood transportation, then we can talk about reviving the riverfront like clarke quay in singapore. I have not gone critically deep into the suggested development and routes yet but i am saying base on the general impression of what it seems to be. But whatever i am saying about is merely a rambling as i don’t have a better solution for this but just blaming on the past why we couldn’t have planned better.
Beyond the proposal. Relations with the Urban Fabric
As respect to the solution given, i think there is much more to be done. The challenge to design walkability and connectivity goes beyond just linking places up with a quantified manner but qualitative judging on the urban fabric. What i mean by urban fabric here is how a town define a human being’s perception at the pedestrian eye level.
1) Some city gateways lack sufficient definition as points of arrivals. Best example for this can be korea or china where different villages or towns have their own gateway or portal, so far the only example i can think of is Chinatown’s portal.
2) A lack of clarity in the movement pattern particularly in relation to ramps and systems. I think this can be still an issue of width and axis of walkway. A good example will be Shanghai Nanjing Street where you have a street full of people walking against each other but you still have it controlled, why? Simply by putting planter box to direct people on their flow.
3) The lack of streetscape consistency and landscape amenity along the paths. I think what matters the most again is to show that the destination does not always matter. As a streetwalker sometimes i prefer to see what’s along my path. I am not talking about advertisements which obviously i won’t stop to look at but somehow street arts or really anything that make people slow down to watch but yet you have the space for people to walk through.
4) The lack of planned formal large scale visual structures. Landmark is essentially important in any cities, it can be done via formally or informally, by structure or by local social landmarks. As an international city, KL should have more landmarks to make identification easy. We could have our own Malaysian “Merlion” or Chicago’s “Cloudgate”.
5) Incomplete Green Network. I wouldn’t want to walk on solid bridges from buildings to buildings honestly. I will be so glad if we have our own NewYorkHighLine that connects places while doing a lot more of other great things. Read more HERE on 5 reasons why it should be praised.
I think so far i could just think about these 5 from the point of view of walkability, certainly it is not easy to create a liveable city, it has a lot to do with social and economy too. I think i will look further into the MRT placements next. Till then.