Unpacking the KIDEX Controversy

The recent controversy surrounding plans to build an elevated expressway between Damansara and Kinrara has brought our attention to the issue of transportation, notably highways and our city’s utter dependence on them. One of the most disagreeable aspects of living in our city is how our lifestyles are largely determined by our reliance on cars to get around. As much as we love our city, the experience walking around downtown is unpleasant if not harrowing. Frangipanis lining the street are no match for the smell of exhaust at street level, walking is a constant obstacle course where if you’re lucky you might get the chance to out-manouver a sinkhole, cars whizzing by pose a constant life or death threat, cursing out pedestrians when they should be the ones slowing down.


In The Happy City by Charles Montgomery, he describes how driving is detrimental for brain and body. The stress that one encounters in bad traffic triggers a toxic stew of stress hormones that in the short term make you more alert, but in the long term can make you ill. According to Montgomery, it takes at least 1 hour post driving for stress levels to return to normal where our ability to concentrate and heart rate is restored. The stress experienced while driving during peak hours exceeds that of fighter pilots and riot police facing angry mobs. The longer one travels, the more detrimental it is as well. Researchers found that the ideal commute is a 16 minute drive in one direction. Longer than that and driving becomes increasingly stressful where the further one has to travel to work daily the less happy they are.

So back to this expressway that has caused many an angry uncle to vent, and politicians to bristle at the thought that they may actually have to mediate an issue face to face with an upset, name calling constituency. Perhaps it is a moot the point to say that we should protest KIDEX because we should protest highways. KIDEX would have been built right under our noses had it not been for these public protests, and KIDEX was singled out because it cuts through the well established townships of Petaling Jaya, Damansara Kim and Kayu Ara directly affecting the physical landscape and environment of the area.


Even so, protests against the construction of an urban expressway for any reason is a good thing. Such a controversy is a jumping off point to initiate a conversation about the state of transportation in our city. Fact is, increasing private car ownership and the endless construction of highways within a city is bad for livability and quality of life much less the environment. This is where the KIDEX debates can help – to shed some light on the issue of urban traffic congestion. The KIDEX controversy and the claims made for and against its construction allow us to understand the kinds of assumptions used to justify why our city needs more highways and creates a space for a critical evaluation of these assumptions and the consequences they have on our built environment.

“The basic argument used to justify most road expansion projects (is)…largely self fulfilling”

Indeed, the basic argument used to justify most road expansion projects, KIDEX included, is that increasing vehicle ownership will require more roads to ease congestion. This very basic claim is largely self fulfilling in that it takes for granted the current pattern of vehicle ownership and uses future projections based on current growth rates as the justification for building more expressways.This line of thinking precludes the expansion and use of alternative means of transportation, and takes private vehicular travel as a constant, continuing trend.

While KIDEX’s Traffic Impact Assessment and claims that KIDEX will effectively ease traffic congestion on existing highways has been challenged for their statistical accuracy, the crux of the issue here is greater than pointing out errors of calculation. The real issue that we should be concerned about is the much more complex and somewhat quixotic problem of how we can restructure the way we move about in the city in a more humane, sustainable and climate friendly way.

“More roads do not ease congestion”

Studies have shown time and again that more roads do not ease congestion. The lack of attention to this fact, or rather, a convenient ignoring of it, has perhaps put us on the path of such short sighted, remedial solutions as building more expressways, setting us on a vicious cycle with no end in sight. Furthermore, not only do these highways mar the landscape of the city, often times, they cut through existing green space, destroying all that is pleasant and uplifting about our city.

Expressways such as SKIP and KIDEX may benefit some people with a faster commute, but they contribute to the worsening of our quality of life as a whole over the long term. Looked at in this way, we are spending an exorbitant amount of money (RM 2.4 – RM 3.4 billion) for little gain and are further disenfranchising lower income groups by neglecting our inefficient and disconnected public transportation network especially the public bus system and bike paths.

“Public street life…can only happen if we have a multi-modal transportation system that puts people back on the streets”

It is unfair to many that transportation developments in KL is so heavily skewed towards privileging the private car owner and this has to end if we are to have a more just and sustainable future. While the jury is still out as to how much public transportation system can ease traffic congestion, a robust public transportation system provides options for people to get from Point A to Point B, and places more pedestrians on the streets. It enhances connectivity within a city for those who may not be able to afford or do not desire owning a car. Furthermore, an efficient public transportation system slows the rate of growth of car ownership over the long term as people need not depend on a car to get around. Congestion woes aside, fewer cars is good for the environment.

Our dependence on cars as the primary mode of transportation has decimated our public street life, which can only happen if we have a multi-modal transportation system that puts people back on the streets. Pedestrians, and by extension individuals who take public transportation, are the lowest common denominator on the streets of KL and this is a huge blow to our sense of place and community. Perhaps this is what needs to change if we are to talk about a #BetterKL. One cannot begin to imagine the positive changes that could be catalysed with that RM 2.4 billion KIDEX is slated to cost should it be used towards realising alternative ways of getting around in our city beyond that of the privately owned car.

Links to article referenced in this post:


photo credit: www.freemalaysiatoday.com


Keep a look out  for a related article by our other #BetterCities intern Yap Lay Sheng on his experiences living carless in KL city.

Jia-Ling spent three years as an itinerant volunteer in South Asia. #BetterCities is a transit point before she resumes graduate studies in Landscape Architecture. Her interests lie in sacred landscapes however one would like to define that.

Lessons from #TheLivingCity

Our design intern, Lay Sheng muses on the various processes of city-making from his experience at The Living City’s debut at Festival Belia Putrajaya 2014:

#TheLivingCity is an open invitation to every concerned Malaysian citizen to participate in a discussion of an ‘ideal’ city. Malaysians often feel excluded from the process of the making of the cities they inhabit. This disconnect at times is reflected by underutilized public spaces, elevated roads that sections across well-established communities and degenerating livability of our cities. In our experiment at #TheLivingCity, we transfer the power of politicians and big developers completely to the people.

Everyone is invited to contribute a building/facility onto the green terrain using Lego as the only construction material. Originally, a virgin forest blankets the entire green terrain. Deforestation occurs to accommodate the newly built buildings until an entire Lego metropolis is formed. Over the three days of the festival, we were able to observe an intense non-verbal negotiation process between our participants on what an ideal city should look like. The conclusion of the project saw a city that has undergone many rounds of evolution to arrive at a temporary equilibrium to satisfy the sometimes opposing needs of different groups of people. While FBP2014 has ended, the evolution of #TheLivingCity is in no way complete.

“A great city is not a static place in time. It evolves and changes to become different memories to different people.”

Via this three days experiment, a lot can be learnt about the way our cities work when power is restored to its people to decide the fate of the places they live in.

#1: Urban mobility is a primary concern of the people

When the game first started, our earlier participants set out to build an elevated rail network. Soon after, an interesting pattern emerged in which most people added their buildings in the vicinity of the train tracks. The rail network was further extended to cover the entire geography of the still nascent city. It was interesting to note that no roads were constructed throughout the entire gameplay. Skywalks were also introduced soon after as people sought to connect different skyscrapers to provide mobility within the city for travellers on foot. While the government channels a lot of public funds for the constructions of roads, it seems like the people much prefer they spruce up existing public transport facilities and provide alternative forms of transport with low carbon footprint.

#2: #TheLivingCity is a green city

The usage of Lego for construction is a great lesson on the recyclability of many construction materials. Old buildings that have outlived its purpose can be torn down and the materials reused in new constructions. With Lego, our participants can easily reuse existing materials to pursue new forms. A lot of trees that were deforested were replanted on rooftop gardens, hence reconnecting people with nature and rebutting the notion that urban and the natural environment cannot coexist together. If big developers and centralized government have less involvement in the growth of our cities, it seems that Malaysian cities look very different from its present state.

#3: #TheLivingCity is a collective city

Participants of our game ultimately realize that each individual is part of a larger group of people to whom the city belongs to. The construction of a city of this scale cannot be achieved alone. And while we hope that our creation is spared from the endless cycle of demolition and construction in a city, we are ultimately powerless to stop others from replacing our buildings. This selfless compromise ensures that a city belongs to everyone instead of being subjected to tyrannies of powerful individuals concerned only with the immortality of their creation.

At the end of the three days, all team members participate in the bulldozing of the city as we pack up, which was similar to the scale of destruction inflicted upon great cities by Mother Nature.

The mass destruction is symbolic of the futile attempts of man to resist nature’s ways and it parallels the havoc wreaked on NYC by hurricane Sandy and on coastal cities of Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan.

#TheLivingCity does not die in the hands of a government resistant to the idea of change, it dies because natural disasters are unstoppable forces with our current state of technology.

Lay Sheng is an architect to be from KL. He understands the benefits of scale in cities and would like to see most cars removed from KL roads. He is an urban explorer who traipses around KL on the weekends to reconnect with his Malaysian roots as a newly minted critical thinking adult. He currently interns at #BetterCities.

#BetterCities Talk Series 6: Highlights

The sixth instalment of #BetterCities Talk series titled “The Edible City – Urban Gardening and food futures of KL” was held over the weekend at Menara Bata, PJ Trade Centre. The talk featured a panel discussion with 4 invited speakers and was preceded by a culinary activity inspired by The Public Kitchen (http://www.stiftungfreizeit.com/2012/11/la-cucina-pubblica.html) to raise awareness about where our food comes from.

A relatively high turnout left the venue comfortably filled. Attendees started trickling in at around 4 and for the next hour were invited them to to sample from a spread of some 40 varieties of vegetables sourced from local farms, home gardens and supermarkets.

At around 5 pm, the panel discussion commenced with each speaker giving a 5 minute presentation about their respective projects. Kicking off the talk was Nova Ceceliana Nelson of Cultivate Central, who gave a presentation of the shared urban spaces she helped create in Singapore for the purpose of food growing. Nisha Firdaus Mohammad Faizal of Ecocentric Transitions then spoke about her work in environmental education and how sustainability is basically going back to the basics.

Next up was Joann Lim of Green Sentral, self proclaimed accidental gardener, who recounted her personal journey of growing food and retold how she started container gardening on her balcony, which led to her spearheading a community food growing project at her condominium. She also posed a challenge to the audience to try to reduce their waste and to be aware of where it comes from.

Finally, we heard from Ili Farhana Norhayat of Gang Chaos, a family of food growers. She retold how her foray into food growing was borne partly out of necessity and has since seen it as a way to reconnect not just with nature but also with people. She advised that “The most challenging thing about a community garden is building trust in a community. Like gardening, it’s all about commitment.” She also emphasized the necessity of sharing and creating a culture of sharing was the foundation of community.

Following quick introductions from each speaker, panelists were then asked some pointed questions about food productivity and security by the moderator, #BetterCities intern Jia-Ling Loo. Her first question dealt with productivty with the question how much food one can really produce and was it enough to guarantee food security. All the panelists seem to think that it is not possible to achieve food security through urban gardening but that it was still advisable to grow whatever one can.

Joann Lim stated that, “It wasn’t so much about food security for me, but instead it was about my health and what I love to eat. That’s what made me garden.” Nisha then offered the anecdote of how foreign workers tend to grow all that they eat, and while the variety was nothing to shout about, they have to a certain measure established some kind of food independence.

The discussion then focused on working with public authorities and whether gardening in public spaces was feasible or not. Panelists volunteered their experiences on this issue with the general consensus being that it’s much slower to get involved with government bodies and there are often obstacles. Nova advised to work with schools and organisations to get things started. Nisha then advised that it is crucial to find oneself in some sort of reputable body, such as Malaysian Environmental NGO’s as a means to gain leverage to get gardens going in more public spaces.

The panel discussion ended with a Q&A session with the audience. #BetterCities would like to thank the speakers, Tujuan Gemilang and DOOF Industries as well as everyone who showed up that day to make the talk quite a success. We look forward to seeing you again at the next #BetterCities Talks.


Jia-Ling spent three years as an itinerant volunteer in South Asia. #BetterCities is a transit point before she resumes graduate studies in Landscape Architecture. Her interests lie in sacred landscapes however one would like to define that.

#BetterCities goes LEGO

The #BetterCities team has been eating, sleeping, dreaming LEGO for a better part of the year now and it has all led up to the launch of our very own The Living City exhibition which gets its first run this coming weekend at The Festival Belia 2014 in Putrajaya!

The Living City is an interactive exhibition catered for groups of all ages and interests to explore the fundamentals of city-making in a playful and unconventional approach using LEGO.
The exhibition is designed as a LEGO board game that breaks down the central theories related to urban growth in an accessible manner as players contribute to the living city with their own LEGO creation while engaging and negotiating amongst one another on the form the city takes as it develops.

The Festival Belia Putrajaya and The Cooler Lumpur Festival set in Publika in June will be a trial run exhibition for The Living City where the game mechanics and interactions will be tested out on a smaller scale. The Living City takes on its full form at The George Town Festival in Penang this year in the month of August where the three components of The Living City will be carried out which includes a master class workshop, a visual exhibition and a week-long larger scale exhibition of The Living City interactive board game.

(Lia Tostes of #BetterCities on a site recce at the MPPP Town Hall in Penang, the venue of The Living City at The George Town Festival)

The rule of the game is simple; players start by having the option of selecting a challenge card which suggests themes and types of structures that makes a city. The challenge card includes suggestions of appropriate housing, landmarks in the city and questions the depletion of resources in the city. Players can either design according to their challenge card or design whatever they feel to be an integral part of the city as creatively as possible. The player will then decide where to place their creation by removing (deforesting) miniature LEGO trees on the green LEGO terrain. As the game progresses and more creations are placed on The Living City, players will have to negotiate with existing constructions and depleting green space to decide what gets demolished to make room for their construction.

It is this thought process of contributing their creation to an existing LEGO landscape which we hope to gain stimulating conversations and ideas from on the issues of urban growth. As players contribute to the growing city, they immediately witness the effects of city-making as they alter the topography of the LEGO landscape, emphasising with the The Living City as a living organism.

Some of the immediate concepts players observe through this exhibition is the act of deforestation, negotiation of resources and the understanding density in a city. The Living City takes its name after Archigram’s 1963 exhibition of the city of the future, an avant-garde architecture firm which influenced the likes of Norman Foster and The Centre Pompidou.

#BetterCities has been working behind the scenes on this for months now and we have even recruited new members to our team to assist in the conceptualisation and follow through of The Living City. Lay Sheng and Jia Ling came on board as our interns during the preparation of The Living City and Syukri was scouted to be the set designer of the exhibition.

(Syukri, Lay Sheng and Jia Ling deciding on the final selection of the challenge cards for The Festival Belia Putrajaya 2014)

We’ve come a long way to get to this point and we hope you will be part of the next leg(o) of the journey. The Living City will be exhibited at these following festival as follows :-

Festival Belia Putrajaya

  • Date : 23, 24 and 25th of May, 2014
  • Venue : Persiaran Perdana, Putrajaya

The Cooler Lumpur Festival

  • Date :  21st and 22nd of June, 2014
  • Venue : Publika Mall, Jalan Dutamas 1, Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur

The George Town Festival

  • Date : 15th – 31st of August, 2014
  • Venue : MPPP Town Hall, Jalan Padang Kota Lama,  George Town, Pulau Penang

(The team, sans Lia, figuring out the mechanics of The Living City. Photo courtesy of Festival Belia Putrajaya 2014) We look forward to seeing you there! 🙂

Featured Image also courtesy of The Festival Belia Putrajaya 2014


Yasmin Lane is the research lead at BetterCities. She graduated with a degree in International Relations and has since shifted her interest from the people and institutions that make up the city to learning new ways of shaping and improving the structures of the city itself.

The Living City at Festival Belia Putrajaya 2014

We at #BetterCities have been working on ‘The Living City’, our LEGO based interactive exhibition for quite some time now and we are happy to announce that it will debut at the upcoming Festival Belia in Putrajaya!

Date :  24 and 25th May, 2014
Location : Persiaran Perdana, Putrajaya
Time : 10 a.m – 6 p.m

The Living City is an interactive exhibition devised of a LEGO-based board game and the collective experience on creating a fictional city. Named after Archigram’s 1963 exhibition on the city of the future, the game consists of a topographic LEGO model of an imaginary city on top of which players will take turns to build and place their LEGO building creations, contributing to the continuous construction of The Living City.

Anyone can participate in The Living City, regardless of age or interest, all you need to do is construct your own LEGO creation and then watch the city grow!

The Living City aims to inspire participants and onlookers to view cities as living organisms and highlight the impact of urban growth on memory and environment in a tangible way as participants explore architecture and city-making concepts in a hands-on approach.

Hope to see you there 🙂

The Living City will be also be traveling to The Cooler Lumpur Festival in June and at The George Town Festival in August.

Housing Vs. Habitat : Liveability in Social Housing

Last March, we explored the topic of “Social Housing in Malaysia” for the 5th installment of the #BetterCities Talk Series. The talk featured two speakers, architect Lillian Tay and consultant with UNDP, Dr. Clarence Shubert.

( Lillian Tay, Dr. Clarence and Sze at our last talk. Photo Credit : Lia Tostes )

Ms. Lillian Tay shared two projects done in VERITAS Architects, the first a re-imagination of Pekeliling Flats and the refurbishment of Maju Jaya Flats in PJS2 (Kg Medan). The focus of her presentation was an analysis of the on-the-ground realities and problems affecting low-cost housing and how sensible design and physical planning solutions can help to mitigate these problems. Dr. Clarence Shubert spoke about the community organizing aspect of social housing including methods for promoting and assessing community participation and an introduction to cooperative housing.

(Photo credit : Lia Tostes)

Since then #BetterCities has visited several different PPR flats (Projek Perumahan Rakyat or People’s Housing Project) to get a better understanding of the issues they face. We were interested to know what some of the projects are that have been done in Malaysia that aims to improve liveability of communities in PPRs.

We managed to visit a PPR in Lembah Subang, Lembah Pantai and Kota Damansara with community figures who have direct links to these housing areas. The main differences between the three was the use of the ground floor of the flats. The ground floor of the Lembah Pantai and Kota Damansara PPR is left open giving the space a sense of openness and connectivity.

All three PPRs experienced the same problem of the lack of sense of ownership, the conditions of the PPR were not well maintained and a lot of the blocks we visited had vandalized walls, missing railings and metal gutters. Often the lifts of the building were in bad condition, making the daily trip up an 18-storey building challenging to say the least.

( Afternoon playground scene in PPR Kota Damansara )

From our research, one of the most interesting community engagement projects carried out in a PPR was done by an arts collective called Arts-Ed Penang. As an NGO that provides innovative non-formal arts and culture education for young people they were approached by the Penang State Government to facilitate a 3 year project in Sungai Pinang, Georgetown. The project, known as Sungai Pinang Kita, involves working with young residents living in the area to rethink the way that they look at waste management in fun and creatives ways.

( Movement workshop with recyclable material. Photo Credit : Sungai Pinang Kita )

Sungai Pinang Kita conducts building, movement, photography and video workshops and organises a recycling festival in the community where the children perform and present their work. The initial stage of the project focused on engaging with the young residents and slowly building their trust. Arts-Ed conducted a cultural mapping series to identify the theme of the 3 year project by exploring the area together with the residents and mapping out existing interesting and problematic issues.

( Cultural Mapping Workshop. Photo Credit  : Arts-Ed Penang )

Given the specific theme of waste management, the creative methods and tools used to engage with the residents and outcomes of the project has resulted in improving the liveability in the area by raising awareness and shifting perception of how the residents manage their rubbish. Sungai Pinang Kita has a target by 2014 of reaching and sustaining zero waste in the community.

( Building workshop. Photo Credit : Sungai Pinang Kita )

#BetterCities Talk Series 5 was recorded and is available for viewing on our YouTube Channel : http://www.youtube.com/user/bettercities

Arts-Ed Penang : http://www.artsed-penang.blogspot.com/

#BetterCities Talks Food


Here at #BetterCities, we’re gearing up for the next talk series, slated to happen early June. This time, we’ll be having a conversation with a few people at the forefront of the urban gardening movement in Kuala Lumpur. Urban gardening has garnered much attention recently as the rapid urbanisation of cities worldwide and increasing degradation of agricultural land place food sustainability at the forefront of urban concerns. The benefits of urban gardening, or its larger scale incarnation, urban farming, is evident even to the most casual of observers. Not only are we reducing our carbon food print by reducing the distance food has to travel from the farm to table, keeping food dollars in the community could revitalise the local economy and create a meaningful source of employment for urban dwellers.

Additionally, we cannot talk about the future of food in our city without also looking at the food culture that exists in KL. As our recent trek to the markets of Pudu and Chow Kit reveal, Malaysians can proudly wear their foodie badge as the variety of the food that gets to our dining table is truly astounding. The sprawling wet markets of our city peddle traditional foods not found elsewhere and our thriving food culture is something to be proud of. On our visit, we encountered foods from deep in the jungles of Pahang that we could not identify, medicinal plants that some of us would not know existed much less how to eat, as well as vegetables and herbs for traditional dishes that Malaysians have enjoyed for generations.

Navigating the maze of stalls and shops in these markets is like a quick lesson on the history and geography of our country, and touches upon what it means to be a KLite. At the wet market, young and old converge to partake in the daily ritual of feeding a city of 1.5 million people. Rising above the jostling crowd is a cacophony of voices, a healthy mix of the familiar mix of dialects and languages spoken in this city. Here, you’ll find stalls selling foods that cater to our multicultural tastes and see migrant workers hard at work, stripping carcass after carcass of chicken or fish all for our convenience. Food is a central part to the life of a city and the stories our food tell us can help us understand ourselves and also the values that we share.

As Malaysians, we love our nasi lemak as much as we love our apples and there is undoubtedly a dependence on imported foods. While this is not something we should reject as it adds to the diversity of food available in our city, what we choose to buy does have consequences that reach far beyond the dinner plate. For example, when shopping in a supermarket, the only option for bananas might be an imported banana farmed far away and bred for its size and not its taste. In choosing what we eat and where we shop, we are therefore also choosing our future – whether it is one that supports local farmers or whether it is one increasingly dependent on foreign imports.

Perhaps the rhetoric surrounding urban gardening is a clue as to how far we have deviated from food sustainability within city or national limits. We live in a time when we speak of growing food as being a subversive activity and when gardeners become guerrillas. These are clues that it is time for us to reconnect with where our food comes from. Here at #BetterCities we hope to encourage people in KL to start thinking about their food and what they can do to make KL more food independent whether it is exercising their rights as a consumer or picking up a shovel and start digging in their backyards. To all foodies and future urban farmers and anyone else interested in this topic, keep your eyes peeled on our blog for updates on our next Talk Series where we will be addressing this very topic.

Atria Public Land Redevelopment Report

Last December, #BetterCities was approached by Teh Chi-Chang, the Local Councillor of Zon 5 PJ to conduct a research and produce a report of the redevelopment of two plots of public land in Damansara Jaya.

The two public lands each currently stand as a hawker centre and parking area which sandwich the re-development of Atria Shopping Centre, a private retail and office centre.

(Hawker centre and parking in Damansara Jaya  with Atria Shopping Centre in the background)

The developers of Atria agreed to redevelop the two public lands. In their proposal, they suggested to make one of the lands a green open piazza while the other would have a multipurpose building with parking, a hawker centre and a community centre.

(The Atria Shopping Centre proposal with the public land used as a green piazza)

The report prepared by #BetterCities is an in-depth analysis of this proposal with recommendations which will be used as a supporting document for the Local Councillor to negotiate changes in the proposal that would benefit the local community. The Atria Public Land Redevelopment outlines several case study examples of incorporable well designed community centres and hawker centres to add value to the proposed multipurpose building.

Lia Tostes and Bran Che led the research of this report with the support of Sze Ying Goh and Yasmin Lane. In preparing for the report, Lia and Bryan did some investigation of existing multipurpose buildings in Petaling Jaya to see the condition of the buildings and how different communities use these buildings.

(Lia and Bryan inspecting a multipurpose building in Petaling Jaya)

The #BetterCities team also engaged with the local community of Damansara Jaya through the Damansara Jaya Residents Association (DJROA). Upon the completion of the report, the team along with the Local Councillor sat with members of DJROA to share the findings from the Atria Redevelopment Report and received feedback from the residents themselves.

(Lia and Bryan at a DJROA meeting with residents of Damansara Jaya)

The report is split into two. Part one of the report is an in depth analysis and critique of the proposal supported by case study reviews of community centers.

Part I : http://issuu.com/bettercities/docs/aplr_-_report_part_i

Part two of the report is a set of recommendations with regards to the use of space, design and operation of the building as well as recommended practices for MBPJ to explore in future public land developments.

Part II : http://issuu.com/bettercities/docs/aplr_-_report_part_ii

KL’s Urban Gardeners

(photo credit : Ling Low)

If you did not grow up with a vegetable patch in your house or never handled a shovel, the idea of gardening can be overwhelming. Plus, so many people in the city live in apartments. Shouldn’t we accept our concrete jungle as the compromise for urban life?

According to a movement of urban gardeners, the answer is no. Community projects that focus on increasing awareness for gardening and edible gardens are sprouting in the Klang Valley. Transforming tiny spaces into patches of green may be a challenge, but you’re in good company.

Whether you’re a parent looking to introduce your kids to a fun, outdoor activity or an experienced gardener looking for more ideas, here are four groups to check out.

The Free Tree Society

The Free Tree Society is run by volunteers and based in a corner of residential Bangsar. Their mission is simple: give away plants to the public for free. The group take seeds, sprout them and look after the seedlings. They then give away a few hundred seedlings to the public on selected days. There are weekly gardening sessions.

There are two ways you can be involved. First, you can sign up as a volunteer to collect seeds for conservation. There are basic guidelines on what to do and you’ll pick up a few interesting tips along the way, like how to ensure that seeds are well ventilated. Or how to identify good quality seed from those that are unsound or empty. Secondly, you can offer your garden as host nurseries to grow the seedlings.

Finally, if you just want to pick up some free plants and tips, that’s fine too. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for giveaway days.


Eats, Shoots & Roots

(photo credit : Eat, Shoots & Roots)

The founders of this social enterprise are three individuals with varied backgrounds, from fine arts to community development and permaculture. Together, they encourage urbanites to grow their own food. Their seed boxes (pictured) make it really easy to get started. Although these have sold out, they will be making more soon.

It may be one thing to grow a frangipani bush in front of the house, but growing organic long beans and eggplants require far more technical know-how. If you’ve got a more ambitious project in mind, Eats, Shoots & Roots can design and plan the garden and also facilitate the process of building the garden beds. They also run a range of classes: past workshops have included building a cob oven, and a future one in March will be held on composting.


TTDI Edible Project

(photo credit : Javs Tiz)

The TTDI Edible Project is guerilla gardening at its best. A few like-minded individuals, led by resident Miriam Loh and friends, took ownership of a vacant plot next to the community hall in TTDI, defied skeptics who said it was barren land and turned it into an edible garden.

They started out planting whatever they could get their hands on and now there are now rows of cucumber, passion fruit and chives, among other produce.

The group is very particular about not buying things for gardening purposes and uses creative and natural methods to sustain the garden. This includes hunting for bamboo to be used as A-frames to plant beans and sourcing horse manure as fertilizer.

This garden is for everyone, particularly TTDI residents and friends. If you want to try your hand at growing your own food and can afford the time and commitment, you can adopt a small plot and cultivate it. Or, if you just want to spend a few hours in a vegetable patch, the group sometimes organizes weekend volunteer activities where you can participate in simple tasks like labelling the plants.

TTDI Edible Project Facebook Group.

Cultivate Central

(photo credit: Cultivate Central)

Urban gardeners, just like any small interest group, rely heavily on inspiration from others. Cultivate Central is an online platform to help share tips and support on gardening.

Cultive Central was founded by Nova Nelson to inspire other people to take interest in the story of their food and grow food in the city. The website documents ideas, stories, challenges and progress of other urban gardeners who started cultivating their own edible gardens in various parts of Malaysia such as Kuala Selangor (KebunKakiBukit), Serdang (Kebun GangChaos) and Penang (Think Green).

The site also hosts lively discussions on common gardening problems and readers swaps tips on a range of issue from composting to how to produce natural pest repellents.

One of the best tips comes from an interview with Ili Farhana of Kebun GangChaos. “You can read all the tips and theory and have the best books about gardening, but if you don’t get your hands dirty and be on the ground with your plants, you won’t have a garden.”


This article originally appeared on on Poskod.My here.

will be hosting a talk on urban gardening, “From Farm to Fork”, on 31 May 2014 (2.30pm). Stay updated on their our Facebook page. 


From Strangers to Neighbours

What makes a neighbourhood more than just a group of people who share a postcode? Over the years, a lot of our neighbourhoods seem to have lost a sense of community, with interpersonal interactions becoming rare. With more people driving from point A to point B, there are fewer chances of daily serendipitous meetings with those around you.

Of course there are many reasons why neighbours don’t really know each other. That’s why Teh Chi-Chang, the Councillor for Zone 5 PJ (which covers SS21 and SS22) decided to organise a neighbourhood party for the residents of Damansara Jaya. His intention was simple, to “give residents an opportunity and reason to come out and mingle with each other and build a community spirit.”

Instead of having the party in the street, the party was held in a park that was conveniently located in the centre of the residential area facing Jalan SS22/16 and 22/14. Working alongside #BetterCities (who organised the party’s logistics and activities), the party was held just after Chinese New Year on Saturday 15 February. We hoped it would encourage a wider spectrum of residents to participate and connect with one another.

Inspired by the work of public space artist ‘Eltono’, Lia Tostes from #BetterCities constructed a large interactive mural installation called the “Automatic Mural”. One of the ways we got residents to break the ice was by asking them to add to the mural by randomly selecting the shape, colour and position of a predetermined template. The end result was a display of each of the participants own interpretation of the template.

There were a few gardening activities on the day as well by Alex Lee (#BetterIpoh Lead) and Shao Lynn (Eats, Shoots and Roots).  Alex carried out a seed bomb making workshop and Shao Lynn, a Damansara Jaya resident herself, came ready with coriander and spinach seeds to share the basics of urban gardening to everyone, including children (who enjoyed getting their hands dirty).

Hui Ping Foo, who championed the Back Lane Project last year and was winner of a Genovasi grant to develop this idea, has had a fair share in organising community parties. She brought in a team of delightful volunteers from the Architecture department of the University of Tunku Abdul Rahman and friends who are also passionate about neighbourhood projects.

We also wanted to find out how residents felt about the place they lived in and what they felt was lacking, so based on an idea from Neighborland.com, we used some chalk and stencils to conduct a neighbourhood survey by getting residents to fill in what they felt they wanted to see in Damansara Jaya.

“I want a (blank) in D.J.” was chalk-sprayed on the pavements of the park and we received a mix of responses at the end of the day. Some of the responses included: I want a “Disneyland” in DJ, I want “unity”, I want “better security”. As there were quite a number of older citizens, a few of the responses were for a pondok or small hut for people to sit and rest in between their walks, and there was also a request for a football field.

Festivities took place just after 5pm when the scorching weather started to cool down and we realised that food really is the best social conductor. The potluck table was filled by the time the party started. There was fresh cold watermelon juice, cakes, fruits, spaghetti and even some roasted chicken. To our surprise an uncle brought along a big bag of fresh coconuts and a parang to serve us all fresh coconut juice!

At one point it started to drizzle, but instead of fleeing a group of aunties immediately huddled over the food with their umbrellas. It was definitely quite a scene to see people mingling and eating in the rain. The majority of people at the party lived either facing the park directly or a few lanes away. The neighbourhood community policemen joined in too, one off-duty officer even brought his wife and four year old son.

A few people had found out about the party online and came from neighbouring residences in Petaling Jaya. Sharon Chong who lives in Taman Mayang Jaya, close to the Kelana Jaya LRT, came with a bowl of spaghetti and said that it was quite rare to hear about such an event, “I was really interested to see what it was about and what kind of people were involved in such an initiative.” Besides being a way for neighbours to get to know one another, it was a good way to meet new people as well.

“Occasions like these are a good excuse to get people out of their houses on a weekend to sit and talk to the people that live closest to them.”

Residents said that most of them recognised each other’s faces but until that point had no idea what most of their names were. It was nice to see people introducing themselves to one another making small talk and having chats about community safety issues in a relaxed environment.

An elderly lady known as ‘C’ shared that she often sees her neighbour coming home from work too tired to make conversation, the most she gets is a brief hello. “It’s understandable amongst the youngsters, you can imagine how tired they are after a long day, that’s why occasions like these are a good excuse to get people out of their houses on a weekend to sit and talk to the people that live closest to them.”

We definitely had a great time organising the party and meeting so many different kinds of people. We would highly recommend anyone to do this in their own neighbourhood. The first step would definitely be to get in touch with your local Councillor. If they can come on board it will be a big help.

But what you also need is a group of people, the more the merrier, to help organise the party and decide on a date. Be sure to send out invitations (we invited people with flyers) and notify the security officials if need be. For more ideas and party tips check out www.streetparty.org.uk and www.thebiglunch.com. Don’t forget to send us an invite!

This article originally appeared on Poskod.My here.

Yasmin Lane is currently the researcher at #BetterCities and is enjoying the process of deconstructing how she views the city to incorporate a human touch.