Profiles: Meet Shaun and Jeff

At the next instalment of #BetterCities Talk, we have selected topic of “Alternative and Sustainable Transportation in Greater Klang Valley”. The broader issue of sustainable transportation involves a myriad of factors including: amongst others, public transit reliability and infrastructure, fuel prices, cost of vehicle ownership, et. al.

So, what the immediate, practical ways of encouraging alternative and sustainable modes of transportation in our city? #BetterCities invites two speakers to present their projects, which we believe contribute to sustainable transportation in our city. They are Jeffrey Lim, creator of Cycling Kuala Lumpur, Bicycle Map Project, a crowdsourced bicycle route-mapping project to encourage a more cycle-able Kuala Lumpur and Shaun Lim, developer of Orbiting, a ridesharing app to encourage carpooling through social networks, currently on a closed beta release.

#BetterCities spoke to both the speakers, Shaun and Jeffrey to find out more about their projects.

Shaun wrote us an email back in July, expressing intrigue and support for the ethos behind our initiative, from collaborating to improving lives in our city. After an initial meeting, we invited him over to our studio for a sharing session. Since then, we have been keenly waiting for his app, Orbiting, to launch.

#BetterCities: Shaun, why did you start Orbiting?

Shaun Lim (SL): While I am not completely averse to driving, there are certain times and places when I would rather not be driving due to the increasingly congested roads. When stuck in traffic, if you look around, you will notice that the majority of vehicles around you are Single Occupancy Vehicles (SOVs). This would be one of the main causes of traffic congestion. However, all these SOVs on the road are not heading towards entirely unique destinations; many are likely headed towards the same direction if not location. I started Orbiting after thinking about this. Orbiting is a crowdsourced transportation platform linking people travelling towards the same destination or general direction in an attempt consolidate and reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

#BetterCities: What is your objective / goal upon launching Orbiting?

SL: As this requires a change in the mindset of the people, something that can be challenging, I have very modest expectations. In a study back in 2007, it was estimated that the number of SOVs passing through the MRRI and MRRII highways alone were close to 1.7 million daily. This figure is definitely higher today and even higher still when you include other highways. If I could get anywhere close to reducing the number of vehicles by 1% within a 2 year period, I would be happy enough for a start.

#BetterCities: How many beta testers do you currently have?

SL: There are currently close to 100 registered users but the balance in terms of driver-passenger ratio as well the locations people move about in is not quite there at this point in time.

We first met Jeffrey Lim at a weekly city cycling group organised by landscape architect, Ng Sek San, back in 2012. We interviewed Jeff for one of our earliest project, a short documentary profiling different urban cyclists: Tribes. His project, Cycling Kuala Lumpur, Bicycle Map Project will be available for free at the end of 2013.

#BetterCities: How long have you been working on the Bicycle Map project?

Jeffrey Lim (JL): It’s now been over a year since I started the project. The first inkling started in the beginning of 2012, printing out google maps marking routes out. June 16 2012 was when I first started plotting out a study area. That makes it 15 months since initiation.

#BetterCities: What do you hope to achieve with the Bicycle Map project?

JL: The bicycle map was initially started out to be a route planner, sharing suitable cycling routes to any cyclists wanting to get around KL. I hope this project would give us a confidence boost, that we are capable of getting around town on a bicycle. As the project matured, it became more than just a physical map, but a tool, a connecting point. It is becoming a socio map project which is linking up so many different genres of cyclists, advocating and activism. It has become a project connecting the ‘living’ dots of cycling in KL.

#BetterCities: What is the most difficult challenge faced?

JL: It takes an immense amount of man-hours/ work to get it done, a monumental task which I failed to foresee. What seemed like a simple project of just collating routes is turning into a huge complex design job. Designing a base map from scratch to compiling and surveying, promoting and advocating, distribution & production to writing & editing a simple guide to Cycling KL. What was something I did in my spare time is now my full-time occupation. Although I thoroughly enjoy every second of it.

The talk will be happening this Sunday, 13 October, 10:00am – 12:00pm at Genovasi, Lot 2A, Jalan 13/2, Petaling Jaya. For more information, please visit our Facebook event page:

#BetterCities Talks #2: A Postmortem

As part of their talk series #BetterCities held a postmortem of two of their projects: the first from their own Urban Residency participants and the second presentations from their partner project Junk=ed. Urban Residency was a week-long urban action workshop organised by #BetterCities in George Town, Penang. Urban Residency was done in partnership with The Embassy of Finland Malaysia, George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), George Town Festival, Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang (MPPP), Cheah Kongsi and ThinkCity Sdn Bhd.

The workshop brought together nine young architects and designers and two mentors (of architectural background) to propose, design, and construct a courtyard for a community residing and using a back lane in Little India. The exact site is located at a back lane between Lebuh King and Queen.

The second project, #BetterCities x Junk=ed was initiated by #BetterCities in a partnership with Junk=ed (for the April – July 2013 semester) as a part of #BetterCities’s #WhileWeWait bus stop series. #BetterCities x Junk=ed was in partnership with Kyle Yon E and Shyn Cheah, both of whom are lecturers at the School of Architecture, Design and Building at Taylor’s University.#BetterCities was on board as external evaluators and provided micro grants for the students to execute their projects.

Five groups were given five sites (bus stops) in Bandar Sunway/PJS5-6 area, and were tasked to transform these bus stops into better places using materials sourced from junkyards. Junk=ed is an elective course, headed by Kyle Yon E and Shyn Cheah, to transform five bus stops in Bandar Sunway into better places using materials sourced from junkyards. The elective explores the aesthetics of upcycling and usability of unconventional materials.

(photo courtesy of Sharmin Parameswaran)

In the first segment the participants of Urban Residency got intimate with audience revealing their challenges, personal work, and their overall experience in Georgetown. Viewing the project at a glance, gave insight to the real life sentiments that go behind the blend between: space, creativity, and nine designers.

More than the physical labor, it was a revelation to find that the designers had more trouble tackling the actual design. As the saying goes, “too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the broth” but they came together and made it work. Though at the end a fellow designer, Rebecca Nayagam, had this piece of advice for us: know when to speak up.

As well as understanding how they got the space to work we also learned a little bit about each designer and they have not only a passion for architecture but also community.

“The city is a shared space. We need to figure how spaces can be enjoyed and experienced contextually.” – Alex Lee

Designers like Alex Lee showed an excitement for engaging people in ordinary spaces and finding ways bring playfulness to even the dullest bus stop with color and resourcefulness. According to Alex, “In order to get people to use spaces, they need to be proud of them.” His genuine love for innovation and place is brought out by his pastime of guerilla gardening and his belief in creating your own landmarks is catching. His presentation enabled the audience to recognize that “the city is a shared space. We need to figure how spaces can be enjoyed and experienced contextually.”

It was inspiring and a delight to see how the participants mixed design, creativity, and what one might call spacial activism together. Brian Chee’s multiple takes on how to think or rethink of a chair at bus stops was an inventive lesson on how to take initiative and think big.

After the Urban Residency participants the students from Taylor’s came up to speak about their individual projects under Junk=ed. With what came to be known through a series of laughs their tight budget of RM200 was stretched in inventive and resourceful ways.

With installations of musical pipes to a community board made of exquisite little tiles for locals to express themselves it seems as if Junk=ed as at least sparked these students to think about design and their degrees differently.

More than just being the first time that these Taylor’s students have really had to consider a budget rather than just coming up with ideas on paper, it was also the first time they saw how the public interacted with their design. Their newfound know-how as well as what seemed boundless creativity leads us to think that we have future Urban Residency Participants underway.

The talk was an insightful look on how we can rethink participation, space, and resources. When we start to put time and care into a space it becomes a topic of conversation, a thought to chew on, and our own. This #BetterCities talk series reveals design and creativity are at their best tools to connect us to each other and our community.

Nadia Nadesan hails from Texas and is now based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She currently volunteers at #BetterCities as a videographer, editor and writer. 

A Resolution for a Better City

by Mark Teh

The PopDigital / #BetterCities geng invited me to yak at the last-ever Poskod Talks in December 2012. Sub-themed ‘Farewell and Here’s to the Future’, the idea was to map out the many projects & pilots over the past few years, and present 3-minute resolutions for 2013.  I’m involved very peripherally these days, and I never make resolutions.  Here’s what I presented:


This may be useful or relevant to you only in a sideways shuffling kind of way.  Apologies for being more personal & mundane than the previous presentations.

Mohan Ambikaipaker, one of the best teachers I’ve had, once said that everyone should teach for a period of time at least once in your life.  He said that you will learn a lot about learning – how others learn, how you learn, how people learn differently.

Teaching is probably the most political thing I’ve ever done – it’s about facilitating ways of seeing and thinking, and what could be more political than that? Writing a syllabus or a course outline is not dissimilar to writing a manifesto.

A question for all of you.  If you had to teach a subject every week for 14 weeks – which is how long a semester is – what would you teach?  What would you include, or exclude from your syllabus?  What would be your recommended readings, and what would you definitely leave off the list?  What assignments would you set?  How would you assess the students?  These are political questions – they are questions related to power and knowledge production.

To make this more directly relavent to the questions Poskod and #BetterCities are asking, a question I’ve been thinking about is how to use the city as a classroom? How to use the sites, stories, communities, cultures & contradictions of the city as a body of knowledge?  How to get students to go into and learn from the city?

On the flip side, how to organize the classroom so it functions more like a city?  To work with a sense of organized chaos, to encourage the organic, to make different spaces exist, and to move in different directions at the same time?

The teacher-student relationship is somewhat like the relationship between urban planning and urbanism – which is how people actually use the city in spite of urban planning.  How to encourage self-organisation in the classroom?  How to get students to take responsibility for their own learning?  How to get students to learn from, and yes, teach each other?  Oftentimes, learning happens in spite of, rather than because of, the teacher.  Some of the best experiences I’ve had in classes this year – I had very little to do with them

To extend the relationship between the classroom and the city a bit more, how to encourage students to take an idea, concept, or even just a hunch for a walk?  Take your idea for a walk, and let it come back sweaty, smelly, banged-up, bruised and bullied and see what has changed.  The gap between knowledge and your experiencing of that knowledge – that’s where learning happens.  That’s where each student’s solitary walk takes place – each walks and learns differently.  How to create situations for self-discovery for students?

I teach theatre – theory, practical.  Theatre is about making temporary things – characters, times, spaces, a performance that hopefully a larger group of people want to watch.  How to teach young people to make the thing, and make sense of the thing, at the same time?  As a performer, how to embody, and yet, remain analytical?  As an audience member, how to learn empathy, and yet maintain critical distance?  How to watch yourself, watching something?

How to encourage risk-taking and productive failure as a teacher?  How to turn the tables on problems, to look at them upside down, and try to make the problem productive, rather than just problematic?

How to teach not just as a teacher, but as an artist?  How to get young people to understand that they can’t just be students – they’re learning to be artists?

How to work with assholes?  Because some assholes are students too.  And how to not be an asshole as a teacher?  Because some assholes are teachers too!

As I get older, the question of ‘how’, rather than ‘what’ has become more important.  What you are teaching is important, but perhaps a bit more important right now for me is the question of how to teach?  Questions of methodology.

How to be present and absent as a teacher?

How to learn?  How to unlearn?  How to teach?  How to unteach?

How to ask better questions as a teacher?

My resolution for 2013, if it’s not already deadly apparent, is to build more platforms with students, and to get better at teaching.

Mark Teh is a researcher, educator, organiser and performance director whose diverse, collaborative projects are particularly concerned with the issues of Malaysian history, memory and participation.

From a Distant Perspective

“To the young with hearts of passion and the old who are young at heart.” -Kevin Mark Low

Last June I got an opportunity to be a part of #BetterCities’s pilot project, Urban Residency in George Town, Penang, in which 9 young creatives from architecture and design backgrounds collaborate to design a community space. The site lies at a back lane flanked by shop houses and residences in Little India. Within a week, we have to design this almost abandoned pocket space into a place where community can use, gather and interact.

Prior to our workshop, the #BetterCities team had conducted a 4-month research before locating this space as a case study. They made the design guidelines and requirements for us. So our aim was to tackle the Challenge Brief with a design solution that could be possibly built within a week. There was also a budget limitation, of MYR 8000.

I decided to apply simply because I needed a breath of fresh air and a new experience. New perspective.

Being a stranger in a strange city, my personal motivation in this project was simply to understand, to keenly observe. To sit back and listen. Turns out, I learned a lot.

Since the first day when I arrived at Sekeping Victoria, the workshop venue, these creative people fascinated me. They all have sharp opinions and a deep understanding on many kinds of issues. Every discussion was intense. Every design decision was under careful consideration. Being among them, I learned new things: how to argue and solve problem in terms of design; how to interact with different layers of communities and authorities; how to implement ideas into technical construction (i.e. making it real); how to know when to brainstorm and when to make decision; and when to stop thinking and just do.

I also heard many interesting stories from the participants: the art scene in Penang, the political situation in Malaysia, the creative people’s desire to be appreciated more, and the so many different approaches to tackle the urban challenges in the cities from what I know back in Indonesia.

Yet, as the neighboring countries we share similar issues. Southeast Asian countries, especially our cities, are vastly growing. Some people are ready to face global challenges; they talk about a better future, a better world. Some are still absorbed in their conservative values and traditional way of living, which are actually great to preserve history and their roots.

Being the generation in between, I think this is the opportunity for young people to address both sides with smart and creative kind of approach. Bridge the gap. Be the solution.

Looking back at our work in the back lane of George Town’s Little India, for me, it is a good start. Having different creatives staying in an enclosed environment, given a design challenge to be solved together, having to understand and respect each other, I imagine the Urban Residency experience a close simulation of life on a broader context. Hopefully someday we will remember the experience as we work in different environments and seek new ways to communicate our values as we interact with people of different cultures and idealisms.

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The first time we opened the “Chappati Burn” garden (an accidental name coined by the discovery of an abandoned board we found on site), I saw the uncommon scene that I couldn’t find in my home country: people of different languages, colours, professions… interacting together like all other things never matter.

To the young with hearts of passion and the old who are young at heart, I hope wherever and whoever you are, whatever you wish to be, you will learn something from whatever you are facing right now.

To be a better person. Among a better community. In a better city.

Cheers from Indonesia,
Rofianisa Nurdin

Rofianisa Nurdin is a fresh architecture graduate from Bandung, Indonesia; devoted in writing and asking questions. With friends from college, she co-founded Vidour in 2011, a collaborative architecture documentary group which have been engaged with layers of communities to document Indonesia’s most happening architecture and art events from Bandung, Jakarta, Flores, to Tokyo. Interested in arts, media, and culture; a creative community activist within Bandung Creative City Forum; and currently a research assistant in Bandung Institute of Technology.

#BetterCities Talk Series 1: Marco Kusumawijaya

The much awaited video excerpts of speakers from #BetterCities’ first talk series of the year, “The Role of Architecture in Place-Making”, are finally up! In late April, #BetterCities co-organised a talk with Galeri Petronas and Foster + Partners. It was held in conjunction with the Art of Architecture exhibition (March 6 – May 12 2013). Our esteemed panel of speakers included: Marco Kusumawijaya, Karsten Vollmer, Yap Sau Bin and one of our collaborators, Lia Tostes.

“A space becomes a place only when there are people using and taking care of it.”
Marco Kusumawijaya, Founder of RUJAK

Marco Kusumawijaya, founder and director of RUJAK Centre for Urban Studies (RCUS) is someone who likes everything about the city. He is a practitioner, activist and thinker in the fields of architecture, environment, arts, cultural heritage, urban planning and development with more than 20 years of intensive experiences, orienting his practice and thinking towards sustainable urbanism and architecture. Trained as an architect (Parahyangan University’s Architecture Department, Bandung, Indonesia), he then completed his post-graduate studies in the Centre Human Settlements, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. In 2000 he started Green Map ( in Indonesia.

Marco’s extensive curriculum vitae can be found here:

Below are some of his presentation slides (shared here with permission):

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Urban Residency: Meet our Participants

Our first Urban Residency programme is fast approaching! We have had a great response to our Open Call and we would like to thank everyone who applied, especially applicants outside of Malaysia!

The main criteria for the selection process were quality and relevance of portfolios. We were looking for portfolios that reflected skills as well as complemented the statement of intent. Additional points were awarded to those with prior experience working in community or neighbourhood projects, in constructing/building things, and have a keen interest in place-making.

We have selected seven people to join our first workshop. Our Urban Residency mentors, Lia Tostes and Hui Ping, will spend an intensive week with them brainstorming, designing and constructing ideas to improve a small public space in George Town, Penang. Let’s introduce our seven successful applicants!

Alex Lee is an urban explorer, DIY dude & greenie. He is constantly exploring, observing and apply interventions to cities to create conversations. Pint-sized but feisty, Alex believes the city is a living thing.


Bryan Chee completed his architectural education in London with professional experience from both Malaysia and UK. He is interested in design from visual art to urban scale installation, currently dividing his time teaching architecture while pursuing on some experimentation projects to transform the city experience through design making under MADE. One of the recent completed project was a series of urban sitting installation under the theme “Design Change Things”.


Justin Khoo, 25 year old Penangite, not from concentrate. He is a lover of food, culture, plants and nature. Architecture graduate with an interest in utilitarian design, context and sense-of-place. Enjoys going to markets, whizzing around on a bicycle and trips to the beach.


Sueh Li Tan is a Penangite. She loves type design as much as Assam Laksa. In 2012, she co-founded Typokaki with Karmen Hui to explore type design and typography in relation to Malaysia cultures through workshops, events and research. They have been conducted two type design workshops so far, with the theme ‘Petaling Street’.


Zi Hao Tan is an artist, designer, and writer whose works examine the socio-political details in the everyday life. Graduated as a Dean’s List Scholar from The One Academy, he has since participated in exhibitions across Malaysia and Taiwan. He recently completed his BA International Communications Studies in the University of Nottingham Malaysia and is looking forward to furthering his education in Southeast Asian history and politics.


Yulianto Qin, an Indonesian national, trained as an architect in Indonesia and Japan. He has been involved in heritage building documentation project with Indonesian Center of Architecture Documentation and Architecture History Lab at Toyohashi University of Technology, Japan. His main interest are architecture heritage conservation, documentation, and visual anthropology studies.


Rebecca Nayagam has graduated with a Bachelors in Architecture from Melbourne University. In 2010, she co-founded a non-profit called Novels for Nepal, built a library in Humla, Nepal and has been working on a few selected projects in Kuala Lumpur. She aspires to be more than an architect – she hopes to one day use all the skills and knowledge she’s gained through her formal education to contribute to resolving societal problems through design solutions.



Rofianisa Nurdin is a fresh-graduate architect from Bandung, Indonesia; devoted in writing and asking questions. With friends from college co-founded Vidour (2011), a collaboration-based architecture documentary group which have been engaged with layers of communities to document Indonesia’s most happening architecture and art events from Bandung, Jakarta, Flores, to Tokyo. Interested in arts, media, and culture; participating within Bandung Creative City Forum as a creative community activist; and currently a research assistant in Bandung Institute of Technology.


Chew Pui Cheng has worked with urban property developers, international resort designers, British commercial architectural firms, rural community architectural designers, Dutch film set production and designers. She is also a permaculturalist, a carpenter, an occasional lecturer, a researcher for a heritage publication, a transparency platform co-developer, a wannabe conservationist.


Urban Residency is a weeklong urban action workshop Urban Residency is organised by #BetterCities, supported by The Embassy of Finland, Kuala Lumpur, and in partnership with George Town Festival, George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), Municipal Council of Penang Island (MPPP) and Think City.

Urban Residency: Meet our Mentors

Two days left for you to send in your application for Urban Residency!

Since April, our team at #BetterCities has seeked consultation from different experts and institutions to get a better understanding of George Town. We have also selected mentors with a level expertise and empathy towards community-centered approaches to urban design and planning. Throughout the duration of Urban Residency, selected participants will be working with our mentors to propose, design and produce a project that will improve a selected site in George Town, Penang.

Curious who the mentors you will be working with if you are selected for our pilot programme? Meet our Urban Residency mentors.

Mentor #1: Lia Tostes, Urbanist/Architect

Lia is an architect and urbanist from Brasilia, Brazil, who has just finished her Masters at the University of Tokyo, Japan. She currently lives in Kuala Lumpur and is a collaborator of #BetterCities. In August 2012, her project MyOwnOsaka was selected, with the prize of MYR15,000, to be part of the Osaka Canvas 2012, an important Japanese public art festival. MyOwnOsaka was an outcome of her research on grassroots urban interventions.

For her thesis, Lia profiled 75 case studies, in which city dwellers, seeking to tackle urban issues, undertake projects in urban spaces. The movement named Mend-Yourself-Urbanism (codenamed M.Y.URBANISM) was recently presented at Urban Popcultures Conference in Prague.

Mentor #2: Hui Ping, Architect/Lecturer

Trained as an architect, Hui Ping received her Bachelor degree locally from University of Malaya and a Master degree from Delft University of Technology, Netherlands.

Currently, she is residing in PetalingJaya and operates under her newly set-up design office, Rekacipta HUiS. She also lectures part time at the Design Studios of Department of Architecture, University Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Apart from being passionate about designing and teaching, she is also attracted to issues pertaining to her immediate physical environment – in short the City. Recently, she won first prize in a national open idea competition for her community project entitled The Back Lane Project. Through this and perhaps more of such initiatives, she hopes to see more and more Malaysians claiming and occupying the public space.

Download the application form here.

For more information or media inquiries, please contact us at

Urban Residency is a #BetterCities’ pilot project in George Town, Penang,
supported by the Embassy of Finland, Malaysia and in partnership with George Town World Heritage Inc (GTWHI) and George Town Festival. The project will take place during George Town Festival 2013 between 10 – 16 June 2013. 

#BetterCities Talk Series #1: Highlights

The first talk series from #BetterCities of the year, “The Role of Architecture in Place-Making”, was held on 20 April 2013, at Galeri Petronas, Suria KLCC. Co-organized with Galeri Petronas and Foster + Partners, the talk was held in conjunction with the Art of Architecture exhibition (March 6 – May 12 2013).

The lecture hall at Galeri Petronas was packed with over 70 participants that day. Moderated by Sze Ying Goh, our #BetterCities lead, the four speaker from architecture and art backgrounds gave a very engaging and interesting presentations.

Our first speaker was Karsten Volmer, partner at Foster + Partners. Based in London with offices worldwide, Foster + Partners is one of the pioneers in sustainable approaches to architecture through a strikingly wide range of work from urban masterplans to public infrastructure, workplaces to private houses and product design.

“There is a deep seated human desire and need to have a link with the past.”
– Karsten Vollmer, Foster + Partners

Karsten emphasized how the work at Foster + Partners tries to create links to history and the past context of the building site. For example, when the Roman remains of a girl were found at the site of the Swiss Re building in London, Foster + Partners erected a plaque in honour of the girl. “There is a deep seated human desire and need to have a link with the past”, said Karsten.

Our second speaker, Marco Kusumawijaya, founder and director of RUJAK Centre for Urban Studies (RCUS) is someone that likes everything about the city. He is a practitioner, activist and thinker in the fields of architecture, environment, arts, cultural heritage, urban planning and development with more than 20 years of intensive experiences.

“A space becomes a place only when there are people using and taking care of it”, emphasised Marco while sharing his view on public versus common spaces. He shared images of the Malaysian Spring initiated by landscape architect Ng Seksan as an example of how a public space had been transformed by citizens adopting it and beautifying it with a political message.

Next, we heard from Lia Tostes, a #BetterCities mentor of Urban Residency, an urban action workshop held in conjunction with Georgetown Festival this coming June. Lia is an architect and urbanist from Brasilia, Brazil. In her presentation, she shared some interesting examples of participatory urbanism known as ‘M.Y.Urbanism’. The ‘M.Y.’ stands for ‘mend yourself’ and is a term for grassroots urban interventions carried out by citizens without the help of corporations or government bodies.

“A space becomes a place only when there are people using and taking care of it.”
Marco Kusumawijaya, Founder of RUJAK

Last but not least, the presentations were rounded off by Sau Bin Yap, an artist and lecturer at Multimedia University (MMU). Saubin spoke about bringing art to KTM trains and schools by sharing Let Arts Move You (LAMU) and Contemporary Art In School (CAIS ) art projects. With the KTM project, he talked about how something undesirable – like a train delay – could actually facilitate a diversion in artwork.

The talk ended with a Q&A section with the audience followed by refreshments provided by the gallery. #BetterCities wold like to thank all the speakers and partners: Foster + Partners, Galeri Petronas,  British Council Malaysia and everyone who make their present at the talk that day.

You may listen to the Q&A section of the talk here:

#BetterCities Talk Series #1: Q&A session

For more information on our speakers:
Karsten Volmer, Partner at Foster + Partners

Marco Kusumawijaya, Founder/Director RUJAK Centre for Urban Studies

Lia Campelo Lima Tostes, Urbanist/Architect

Yap Sau Bin, Artist/Specialist Staff at MMU

Article and photos by Okui Lala. Additional reporting by Ling Low. For more information on #BetterCities’ Talk Series:

Urban Residency: George Town, Penang Open Call

Are you interested in participatory urbanism? Are you passionate about improving shared public spaces? Do you believe creativity and collaboration can contribute to a better neighbourhood and city?

Wearing the colors of George Town Festival, #BetterCities launches its first project in George Town, Penang: Urban Residency (UrRe). UrRe is a weeklong urban action workshop that will take place between June 10th-16th 2013 in George Town, Penang. Selected participants will design and build projects to transform overlooked public space into a more vibrant, responsive and liveable place.

Team #BetterCities has worked closely with local institutions and groups to devise a relevant design challenge, which will be disclosed on the first day of the workshop.

Selected participants will have room and board covered, a shared work space, as well as a budget for materials (travels to George Town, Penang not included). Participants are expected to get to George Town at their own expenses on June 9th 2013.

#BetterCities invites architects, designers and installation artists to apply. Please send your application form, portfolio and resumé to by May 27th 2013.

Download the application form here.

For more information or media inquiries, please contact us at

Urban Residency is a #BetterCities’ pilot project in George Town, Penang,
supported by the Embassy of Finland, Malaysia.

On collecting stories and voices.

PostPhone: A Work-in-Progress Report by Okui Lala

Survey, focus groups, interviews will usually be carried out during the design research phase of a project. We either jot down quick notes or make recordings to gather information. But after this, what do we do with these data? The thought of this has inspired us to make use of the resource while turning the whole experience more fun. What if there is this recorder that enables the public to play a more active role, record their thoughts and be able to access it anytime they want?

Intense brainstorming: A phone booth? A house phone in a public space? Will the public pick up the phone? Will our phone face vandalism? Will the phone get stolen? (Photo Credit: Sze Ying Goh)

On Hacking the Phone

After going through several discussions on the functions and purpose of PostPhone, we realized that our objective could be achieved by hacking a voice recorder. What we needed for this “idea” to work is to ensure the following could be done: 1) record, 2) store and 3) playback.

(Photo Credit: Eywn)

Thus, we got ourselves a good recorder, bought some wires, buttons, speaker and amplifier (to enhance the sound recording). But as we dismantled the whole recorder and started to hack it, we realized the circuitry of the recorder is too close to each other and the wiring of it is too fine — we had our first road block: while we were soldering the parts together, the recorder got short-circuited and could not be used.

The Myth behind PostPhone

Photo Credit: Okui Lala

We got some advice from the expert, which is to get a cheaper recorder as the circuitry will be further apart from each other so it would be easier for us to hack. And it worked!

PostPhone @ KakiSENI Festival

“If you were to make a call to yourself in 2020, what would you say?”

“I would said to myself…. that I would be better and happier.”
– Anonymous User 022

Photo Credit: Eywn

Our first stop (also our opportunity to organise a beta test!) for PostPhone was inside Pavilion, a shopping mall at the city centre of Kuala Lumpur. The reception was encouraging due to the happening events at the KakiSENI Festival. A lot of people stopped by the phone and we received various response. Some were slightly confused with the presence of the phone; some attempted to go through the process of reading our phone guidebook and made their recording; many stopped by and listened. We received a lot of responses and positive but critical suggestions. Thanks! We hear you! 🙂

Designed by Okui Lala and Shum E Wyn, produced by Sze Ying Goh, as part of #BetterCities’ While We Wait Project. While We Wait is supported by the Embassy of Finland, Malaysia.

PostPhone was at KakiSENI Festival 2013 from 24th April – 1st May 2013 (Level 6, just beside Al-Amar Restaurant). Soon, PostPhone will be travelling to a bus station. We invite you to record a phone call to the future. We are collecting and sharing your stories with the city.