Once pulsating with historical significance, Kuala Lumpur’s Downtown area, the Malaysian capital’s enduring core, has weathered significant changes in recent decades.
With the relocation of key administrative, commercial, and residential functions to Putrajaya and the surrounding suburbs of Klang Valley, this once-thriving centre has faced a decline. The relocations have led to fewer residents populating the area, increased dilapidated structures, safety concerns and a decline in local engagement.
However, amidst these challenges lies a treasure trove of cultural heritage and potential for revitalization.
Despite the challenges, efforts abound to breathe life into Downtown KL and unveil its hidden treasures.
Think City has since embarked on more than 165 projects to enhance urban walkways, repurpose buildings, prioritize environmental sustainability, and activate public spaces. They have also hosted some 120 cultural programs to foster community engagement, celebrate diversity, and promote artistic expression.
“In 2015, when we undertook the mission to rejuvenate Downtown KL, the area was in a state of stagnation and decay. Through collaborative efforts between Think City and DBKL, with the support of Yayasan Hasanah and Khazanah Nasional Berhad, we successfully generated momentum, ushering in a transformative phase. The tangible improvements are now evident, and we can already see the positive effects as people are returning to the city, reinvigorating its vibrancy,” said Think City Managing Director, Hamdan Abdul Majeed.
Taking cues from effective international examples of urban revitalization centred around culture, Think City has partnered with DBKL, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (MOTAC), the National Heritage Department (JWN), and Yayasan Hasanah to develop the Strategic Master Plan for the Kuala Lumpur Creative & Cultural District (KLCCD), which was unveiled in 2019.
The 2019 KLCCD master plan covers over 100 hectares of historical Downtown KL, stretching from Little India (north) to the old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station (south), and from Dataran Merdeka (west) to the Bukit Nanas schools (east).
The visionary plan aspires to cultivate an inclusive, authentic, and vibrant creative hub that seamlessly intertwines heritage, culture, and innovation.
Its objective is to craft a fresh encounter for visitors, ignite opportunities for businesses, and enhance the liveability of residents in the capital. This initiative seeks to revive the bustling energy reminiscent of its early days as a burgeoning tin-mining settlement back in the 1850s.
Among the initiatives spearheaded and backed by Think City as part of the KLCCD Master Plan is the transformation of High Street Studios. Formerly a hostel catering to travellers and backpackers, it has now evolved into a multifunctional space housing cultural treasures like Rumah Gambus, Riwayat Bookstore, and Batik Ruzzgahara.
Rumah Gambus stands as a small gallery established by Raja Zulkarnain, a dedicated connoisseur of Gambus music. His vision was to share his fervour for Gambus music with the wider public.
Riwayat Books is an enchanting independent bookstore offering a collection of local and international new books, as well as rare and pre-owned editions.
Furthermore, the ambitious plans for renovation, repair, and maintenance encompass iconic heritage structures like Masjid Jamek and the Sin Sze Si Ya temple.
Notably, the Sin Sze Si Ya temple is Kuala Lumpur’s oldest Taoist temple and was founded by Kapitan Yap Ah Loy in 1864.
In Petaling Street, Kwai Chai Hong, Moutou and Dou Houz are projects supported to hold creative and cultural programmes and attract more visitors to the area.
Additionally, the MRT Pasar Seni Arts On The Move (AOTM) was established in 2016 to showcase curated quality performances, art installations, and workshops, providing commuters with opportunities to both enjoy and actively participate.
Other initiatives such as the Creative KL Grants Programme and the Creative KL Urban Challenge, also empower grassroots-led innovations and contribute significantly to Downtown KL’s rejuvenation.
These concerted efforts are gradually transforming Malaysia’s historic enclave.
An RM15 million allocation from the Federal Government in Budget 2023 is expected to further bolster these initiatives by restoring buildings, revamping walkways and laneways, and activating dormant spaces. Concurrently, ongoing enhancements to amenities, services, and the city’s verdant landscape are underway.
The ongoing support from the Federal Government, which includes a newly announced RM20 million support from Budget 2024, enables Think City to accelerate its mission of revitalizing Downtown KL in the upcoming year.
This collective effort is anticipated to hasten the realization of the KLCCD, propelling the transformation of downtown Kuala Lumpur into a bustling, culturally diverse hub that attracts locals and visitors alike, fostering economic growth and community engagement.
Cover image supplied by Think City.