… to ‘River of Life’: KL’s ‘kuala lumpur’ III

In previous posts, I explored the changing significance of KL’s rivers from its early beginnings to its present disregarded state. In this post, we’ll look at how KL’s planners have actively sought to remedy that. 

One of the biggest urban revitalisation projects KL has embarked on in recent years is its ‘River of Life’ project. Centred around the cleaning and re-imaging of its water ways, KL authorities are looking to use the rivers as a natural connector between various urban activities and nodes in Central KL, as well as reinventing the river banks as sites for communal activities:

Screen Shot 2018-01-10 at 12.27.17 AM
The River of Life initiatives across KL (source: http://www.asiageospatialforum.org/2013/pdf/Scott%20Dunn.pdf)

Here we observe an active re-positioning and framing of the river in Central KL – KL’s rivers are therefore loaded and imbued with meanings of urban aspirations. This marks a new stage in the rivers’ story. From its initial beginnings as an influential and active driver of KL’s urbanisation, to its passive, background role as a circulator of KL-ites’ waste, there is now an active effort on KL authorities’ part to redefine the role of the rivers beyond the theme of circulation.

These rivers now wear many hats.

KL now has great hopes for its rivers…(source: http://www.lafent.com/magazine/atc_view.html?news_id=6345&gbn=02)

More than a dynamic site of flows, the discussion (in the video) of how different activity nodes will give each section of the river a distinctive character also highlights the authorities’ hope that KL’s rivers could provide spaces for KL-ites to stop and play.

Many objectives for the rivers are laid out in the River of Life project: the rivers should be cleaned, it should provide recreational sites of play; it could support cycling networks adajcent to it and even a water taxi network as an alternative form of commute; homes could be built along the rivers; the land value along the channels will be increased –

…There are such high expectations banking on the revitalisation of the river that if I were the river, I would be stressed out for fear of not living up to expectations.

Global city, global river

Through this project, we can trace the global forces that shape the design and re-construction of KL’s rivers. In a way, there’s nothing original about KL’s revitalisation strategy via waterfront development, as this is an idea shaped and applied continually within the global planning discourse (Bunce and Desfor, 2007) – Hagerman (2006) discusses this very idea in the case of Oregon’s waterfront development plans.

KL authorities themselves cite cases of successful waterfront developments (AECOM, 2013), raising the case studies of Seoul’s Cheongye Stream and Singapore’s ABC Waters Program (as discussed by my friends @twx15 and @yimingang in their blog posts). This really brings to mind the critiques of policy transfer and emulation raised by urban scholars (Evans, 2009) in today’s context of competitive cities. KL’s perpetuated discourse of liveability, connectivity, and greening in her flagship urban revitalisation project sounds just like any other waterfront proposal of any generic city today.

In this way, a far stretch since its beginning as a conduit for mining supplies, the kuala lumpur has evolved to become a site of articulated global ambitions.

[435 words]

Read more from my sources:

  1. AECOM (2013) Greater Kuala Lumpur Transformation Projects: River of Life. Retrieved 30th November 2017 from http://www.asiageospatialforum.org/2013/pdf/Scott%20Dunn.pdf. 
  2. Borneo Post Online (2017) ‘KL River City project to transform northern Kuala Lumpur, Gombak River’. Retrieved 30th November 2017 from http://www.theborneopost.com/2017/07/19/kl-river-city-project-to-transform-northern-kuala-lumpur-gombak-river/.
  3. Bunce, S. and G. Desfor (2007) ‘Introduction to ‘Political ecologies of urban waterfront transformations’, Cities, 24, 4, 251 – 258.
  4. Evans, G. (2009) ‘Creative cities, creative spaces, and urban policy’, Urban Studies, 46, 5&6, 1003 – 1040. 
  5. Hagerman, C. (2006) ‘Shaping neighborhoods and nature: Urban political ecologies of urban waterfront transformations in Portland, Oregon’, Cities, 24, 4, 285 – 297. 
  6.  Jala, I. (2014) ‘Bringing life back to KL’s rivers’. Retrieved 30th November 2017 from https://www.pemandu.gov.my/transformation-unplugged-bringing-life-back-kls-river-2/.

Published by

Chin Lee

University College London Undergraduate Year 3 GEOG3076 Urban Political Ecology Module

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