… 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/.

Enevo and Rotterdam Cooperates to Transition to Smart Waste Management

In 2016, Rotterdam extended a Paper and Cardboard Waste project with Enevo, leading innovator in smart waste-management. This project sought to increase monitoring of waste containers and use of Enevo Smart-Plan software for optimised waste collection route-planning in Rotterdam.

This video provides an introduction to the project!


The multi-storey, residential apartments in Rotterdam utilises a central waste collection system. This places the onus of ensuring that the underground containers are emptied reliably on the municipality of Rotterdam. To encourage recycling, waste collection needs to be made convenient for citizens, necessitating an optimal number and placement of receptacles along with scheduled collections to ensure space in the recycling containers.

I found the use of Geel’s (2004) framework for transitions in socio-technical regimes and Van de Poel’s (2000) framework for examining external pressure, useful in crystallising Rotterdam’s transition to a smart waste-management system.

Geel (2004) identified three dimensions of socio-technical regimes: regulative, normative, and cognitive. I identified the existing mechanisms under each heading for Rotterdam’s case-study here:

  • Regulative – previous waste management system implemented by the government
  • Normative – the lifestyles, habits and technical systems that people are used to
  • Cognitive – core competencies of waste-management operators that turn into rigidities when operators are resistant to change

Regime transformation entails change in existing norms, regulations and beliefs that fall into these three categories (Geel, 2006).

External pressure from outsiders (definition: actors excluded from the community) are highly influential in these transitions (Van de Poel, 2000). In the case of Rotterdam, they fall into the Van de Poel’s (2000) categories of: (1) professional engineers who impart knowledge and design concepts, and (2) firms and entrepreneurs that develop technological novelties to match these concepts.

  1. Professional engineers introduce big data, analytics, and Internet of Things (IoT) technology to aid Rotterdam’s government in uncovering more efficient waste management and recycling practices
  2. Firm and entrepreneurs – Enevo and its smart waste-management solution for Rotterdam (illustrated below)
Enevo's Smart Waste Management Solution
Key aspects of Enevo’s smart waste management solution


Fill-level data collection, forecasting (with data analytics), cloud data sharing and efficient daily route planning


Driver route guidance via in-vehicle tablet
Driver route guidance via in-vehicle tablet

I hope the two frameworks were fruitful ways to explicate the mechanisms behind the cooperation between Rotterdam and Enevo!

I personally find that they are useful ways for understanding how rigidities and resistance to change stymie green transformations in the city. While technological solutions may be foreign and unfamiliar, they provide a propitious means to enhance the efficiency of urban metabolic flows of waste and recyclables. Using bodily metabolic processes that sustain human life to understand flows of waste underlying the everyday functioning of cities (Marvin and Medd, 2006), perhaps it is useful to think metaphorically of Enevo’s smart-plan software as akin to a pacemaker sending electric pulses to the human heart. I guess humans, and the cities we build alike, just need a little technological oomph sometimes.


For a more detailed understanding of the 2 models:

Geels, F. (2004) ‘From sectoral systems of innovation to sociotechnical systems: insights about dynamics and change from sociology and institutional theory’, Research Policy, Vol. 33, No. 6, 897 – 920.

Van de Poel, I. (2000) ‘On the role of outsiders in technical development’, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, Vol. 12, No. 3, 383 – 397.

Other resources that helped me:

Geels, F. (2006) ‘The hygienic transition from cesspools to sewer systems (1840-1930): The dynamics of regime transformation’, Research Policy, Vol. 35, 1069 – 1082.

Marvin, S. and Medd, W. (2006) “Metabolisms of Obecity: Flows of Fat through Bodies, Cities and Sewers”, Environment and Planning A, Vol. 38, Issue 2, 137 – 149.

You can also read more about this project here: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2016/05/prweb13422549.htm

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