The KL downtown historic core is undergoing a renaissance of sorts – a number of projects have made this part of downtown more accessible, safer and a place to hangout for both locals and visitors instead of their typically visiting the city’s shopping malls. Text and Photography by Jan Yong

Old shophouses in KL historic core

Granted, Kuala Lumpur is nothing like the acclaimed beautiful cities in the world like Vancouver, Sydney, Auckland, Venice or even Hong Kong and Singapore. One thing though that they all share in common is having a water body next to it such as the sea or river, and having a historic downtown core. In KL’s case, there is the Klang and Gombak rivers which are part of the ambitious RM4.4 bil ‘River of Life’ (RoL) project; and a historic downtown core that has a lot of inbuilt character.
The focal point of the RoL project is the “Blue Pool”, which aims to visually transform the convergence point of the Klang and Gombak rivers into vibrant and bustling waterfronts. It will provide a view of the river with colour fullights and water fountains accompanied by music where visitors can chill out. Expected to be completed by 2020, the project also includes a plan to build a pedestrian bridge linking Masjid Jamek with the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and Dataran Merdeka – all 3 historic buildings – by cutting travelling time by half.
According to reports, the beautification will focus on a 10.7 km stretch along the Klang and Gombak river corridors (by 2019), while comercialisation and tourism within the same riverfront will take place from 2020 on wards.


That’s not all – the historic core of KL, covering the area within 1 km radius from Masjid Jamek, will be reimagined especially the public spaces and even the shophouses. Unfortunately for KL, the old shophouses do not enjoy the same UNESCO protection as those in Georgetown and Melaka. Thus, many have been demolished and redeveloped while some have been inappropriately adapted.
Still, if you walk around that area, you could still see a number of those shophouses’ old character being preserved despite having been converted into budget guesthouses, cafes and an assortment of shops. You could still get a feel of the old KL of some 50 years ago when you walk along Jalan Tun HS Lee where you will encounter an old mom and pop convenience shop (kedai runcit), an old bookshop and coffee shops reminiscent of those in the 1950s and 1960s.
Recently, there have been ideas mooted to repurpose the upper floors of some of these old shophouses into affordable micro houses to accommodate young working adults working in the citycentre. The grand scheme is to repopulate the downtown city centre after the ‘suburban flight’ which saw many KLites moving to suburban residential estates.
Another highlight are the murals on the outer walls of the corner shoplots. An example seen here is one highlighting an idyllic urban scene which celebrates KL’s history and diversity.
Even the laneways are not spared – a few have been beautified as part of the Laneway Improvement Programme in downtown KL. The programme aims to create safer, cleaner, more functional and attractive laneways/backlanes in the downtown area.
An example is Lorong Bandar 13, one block away from the Medan Pasar clock tower, which has a functional court for badminton and seating areas in an outdoor lounge. These are all part of an experiment in turning an underutilized space into a place for socialising, respite and activity within the city.

The cycling lane on Jalan Hang Kasturi, seen from the third floor of a art deco building across the road.

Cycling lane (identified in blue) is an ongoing project in the KL historic core.

Other ideas that have been executed are kerblets and parklets. The first are basically outdoor lounges that utilize upcycled furniture to make use of underutilized pedestrian space. There are two so far – one outside a decades-old bookshop and another outside a famous beef noodle shop along Jalan Tun HS Lee.
Parklets are another new idea – to repurpose former car park lots into spaces for passerby and pedestrians to restand watch the world go by. The first one, located at Jalan Panggong, features a small edible garden and a seating area. The second one is located along Jalan Hang Kasturi.

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