In Search of Better Planning Practices for the Transformation of City Centres

In the previous writing – Urban Growth Limit (UGL): Negotiating between ‘sprawl’ and ‘compact’ urban forms, we had suggested that Malaysians need to seek a better route to plan, develop and manage their cities; additionally, we also urged that a clearer policy direction to be formed in order to guide the urban development moving towards the Vision 2020 (Rokibah and Wong, 2012). Meanwhile, the Federal Department of Town and Country Planning Peninsular Malaysia (FDTCP) has also completed the Planning and Design Guidelines of Liveable Compact Cities (2012). Perhaps that indicates that the image for the future cities will be very much associated with the concept of ‘compact’, ‘liveable’ and ‘vibrant’ (none alone is sufficient), as emphasised in the 10th Malaysia Plan, 2011 2015.

Thus, in this writing, we like to share a few short literature reviews on how have other advance cities transformed, from a city centre that is congested, empty and under-utilised into a more people-friendly, liveable, vibrant and compact city centre. The following sections will discuss three arbitrary selected cities, they are – Melbourne, Curitiba and Singapore.

Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne is located between the Tropic of Capricorn and Antarctic Circle (37°48’S, 144°57’E). It has a temperate climate with an annual average temperature range between 10°C and 20°C. The central city of Melbourne covered an area of 3.9 km2, and has a population about 13,700, an average density of 35 persons per hectare (Ley 2005).

Prof Norman Day’s article, which published in The Age, June 1978, used the title “An empty, useless city centre” to describe the city centre of Melbourne (cited in City of Melbourne 2004, p.4). But, in recent years, Melbourne has been recognised as one of the most liveable cities in the world.

The City of Melbourne Strategy Plan 1985 is an important long term plan that laid the foundation for Melbourne’s renewal. In between, the City of Melbourne with the cooperation from Gehl Architects has surveyed the Melbourne’s public spaces and public life in 1994. The survey was duplicated in 2004. In comparison of the data in 1994 with 2004, it was revealed that there is a remarkable increase of public life in the city centre of Melbourne. This was evidenced by the dramatic increase of pedestrian volumes; the street like the Bourke Street Mall has more pedestrian traffic (per day) than Regent Street, London and Strøget, Copenhagen.

In the 2004 report, they also explained numerous reasons that helped to regain the public life in the city centre of Melbourne. Firstly, there is huge increase of population (830% increase from 1992 to 2002) and students (62% more from 1993 to 2004) in the city centre. Secondly, the quality and quantity of urban spaces such as streets, squares, promenades and parks have been improved and tuned toward human scale and pedestrian friendliness. Next, lanes and arcades activities and businesses such as café and retailing have been revitalized, and more facilities such as sitting have been provided at the suitable places for pedestrians’ convenience and their enjoyment. Many places of interest have been upgraded to ensure attractiveness and liveliness of the city centre during the day and at night. Most importantly, the accessibility to the city centre has been improved by providing efficient and reliable public transport system. Besides, the greening effort is important to reduce pollution and create a more pleasant environment for pedestrians.

Although Melbourne has achieved dramatic improvement in providing pleasant walking environment in the city centre, but according to the Places for People: Melbourne 2004 report, there are still room for improvement; for example, to provide safer and comfortable public transport stations; improving and expanding the pedestrian and cycle linkages; and upgrading the retailing corridors. Generally, in Melbourne case, the commitment of the authority i.e. the City of Melbourne has made the effort less problems.

Curitiba, Brazil

Curitiba is located south of the Tropic of Capricorn (25°25’S, 49°16’W). It has a subtropical climate with an annual average temperature between 15°C and 25°C. The city covered an area of 432 km2. It has population about 1.6 million (2004); an average density of 37 persons per hectare (Rabinovitch 1996; Smith & Raemaekers 1998; Macedo 2004). Curitiba has gained international reputation as “a model of urban ecology planning” (Pedreira & Goodstein 1992, p.6 cited in Macedo 2004) and many others positive image, which related to good city planning (see, Macedo 2004).

Macedo (2004) explained that Curitiba is a city that has more than 300 years of history. The city planning of Curitiba is influenced by Portuguese and later by French urbanism. The first comprehensive urban plan (The Agache Plan) for the city was a radial concept prepared by Alfred Agache in 1943. In the 1960s, a revision was proposed by the municipal administration because of the rapid population and city growth. Following on that, in 1966 a Master Plan was produced and approved by the City Council. This Curitiba Master Plan has had the following principles: “‘decongestion’ of the central area and preservation of the historic center; demographic control and management; economic support to urban development; infrastructure improvement; changing the radial urban growth trend to a linear one” (Rabinovitch 1996, p.53).

Besides the Master Plan, two institutions were created: the Affordable Housing Company of Curitiba (Cohab-CT) and the Urban Research and Planning Institute of Curitiba (IPPUC). IPPUC was established as an independent agency to steer the implementation of the Master Plan. It is interesting to note that, the IPPUC was directly connected to the Curitiba mayor’s office; Jaime Lerner, a Brazilian architect and city planner, who was involved in setting up of IPPUC, a former IPPUC director, and later the mayor of Curitiba for three terms between 1971 and 1992.

According to Macedo (2004), Curitiba is a clear example shown that planning is a function of political will. Although there are some changes in zoning and land use, Curitiba’s city development has generally pursued the guidelines established in 1966. In all the projects implemented, the Bus Rapid Transit gets the most international renown.

Curitiba has become internationally known as a developing country that succeeds in demonstrating how land use and transportation integration could contribute towards environmental sustainability (Smith & Raemaekers 1998). However, Zannin et al (2002) claimed that the city of Curitiba has serious noise pollution problems. Their study revealed that 93.3% of the population exposed to noise levels greater than 65 dB(A) everyday, and 80.6% is exposed to an unacceptable noise levels greater than 70 dB(A).

Singapore, Singapore

Singapore is an island located close to the Equator (1°17’N, 103°51’E). It has a tropical rainforest climate with an annual average temperature between 22°C and 34°C. This city-state covered an area of approximately 700 km2. It has a population about 4.35 million, an average density of 62 persons per hectare (Department of Statistics Singapore 1974-2006 cited in Olszewski 2007). Singapore demonstrated that rapid urbanization and economy prosperities have not necessary caused traffic congestion and pollution to the city (Olszewski 2007), this success has puts Singapore on the world map.

According to Yuen and Chor (1998), the initiative to control the traffic in Singapore has started since 30 years ago, when ‘area licensing’ was introduced in Raffles Place. Singapore has put a high priority in avoiding traffic congestion in order to ensure its attractiveness for trade and tourism businesses. As to enhance the quality of urban life further, pedestrianisation has been adopted as a policy to support urban conservation in the mid-1980s. In the 1990s, numerous pedestrainisation projects in the city centre of Singapore have been implemented such as Change Alley and Clarke Quay / Boat Quay in 1993, and Bugis Junction and Little India Arcade in 1995. Yuen and Chor (1998) revealed that the reasons of pedestrianisation in Singapore are mainly related to transport concerns; it is different to ‘Western’ countries, which are associated with city centre deterioration and competition from suburbs.

They also explained several key factors that significant to the success of pedestrianisation in Singapore, for example, the connection between pedestrian areas and public transport and car park; the safety and security of the pedestrian from motorized traffic; the variety of businesses and activities along the pedestrian streets; and the provision of suitable and adequate people-attracting features such comfortable seating, outdoor cafes, and street performers to draw people into the pedestrian streets.

In dueling with its tropical rainforest climate, covered and/or air-conditional has been used to ensure the areas functioning in all seasons (rain or shine) and times (day and night). The without cover pedestrian areas are unable to serve the pedestrian in raining day, and only active in the late evening and night times. Generally, pedestrian streets in Singapore are mostly associated with shopping and conservation.

Lang (2005) believed that the success of Singapore’s development is associated with the unique organization structure of the planning and development authority. He explained that the democratically elected government of Singapore is fully responsible for planning and design of Singapore development; while the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is the appointed de facto agency that carried out technical coordination work. Therefore, to the certain extent, Singapore should be considered as a unique case.

Final Notes and Future Discussion

This study aimed to uncover the secret of success of how other advance cities transform their city centres, from the less competitive into a more attractive city centres. Based on the literature research of the three arbitrary selected cities, in short, the study found that the commitment of authorities (more importantly the political will) is one of the main keys that ensure the transformation of city centres a success. A clear high level policy towards pro public transportation rather than private auto vehicles investment is significant. More importantly the provision for pedestrians should be always as the top priority in all stages of planning, designing and constructing of public spaces.

As Tolley (1990, p.1) suggested that one of the strategies to maintain the competitiveness of city centres is to provide high quality pedestrainised city centres. Alongside the Tolley suggestion, Monheim (1990, p.245) has also argued that “a town without representative pedestrian areas now appears hopelessly antiquated”. According to Speck (2012), “a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. Each of these qualities is essential and none alone is sufficient.”1 Additionally, in the recent public health initiative, there have been increasing concerns about physical inactivity and sedentary life styles of the general urban community. Many studies suggest that the strategy to increase physical activity of the urban residents is to incorporate such activity into their daily life. Research suggests that one of the easier ways to achieve acceptable level of physical activity is by walking, at least 30 minutes a day of brisk walk (e.g., Vojnovic et al 2006; Powell et al 2003; Handy et al 2002).

In short, a good city is a city that encourages people to walk, and more importantly, people could walk comfortably and safely. So, are Malaysian cities ready, with its own planning mold, to transform into ‘world class’ cities?

List of References

City of Melbourne 2004, Places for people, Melbourne, City of Melbourne.

Handy, S L, Boarnet, M G, Ewing, R and Killingsworth, R E 2002, ‘How the built environment affects physical activity: Views from urban planning’. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol.23:(2, Supplement 1),= pp.64-73.

Lang, J T 2005, Urban design: A typology of procedures and products, Oxford, Elsevier / Architectural Press.

Ley, A 2005, Melbourne liveable city indicators, World Town Planning Day Convention 2005: Planning Towards

Liveable Cities, Kuala Lumpur 17-18 November 2005.

Macedo, J 2004, ‘Curitiba’, Cities, 21: (6), pp.537-549.

Monheim, R 1990, The evolution and impact of pedestrian areas in the Federal Republic of West Germany. in Tolley,

R (ed.), The greening of urban transport: Planning for walking and cycling in Western cities. London: Belhaven Press.

Olszewski, P 2007, ‘Singapore motorisation restraint and its implications on travel behaviour and urban sustainability’, Transportation, 34, pp.319-335.

Powell, K E, Martin, L M and Chowdhury, P P 2003, ‘Places to walk: Convenience and regular physical activity’.

American Journal of Public Health, vol.93:(9), pp.1519-1521.

Rabinovitch, J 1996, ‘Innovative land use and public transport policy: The case of Curitiba, Brazil’, Land Use Policy,

13: (1), pp.51-67.

Rokibah, A L and Wong, S F 2012, Urban Growth Limit (UGL): Negotiating between ‘sprawl’ and ‘compact’ urban forms. January-February 2012.

Smith, H and Raemaekers, J 1998, ‘Land use pattern and transport in Curitiba’, Land Use Policy, 15: (3), pp.233-251.

Speck, Jeff 2012. Walkable city: How downtown can save America, one step at a time. p.11

Tolley, R 1990, Calming traffic in residential areas. Tregaron: Brefi Press.

Vojnonic, I, Jackson-Elmoore, C, Holtrop, J and Bruch, S 2006, ‘The renewed interest in urban form and public health: Promoting increased physical activity in Michigan’. Cities, vol.23:(1), pp.1-17.

Yuen, B and Chor, C H 1998, ‘Pedestrian streets in singapore’, Transportation, 25: (3), pp.225-242.

Zannin, P H T, Diniz, F B & Barbosa, W A 2002, ‘Environmental noise pollution in the city of Curitiba, Brazil’,

Applied Acoustics, 63: (4), pp.351-358.


Rokibah Abdul Latif

Wong Seng Fatt2

National Physical Plan Division, Department of Town and Country Planning Peninsular Malaysia, Ministry of Housing and Local Government, Malaysia. this!

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Super-Moderator said,

    July 26, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

    Seriously, the attitude of the people has first to change city centre transformation. even in affluent Subang Jaya, you will find residents throwing domestic rubbish underneath trees alongside service roads. All the talk, seminars, etc. etc. will come to nothing if attitudes do not change positively.

  2. 2

    Massage said,

    August 10, 2013 @ 12:24 pm


    Major thankies for the blog post. Much obliged….

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