Downtown Kuala Lumpur as a creative and cultural district

WHY is a cultural-based economy important to Malaysia and why should it be part of Budget 2023?

Over the years, the marrying of economic and cultural systems has resulted in many positive outcomes.

Globally, cultural and creative industries have become major drivers of economies and trade strategies in developed and developing countries.

Today, they account for annual revenues of more than US$2.25 trillion (RM10.2 trillion).

Some 30 million people have found employment in these industries worldwide, half of which are women.

In Malaysia, culture’s contribution to the economy has been positive at RM29.4 billion or 1.9% of GDP, but can be scaled up to the range of our neighbours achievements of between 3% and 7%.

Therefore, we continue to embrace this movement and further build on culture.

One of our exciting efforts at Think City is transforming Downtown Kuala Lumpur into a creative and cultural district.

The vision is to create an inclusive and authentic centre by weaving together heritage, culture and innovation, thus drawing in visitors, and enhancing liveability for locals.

There are numerous social and economic benefits associated with such a district, including stronger community bonds, improved physical and mental health, greater equity of space, reduced inequalities, opportunities for learning, innovation and improved productivity and employment.

Drawing inspiration from other cultural-based urban rejuvenation projects around the world – including Bilbao, Barcelona, New Delhi and Cairo – Think City, with the support of Yayasan Hasanah, has partnered with DBKL, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, and the National Heritage Board to spearhead the transformation of downtown Kuala Lumpur, which requires significant investment and commitment.

Strategies include enhancing the ecosystem; improving the state of conservation; improving publicly owned streets and other accessible open spaces such as parks, fields and alleys; improving accessibility and connectivity; and putting in place the necessary governance framework and regulatory mechanisms.

Adaptive reuse of heritage buildings is also a priority. This has been an ongoing approach for over a century to safeguard structures in a way that revitalises an area and promotes culture, as well as socio-economic prosperity. It also relieves the public sector of otherwise costly maintenance and opens a valuable revenue stream for the city and communities.

A prime example of an urban area or precinct that comprises a collection of heritage buildings suitable for adaptive reuse is the Dataran Merdeka Heritage Precinct, which is an excellent opportunity to accelerate the rejuvenation, attract investment and realise the economic potential of multiple national monuments.

Dataran Merdeka Heritage Precinct holds many historic tales and should be cared for in a similar manner to the Taj Mahal or Al-Hambra. It is rich in history because colonial buildings, including Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad, symbolise our national identity, the legacy of the Federated Malay states, and the independence of Malaysia.

There are 17 heritage buildings in this area, 11 of which are listed in the National Heritage Act of 1976.

No doubt there will be many aspects to be integrated into the planning of the heritage precinct including managing such a project alongside multiple stakeholders, finding fresh ways of reusing and connecting these buildings and spaces, some of which will require pavements; as well as preparing and compiling documentation and conservation management plans.

Yet, we are willing and eager to work through them.

With the upcoming Budget 2023, we must look at unlocking the city’s full potential with this project, including the Dataran Merdeka Heritage Precinct.

Should we further delay this, we will risk not only losing these monuments and memories to educate young Malaysians, but it will be more costly to preserve and manage them in the years to come. – September 22, 2022.

* Izan Satrina Mohd Sallehuddin is a senior director at Think City.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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