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Think City, think art: How the arts are reviving our city’s ‘dead’ neighbourhoods

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A dance, an act, a painting blazing with colours; their place in our cities is more than merely aesthetic. Here, they are an effective tool in ‘placemaking.’

Placemaking, a core aspect of urban regeneration, is about crafting an experience together with the local community to create public spaces that attract and retain larger crowds. With Think City, the plan is to incorporate the arts into existing infrastructure to bring in people and then, make them want to stay. Jia-Ping Lee, KL Programme Director at Think City, explains, “By providing such enjoyable experiences in an urban setting, be it via performances in an underused square or holding an exhibition in derelict buildings, crowds will begin to seek more of it and gather in these places.”

One area that can serve as an example is the heritage core of KL. Here there are beautiful buildings but few activities; the streets empty out after hours as office workers return to their suburban homes. Holding performances or exhibits in these underused spaces encourages those in the vicinity to stay after work and even draws in visitors. In turn, more people means more ‘eyes on the street’ which improves safety and makes the area even more inviting.

Under Think City initiatives such as Arts on the Move, the arts and and local economy fuel one another.

This in itself increases foot traffic, which will bring in business and businesses, and with them the motivation to keep the neighbourhood’s appeal, which means infrastructure will be better maintained.

The waterfall of benefits continues as these spaces become more easily accessible, providing a common ground for even more artists and audiences to find each other, continuing a cycle where the arts and the economy of the area lead to, as well as fuel, each other.

Think City allows for a wide interpretation of artistic activities able to rejuvenate communities. They consider everything from, ‘musical theatre to photography exhibitions and publications,’ as having great potential in rejuvenating public spaces.

Jia-Ping explains that people assume urban regeneration is made up of physically improving an area to make it safer, greener, cleaner, and more accessible. While that is a large part of it, including the arts strengthens identity of place and sense of belonging that can’t be achieved by hard infrastructure alone.


Have an idea to revitalize Malaysia’s cities? Find out about the Think City Grants Programme.

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Fathimath Nuha
Fathimath Nuha

A bibliophile, Fathimath Nuha is a writer on a quest to craft the perfect sentence.