Reading space aims to make KL inclusive for underprivileged

by Gan Pei Ling, 25 Feb 2018 © The Malaysian Insight

IN downtown Kuala Lumpur, an outdoor mini library has become a reading haven for low-income families and curious tourists.

Housewife Nur Hidayah, 28, from Sabah was browsing through the book collection with her husband and three young children when met on Saturday evening.

“I have been looking for a place (like this). I want to bring my children to the library but am afraid they will be told off for being noisy,” she told The Malaysian Insight.

Her two children – aged four and six – were badgering her to read them the books they found while the youngest, aged two, held on to the father quietly.

Equipped with a random collection of fiction, magazines and children’s books mainly in English, the cosy open-air library in front of the Pit Stop community cafe in Jalan Tun HS Lee was set up by the Malaysian Institute of Planners (MIP) in early February.

“Previously this was just an empty, idle space. We have a lot of such inactive spaces in KL that can be converted into community spaces,” said the project coordinator and MIP sustainable development committee member Juwariyah Ho.

She said the space, called Lanai MIP, was meant to be a showcase for the World Urban Forum that took place in the capital from February 6 to February 13.

“We’re pleasantly surprised that a lot of people are using it. We hope DBKL (Kuala Lumpur City Hall) will let us transform it into a permanent structure,” said Ho.

She said they have received requests to stock more books in Malay and Mandarin and host community activities at the space.

Cities for all

Aside from serving as a free educational space aimed towards younger people and underprivileged communities, Ho said Lanai MIP could also be a case study for town planning students.

“We have brought town planning students from UIA (International Islamic University Malaysia) here. They have only studied in theory about place-making, here they see what it means (in real life),” said Ho.

She explained that place-making is a concept in sustainable development to create inclusive spaces for all, including for the least privileged members of society.

“We hope this would be an eye-opener to local councils. Previously some people were skeptical about our initiative, warning us that the books would be stolen.

“But what we have found is that people would actually ask for permission from our volunteers to read the books,” said Ho.

A week after they removed the volunteers, the space remained well kept and free from vandalism.

Ho said the Petaling Jaya and Shah Alam local councils have also expressed interest in creating such community spaces in their cities.

“Hopefully it will help us bring back the culture of reading,” she said.

Tourist attraction

A mini bus installation at the site has also become popular with local and foreign visitors.

Dozens of tourists paused to take photographs with the installation in the span of less than two hours of The Malaysian Insight’s visit to the site.

“A lot of young people didn’t know that this was a mini bus hub. Only the older generation appreciates the historical value of this space.

“If you tell them Bangkok Bank, automatically they will remember this was a mini bus hub but the young people don’t,” said Ho.

As such, she said MIP is also considering installing an actual mini bus to house the books should DBKL allow the institute to maintain the space for a few years, if not permanently.

“We could have a gallery to educate the young about the mini bus. It’s part of the city’s heritage,” said Ho, a town planner with more than two decades of experience.

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