KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 18 — We all know that protest can come in many shapes and forms; petitions, street marches, barricades, but guided heritage walks?
Well, RakanKL, a gathering of concerned citizens and civil society advocates, has been conducting guided heritage walks not just to raise awareness of heritage conservation but to defend heritage areas from the heavy construction currently underway to build the new MRT line and the soon-to-be started 118-storey Menara Warisan.
Little wonder that there is a sense of urgency about their walks.
RakanKL volunteer Hue Sin Yee believes that the public can get involved, even if they aren’t policymakers, lawyers or heritage conservationists. “It is important for all Malaysians – regardless of whether they are residents of KL, the Greater Klang Valley, or Selangor – to make their voices heard with regards to city planning, development, and heritage preservation.
“The heritage that we are trying to defend – including Stadium Merdeka, Stadium Negara and the now-demolished Merdeka Park (Tunku Park) – belongs to all of us Malaysians, and it is important that people across the country come together to voice their opinions.”
Sharon WH Ling, Core Volunteer for Rakan KL, said, “Since we started in August 2012, we have organised many heritage walks, art and photography exhibitions, forums, and community discussions to raise awareness on the issue of heritage conservation.”
Besides last year’s Merdeka Festival: Goodbye KL event, RakanKL’s heritage walks which are held several times a month are very well received.
For the entire month of August, RakanKL will be conducting #KLMerdekaWalk in conjunction with the National Day celebrations and to commemorate the month in which Stadium Merdeka was completed.
“The heritage walks have been very, very popular with both Malaysians and tourists. We often get numerous calls and emails from people of all walks of life asking when the next walk will be,” said Adrian Yeo, a #KLMerdekaWalk guide.
He added, “It is very encouraging that a whole new generation of young people are fascinated by the lost histories of old KL and, more importantly, feel inspired to help save and preserve what we have left.”
Yeo said, “We hope that many more Malaysians will join us in our efforts, and to volunteer with RakanKL or other groups who are working to highlight this issue. There are many things that ordinary Malaysians can do, such as organise events of their own, write petitions, do research on heritage issues, take photos or help to record down our vanishing heritage in a creative medium (such as painting) or writing (such as blogging), or even donate to the NGOs and civil society groups involved in this issue.”
RakanKL is seeking greater media coverage and critical discussion on the issue of heritage preservation, be it through traditional print, TV, radio, web and social media. Hue suggested, “Ordinary Malaysians can also help generate their own media buzz by blogging, writing, and starting debates and discussions online to help raise awareness and mobilise people to action.”
Besides RakanKL’s quest to educate people about the area—so they will make an emotional connection and want to fight for its survival—there are other groups working hard to “save” the area too.
There is Fahmi Reza with his “Missing” posters. Featuring a concrete mushroom, the objective of the posters is to highlight what happened to the “mushroom.”
In this case, the “mushroom” is Merdeka Park which was also referred to as Tunku Park.
The word “mushroom” and the picture of the mushroom structure are a play on Tunku (Abdul Rahman) which sounds like the word for mushroom in Cantonese and Mandarin.
Then there is the art installation in the form of pop-up “parks.” These quirky “parks” are to remind people how easily and quickly public spaces can be grabbed from the rakyat.
Although news reports in July stated that construction work on the Warisan Merdeka project could start within three months, RakanKL continues advocating their cause to save the heritage area.
Ling said, “Last but not least, Malaysians should also help to pressure their elected representatives to make a stand on the project and petition DBKL to withdraw approval of the projects until a proper, professional, independent assessment of the projects and their impact is done.”
Only time will tell if the people will respond to these “friends of the city” and save our shared heritage.
* A previous version of this story contained an error but it has since been corrected.