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An Urban Planner in Southeast Asia

Alta Abroad, Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety, Bicycle-Pedestrian Planning, California, Healthy Living, On-Street Bikeway Design, Wayfinding and Signage

by Daniella Alcedo, Planner, Alta Planning + Design 

When one turns 30 people can either hide under the blankets and wish it will go away or embrace it and do something wild or something they love. I did the latter and did what I love the most: travel. Traveling has introduced me to the world of being an urban planner in a way I would have never imagined and I love traveling to new and exciting places. So naturally, Southeast Asia drew my attention and while in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Bali I couldn’t help but wear my urban planner glasses and observe the environment around me. Below are some of my observations.

Bangkok:
With a city of over 6 million people, Bangkok had to find creative ways and space for people to enjoy their city. One of those spaces lies in the colorful nightly night markets. Night markets are events where vendors come to sell food, trinkets and other fun local items. Some night markets try to jam pack everything on sidewalks, alley and crazy corridors. Others take up a whole parking lot and spread out offering live music and seating for people to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

I did spot a few bike lanes in Bangkok but noticed that only motorbikes use them.

I did spot a few bike lanes in Bangkok but noticed that only motorbikes use them.

IMG_0525I found this interesting looking bike lane that looked like it was stripped on this very wide sidewalk, but the conditions of the bike lane were terrible: potholes, missing concrete, ending abruptly to nowhere. And just as I saw this lane I saw a group of cyclists go by using not the bike lane but the street. Later, while doing some research on cycling in Thailand I realized that cyclists don’t use bike lanes because they do not want to ruin their nice bikes on the poorly places lanes. This article has a pretty interesting argument on bike lanes.

Kuala Lumpur:
Kuala Lumpur is one massive and impressive city and it’s architecture is one to behold. It beautifully mixes culture with new modernist styles and the Petronas Twin Towers is an example of just that- Islamic arts meshed new steel and glass material. The high-end designer stores inside also represent the city’s wealth and dedication to fashion, and let me tell you, Kuala Lumpur loves their designer fashion!

Outside of Disneyland, I have never seen a monorail designed to be used for everyday life so I was surprised to find a station outside my hotel window. But as you can tell from the picture above the monorail only has two cars and I heard they get quite full during rush hour.

Outside of Disneyland, I have never seen a monorail designed to be used for everyday life so I was surprised to find a station outside my hotel window. But as you can tell from the picture above the monorail only has two cars and I heard they get quite full during rush hour.

IMG_0896I was stunned by the visible and abundant crosswalks and signage I found in Kuala Lumpur. I have traveled to a few developing countries and noticed visible crosswalks and markings are scarce. Roads are not built for people, they are built for cars and a lot of that has to do with them signaling as a sign of wealth. Yet even though Kuala Lumpur loves their cars, to see well placed and large crosswalks signaled to me that perhaps this city wants to use their landscape differently.

IMG_0936And as if to further cement this city’s dedication to active living, I saw as ad for Kuala Lumpur’s monthly closed street event the first Sunday of every month. Even if it is for two hours, having a consistent car-free event is a big step for a city in Southeast Asia. But even though I have pointed out the monorails, sidewalks and car-free event’s, don’t let that fool you! Kuala Lumpur residents love their car and you will find many on their comprehensive and massive road network.

Bali:
The island of Bali is a central tourist location and no it has nothing to do with Eat, Pray, Love. It mainly has to do to the fact that it’s only a the 3-hour plane trip for Australians. I stayed in the ultra tourist town of Kuta (but I was lucky to escape to see rice fields and calmer beaches on some days) and although the area was surrounded by the typical hotels, shops, restaurants and bars, the city did a great job in highlighting it’s greatest natural beauty: the beach. Hotels and restaurants along the beachside had a open design of inviting people to come in, have a sit and watch the ocean. The long, wide walkway that ran for miles along the beach offered plenty of benches and carefully placed sitting rocks to capture the whole experience.

Even the malls and shopping centers offered plenty of open spaces and seating inviting passerby’s to sit, relax and take it all in. This shopping mall facing the beach was a popular open space among locals.

Even the malls and shopping centers offered plenty of open spaces and seating inviting passerby’s to sit, relax and take it all in. This shopping mall facing the beach was a popular open space among locals.

If there is anything I could bring back with me (besides the monorail) to Los Angeles, it would be the ability to use public and private spaces more freely so that both are integrated into the community and life of everyday residents. I would also love to see routinely scheduled open street events such as the night markets part of everyday city life. I love talking about international examples, pro’s and con’s and how to bring them to my city so if anyone wants to share any stories or further discuss, please feel free to reach out to me! daniellaalcedo@altaplanning.com

Daniella Alcedo

About Daniella Alcedo

Daniella is an urban planner at Alta who envisions a future where communities are vibrant, healthy and plentiful and where social equality is key in the decision-making process. She works on outreach efforts for multimodal transportation projects and Safe Routes to School programs. Daniella also created the podcast #womentalkbikes that is hosted on Pedal Love, an initiative of the California Bicycle Coalition, as well as Bike Talk on KPFK
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