Looking Beyond the Norms

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

For the record, Ipoh’s car-free day, held on the fourth Sunday of every month, is now into its third year. It began with much fanfare on Sunday, October 18, 2015 and, on conclusion of the first of such event this year, a total of 15 car free days had taken place.

Why my sudden interest in this not-too-significant an event has much to do with its organisation, programming and venue. Of the three “inconsistencies”, venue seems to be the most glaring, for one reason or the other.

For the past 15 months, the supposedly family-orientated event has been held at one single venue – the 1.5km stretch of road between the Jalan Hospital roundabout along Jalan Raja DiHilir, on one end, and the roundabout near the MB’s residence, on the other end. This seems to be the only venue available to the organiser – Ipoh City Council. Whether the conduct of an auspicious occasion such as this requires a single and irrevocable venue is debatable. Or is it the only venue available to the Council?

Without the benefit of any reliable facts and figures, I can only make an assumption.

I feel that the 1.5km stretch of road is the most convenient locality for a trouble-free car-free day in Ipoh. I can’t think of any other reasons than this. I have enquired with the Council’s public relations officer but he has yet to respond. If I am puzzled, what about the rest in the city? They too must be wondering why.

Incidentally, Shah Alam held its very first car-free day on Sunday, January 22, the same day as Ipoh’s. Over 1000 people attended the inaugural event which began at 7am and ended at 10am, much alike Ipoh’s. The length of the route, however, was longer – 5km to be exact. It was held at the Merdeka Square, Shah Alam. Residents came prepared for the occasion. Some cycled, some skated while others either walked or jogged. The route provides a good view of Shah Alam minus vehicular traffic.

Metropolitan Kuala Lumpur has its fair share of car-free days. The federal capital has been observing a car-free morning since 2014. It venue is more scenic and challenging stretching from Dataran Merdeka, opposite Selangor Club to the iconic Petronas Twin Tower in Jalan Ampang, a distance of about 8km. The reason is obvious – optimising the occasion to the very maximum.

Will a 1.5km stretch, located not within but at the inner-most fringe of the city, be the right choice? Ipoh and Perak came into prominence when both were listed among the best tourist destinations in Asia for 2016 and 2017 by Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel guide book.

The listings were made possible by virtue of Ipoh’s old world charm and its hipster cafes found within Old Town. As for the state of Perak, the sea and the sandy beaches of Pangkor Island were the deciding factors.

One should not consider aesthetics and convenience as basis for holding an event as momentous as a car-free day. Besides the much-touted carbon-free environment and the desire to encourage people to exercise, the question of business profitability comes into play.

Imagine having Ipoh’s car-free day either in Old Town or Greentown Business Centre or perhaps the route from Polo Ground to Old Town. The benefits are tremendous. It will definitely appeal to tourists from far and wide, as they get to witness the city’s greens, architectural charm and visit the many hipster cafes. It will be a business coup of sorts that is eagerly welcomed by the business community, not just the privileged few.

I feel it is about time those responsible for the event to reconsider their strategy. Let’s look beyond the norms and make amends before the whole event becomes redundant and irrelevant. It’s the New Year and a change in outlook and perception is not only desirous but timely.


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