By Mariam Mokhtar
On one Sunday morning, the playground was quiet. One would normally expect children to be squealing with delight, as they played with the swings and the slides; but the only sound was that of discarded Styrofoam packets and empty plastic bags rustling in the wind.
Two grown men were sitting on the climbing frame, enjoying a quiet smoke. On the far side of the playground, a young couple were taking pictures of one another.
This was the Ipoh Riverfront Park. A place one would associate with parents taking their children out to play and elderly people enjoying a stroll.
Residents of Ipoh are familiar with the former People’s Park, which underwent a RM4.4 million facelift, in the early 2000s, and was renamed the Ipoh Riverfront Park. The site is located beside the Sungai Kinta, in old town, and it is on the left side of Hugh Low Street, just past the Hugh Low Bridge.
The park was once used as a car park, and then a Sunday craft market. During its heyday, in the early 20th Century, a bandstand was built in the landscaped gardens, amongst the flowering shrubs and ornamental trees. It was a place where Ipoh residents could relax in calm surroundings, and be close to nature and the river.
Today, the Malaysian addiction to concrete and false grandeur has overtaken common sense. The Riverfront Park has gained an emphasis on Islamic architecture and motifs, and has more paving stones on the ground, than grass. Its paddling pools have fountains which do not work, and act as a dustbin. Elsewhere, fancy plinths and flower pots have been abandoned.
The millions of ringgits spent on the facelift must have made a crony contractor rich.
Did the authorities who approved this fancy makeover, think about maintenance? Tiles and paving slabs have been dislodged, and as they are elaborately designed, will prove expensive to replace.
Pipework for fountains has to be regularly inspected. Drainage for the pools, to prevent stagnant water, cleaning to maintain the water quality and prevention of mould and algae all cost money. It is doubtful if the Ipoh City Council considered the importance of maintenance.
On the day that I walked around the park, with Bobby Yin, I could not help but ask if the man we elected as mayor, lacked integrity, or vision, or both?
The tree which mayor, Zamri Man, planted in 2017, had died a natural death. Anyone reading about his well-publicised gotong royong, when he said that the tree would provide shade when it matured, will know that the tree has not provided shade, but has become manure for the other plants.
Zamri promised to return the park to its role as a family park for Ipoh residents. He said that the council would find ways to attract more visitors to the park.
He should have known that building a park which has more concrete arches, paving slabs and plinths, than greenery and open areas, cannot be defined as a park.
He said he would build an entrance that was welcoming to visitors.
When will people in authority gain a grain of common sense, and realise that a grand entrance is very low on our list of priorities?
Behind the grand entrance, litter was abundant, the grand structures were falling apart, tiles and holes in the ground were trip hazards, the pots for plants were empty and crammed with litter. Pools of stagnant water became breeding places for mosquitoes.
Others allege that, at night, people were soliciting for sex for as little as RM35, and that it was also a haven for drug addicts.
Zamri’s plan to place signboards to entice people to the park have failed. His promise of a paddling pool for the children, and his claim that the council was working hard to upgrade the facilities were just empty promises.
I noticed that the children’s playground was a safety hazard. Some of the structures on the slide, had sharp protruding edges. A child could easily hurt himself.
Roots of trees had dislodged some of the paving stones, and the uneven surface was a trip hazard. Holes in the ground were just waiting to trip someone.
The fountain needed maintenance. The fancy mosaic work/tiles needed replacement, where people have hacked them off, presumably to cart home as souvenirs. There was litter everywhere and someone had started a bonfire, on the grounds. Near the restaurant, wires trailed across the ground and acted as another trip hazard.
How often does the park superintendent, mayor or city council officials, visit this park to see if the place needs attention?
A bund which protects the park from flooding, if the water level of the river rises, runs from Gunung Cheroh to Kampung Paloh.
Yin suggested that the height of the bund be reduced by half, and the soil pushed towards the river, to create a gentle gradient, so that visitors to the park could appreciate the beauty of the river bank. Currently, the bund blocks the view of the river.
If the river was cleaned of pollution, more people could appreciate the riverbank. Its potential as a tourist attraction could be enhanced because on the opposite bank, historical sites, like the Panglima Kinta mosque and quaint Ipoh streets with their equally interesting traditional shops, and street graffiti, could entice tourists to the area.
The entrance which mayor Zamri referred to lies alongside the busy Hugh Low Street. Visitors to the park, cannot easily cross this street and have to walk 100m in either direction, towards the junction with Little India, or just before the bridge, in New Town, before they are able to find a pelican crossing to safely cross this busy road.
If the area under Hugh Low Bridge was cleaned up and beautified, and a path constructed under the bridge, visitors who have just come from Concubine Lane, or the banking area of Ipoh, could easily walk along the path, enjoy the river and rest in the park.
As it is, the Riverfront Park is dead. Perhaps, a concerted effort could be made, to invite the market traders who were relocated to a side street, to set up a craft market, and inject life into this park again. Instead of the BBQ lamb stall, a variety of food vendors and artisan traders, could be invited to sell their wares.
Will the Riverfront Park continue to be an important, but underutilised landmark and an ongoing eyesore? Perhaps the mayor and his team might consider some of these constructive criticisms.