Kuala Lumpur is everything you would expect a big South-East Asian city to be – loud; hot; busy; humid; hot; dirty; hot and great food. Did I mention that it was hot?

Perhaps the most surprising thing for me though was the extent of the shopping in KL. There are so many huge multi-storey indoor shopping malls within the heart of the city that it’s easy to become disoriented. One of the largest of them all is the Berjaya Times Square Centre. It includes a hotel, shopping and entertainment uses covering approximately 700,000 square metres. Facilities include cinemas, an enormous indoor theme park complete with a 7 storey high roller coaster, indoor archery centre and a 48 lane ten pin bowling complex.

You would expect a shopping centre of that size to dominate the retail landscape, but there are around 70 large shopping malls within KL . Not bad for a city with a population of about 1.5 million people (greater KL has a population of about 7.5 million). The other surprising thing was that every centre that I visited was full of people. Picture Chadstone shopping centre a few days before Christmas. Many people seemed to be retreating from the oppressive heat outside into the air conditioned comfort of the facilities provided; however a lot were also spending.

The planning policy appeared to be “build it and they will come” – and there appeared no shortage of developers keen to construct even more castles of capitalism. Retail impact assessment anybody? Huh?

Many of the indoor shopping centres were a delight to behold – beautifully fitted out, safe, well lit and cool. A complete contrast to the public realm that has often been forgotten in many parts of the city. Pedestrian movement on the streets can be problematic through a lack of footpaths, poor crossings, chaotic barriers and changes in levels. Walkers also need to beware of the ubiquitous motorbikes that fly in every direction and have no qualms about taking a short-cut along the footpath. (Was I just on a footpath or a motorbike lane?) In such an unfriendly environment is it any wonder that pedestrians find refuge indoors?

There are some fabulous outdoor spaces in KL and the government has invested heavily in some key locations. It’s just a pity that it’s so hard to get to some of them by foot.

Having said that, I’d recommend a stopover in KL for anyone. Just remember to take your Visa Card.

John Roney, Project Director.