THINK pedestrians. Malaysian universities must reinvent walking. I cannot find one especially public universities with spacious campuses, providing proper walking facilities. There are no, or much to be desired pedestrian spaces, and there is no connectivity.
Calls for people to walk are rhetorics. Recently I moderated a briefing session on the Penang Pan Island Link, part of the Penang Transport Master Plan at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia in Minden. I voiced concern for a pedestrian-friendly environment in the state – both island and mainland. If more people walk, there will be less vehicles on the road. I argued that we in Malaysia must be conditioned to walk. We complain about the weather. Rain or shine are not issues or problems that cannot be overcomed.
We find that even for a distance of 300m or one kilometer, we drive. This is the Malaysian logic. Bicycle lanes are fine. It certainly does not cost millions of ringgit to build the so called cycling connectivity in Kuala Lumpur or other towns.
The perfect common denominator is walking. Everybody walks, but not everyone cycles. There is a signage promoting walking in Penang. I find it out of place; and excruciatingly annoying to put my foot on roads in the country. These were not built for pedestrians but for motorised vehicles. A “kaki lima” (five-foot way) is more of an after-thought.
And when there are pavements, they are mostly not well-constructed, uneven and obstructed. An example is the pavment along the front part of a university in Tanjong Malim, Perak. And in proximities of the Minden campus, walking is not a comfortable option. One is harrased by vehicles.
But universities and their proximities should be fertile pedestrian grounds. University campuses are pertinent spaces to condition us to walking. Policies on walking must be in place. Pavements must be reconstructed and realigned. University students must be trained to walk. And universitities (apart from local councils) must be conscious of planting trees (and the right trees) along every pedestrian pavement. Trees have the effect of bringing down temperatures – about 2 degrees celcius lower under the shade in equatorial climate. Or in some places, construct covered walkways – but many of the ones in Kuala Lumpur, as annouced, are catered for tourists! Can’t locals walk and walk comfortably?
And there is also a fallacy in the thinking, planning and implementation of public transportsation. The MRT and LRT stations in the Klang Valley, and the KTM railway stations do not cater for the pedestrian. Try walking to these facilities and you may have to step on the traffic lanes for lack of pedestrian spaces. There are only drains and roads. No one bothers that pedestrians also need some civil space to walk on.
Over the last two decades, I have rendered some thoughts on walking, one of which was titled “Walk the Thought” for this newspaper in 2010. Malaysian universities must walk the thought. In one way or another, we hear voices and pronouncements on “sustainability” - and the buzzword still lingers from the inner sanctum of the Chancellory to the fringes of campuses through calls for sustainable “university townships”, much of them only accessible by motorised vehicles.
I recently came accross an article in Utusan Konsumer (March-April 2018) titled “The Positive Power of Walking”. Apart from advocating walking to promote physical health, the writer argued that walking’s ultimate goal is to transform towns and neighborhoods into better places for everyone to live. Walking creates community connections, social equity, a sense of well-being, business opportunities, affordable housing and a cleaner environment. And campuses must strive to provide walkable spaces and places.
If the terrain is tough, make it easier. Universities are places for us to think, and ponder. Walkable spaces and places must be integral to the built-environment on campuses. The years students are on campus should condition them to the best that the campus evironment can offer and these are translated beyond (the campuses) through public advocacies and public policies.
There cannot be tokenism for walking. We have to walk on our own two feet. When we walk the walk, we wander. Walking wanders us into health and heart, philosophy and spirituality.
I tend to cite the poet William Wordsworth. He encountered the world and poetry through walking. A tree-lined road is a perspective to behold. That is not a common sight on Malaysian campuses but rare under-appreciated exceptions perhaps. But I am sure, many of us have walked elsewhere in temperate climes. Try to visualise Wordsworth in “The Prelude”:
I love a public road; few sights there are
That please me more — such object had had power
O’er my imagination since the dawn
Of childhood, when its disappearing line
Seen daily afar off, on one bare steep
Beyond the limits which my feet had trod
Was like a guide into eternity,
At least to things unknown and without bound.
But perspectival space is absent in our built-environment. Such a presence conditions the senses, apppriopriating walking to architecture, language and thought. Walk the thought if you like. The campus is the place for walking. We have built cities, communities and campuses for motorised vehicles. This has got to stop.
A sustainable campus must assume life at walking speed, and everything else operates within. It should not be, like cityscapes, machine-dominated, lest we alienate ourselves from the peripatetic imagination. Walking is not the logic of moving from point A to point B, but the imagination of going everywhere.
The writer is a professor at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, and the first recipient of the Honorary President Resident Fellowship at the Perdana Leadership Foundation. Email him at