Damansara Uptown — the popular commercial hub of the Damansara Utama township in Petaling Jaya, Selangor — was developed in the late 1970s and early 80s.
Initially comprising 4-storey shopoffices and office towers, the area fondly known as Uptown has grown into a vibrant commercial centre over the years and now boasts The Starling Mall at the heart of the commercial hub.
“You would find almost everything at Uptown, but [in the past] you would hardly see anybody walking from one point to the other within the enclave even if the place was within easy walking distance,” Praxcis Design Sdn Bhd director Yap Nga Tuan tells EdgeProp.my.
She believes this is because the streets here were uncomfortable and unsafe to walk on. Hence, this became Praxcis Design’s main challenge when it was awarded the contract for Uptown’s landscape upgrading by developer See Hoy Chan Sdn Bhd about six years ago.
According to Praxcis Design director Low Chee Leong, the upgrading works were only completed slightly more than a year ago and the result of their work has won Damansara Uptown a Joint Gold at the inaugural EdgeProp-ILAM Malaysia’s Sustainable Landscape Award 2018. The other winner was Jade Hills.
“The developer took the initiative to upgrade the overall infrastructure and landscaping of Uptown back then. Since it is a well-established development and one of the busiest commercial hubs in Petaling Jaya, the developer could have just left it at that and would still be enjoying pretty good value appreciation. The upgrading initiative has shown the developer’s long-term commitment towards its projects,” says Low.
See Hoy Chan group branding, communication and customer experience vice-president Christine Ang says the landscape upgrading project creates a better overall experience for those working in or visiting Uptown, which in turn raises the area’s overall image and value.
“The Uptown beautification project had a big effect on the community. The thoughtful landscaping made strolling around easier and more relaxing due to the beautified and widened kerbs and walkways,” she adds.
There are also bicycle-friendly paths along the inner ring which resulted in increased pedestrian and cyclist mobility while the removal of median strips and the implementation of 3-lane traffic encouraged smoother traffic flow around the inner ring, says Ang.
Yap summarises that the main goal of the landscape project is to “connect the dots within Uptown and bring the streets back to life”.
“Good landscape planning is not to remove something and plant something. It is to enhance the character of a place with what is available. Uptown is not an easy project because creativity is limited by the setting. You need to work with what there is and achieve the purpose of the entire upgrading project — to bring the streets back to life,” she shares.
Low recalls that the team spent months just observing how business owners, corporate employers and shoppers used the streets.
“Connecting the dots is important, but it would be meaningless if you have a nice covered pathway, pocket parks, street furniture and even beautiful cycling path but the people don’t actually use them. Before work starts, it is even more important to understand what will really bring people back to the streets,” he notes.
As a result of their observation, Low and Yap drew a landscape plan with the theme “urban rhythm”.
The three main focus of the plan were safety, connectivity and comfort.
“It is the language which governs the elements of the landscape. Public infrastructure that improves street safety was created. When streets become safer, people will start coming out to enjoy the outdoor spaces, thus animating the street, creating a movement or rhythm of varied pace and tempo,” Yap explains.
A major landscaping initiative was to widen the planting areas along the parameter roads. Existing healthy trees were preserved, while new trees as well as new parameter turf and shrubs were planted. Spacious sidewalks were also added along the shops and office buildings.
The plan also included the Chirp Park and Sky Park at The Starling Mall. “The designers set out to reconnect the community with nature by breathing new life into Uptown. This was accomplished in a mature township with minimal disruption to the existing everyday activities,” Low explains.
Designed with safety barriers, the widened walkway and added green spaces provide much-needed shade. The walkways also link the work and leisure spaces in Uptown.
“The tactile walkway is designed for universal use. It has elements that ease the handicapped and the overall community’s access to the surrounding buildings.
“Extensive green spaces along the road were provided cumulating in the Chirp Park and Sky Park of The Starling Mall. A series of petite parks was introduced based on four themes along the route as pit stops to create a multi-faceted experience,” Low notes.
Adopting locally available common species of plants that adapt easily to the environment would require less maintenance in the long run. A total of 1,274 trees have been planted in Uptown. This is expected to remove an estimated 28 tonnes of carbon dioxide and replenish 127 tonnes of oxygen to the area per year.
At last, the genius loci was established. The soft and hard landscape types interact with the surrounding shoplots and the development, creating a healthy synergy that attracts crowds from surrounding neighbourhoods.
“The economic revival of this area was also seen at street level as it witnessed more engagement and connectivity. Pedestrians have multiplied across different age groups, genders and races as they now fill the streets at all times of the day,” Low enthuses.
This story first appeared in EdgeProp.my pullout on May 11, 2018. Download EdgeProp.my pullout here for free.