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Monday, August 16, 2010

Cities – people and nature

PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY: One of the few areas in the city where pedestrians come first.

By Mary Margaret
THE ear-splitting roar of the passing hoard of motorcycles silenced the bird song of the garden. Noisy? Oh, it is not too bad, you get used to it. Just a raised eyebrow really ...
Traffic troubles (troubling traffic) were discussed during the recent International Public Transport Conference, which was held from
Aug 2-6. Kuching is very much a
car-centred city with only about 2 per cent of its half a million inhabitants using buses, according to the Aug 7 issue of thesundaypost.
I suppose we should not be shocked by this given the expansion of the road systems, for example the widening of the Setia Raja and Kota Samarahan roads.
Kuching’s streets do not encourage pedestrians (thesundaypost — Aug 7), as some are merely narrow cement bands beside monsoon drains. Others have been uprooted by the passage of time and water, or the lack of shade makes for very hot walking. Could the walker-friendliness of streets be increased?
Yes, the Kuching Waterfront is definitely an example of a walker- friendly area. It is — at least from my casual observation — heavily used by visitors and residents.
I really enjoy the occasional stroll. If I need to head down to India Street or Main Bazaar, I quite often park outside the city centre so that I can take pleasure in that very pleasant ramble along the Sarawak River.
I enjoy the tree-shaded path that meanders along the river, the opportunity to browse in the small booths that occasionally spring up, the bird song, brightly coloured flowers and nature.
Quick visits to a few of the green places in Kuching, such as Sama Jaya Forest Park and Friendship Park both in the Tabuan Jaya area and Reservoir Park (now Taman Budaya), in the early mornings or late afternoons any day of the week will reveal full car parks. Such parks are important places in cities.
We can reconnect with nature and are soothed and relaxed by the calming colours and sounds.
We attempt to control the environment in which we live by, for example building houses and airconditioning them (in the tropics) or heating them (in temperate areas) — and even here our actions are affected and controlled by the weather and climate — elements of the natural world.
The parks act as a refuge for nature. Plants, animals and other elements of nature find a home in the concrete and asphalt jungles of our cities. In Sama Jaya Forest Park, if we stop to watch, we might see squirrels springing from tree to tree and elusive forest birds. We might hear the call of the long-tailed macaques. For visitors it can be a living classroom.
These green places cool the cities and the trees are carbon sinks absorbing the carbon dioxide produced during normal day-to-day activities.
Many home gardens in Kuching contribute to it being called a garden city. Birds, like sunbirds, dart among the flowers, as dobees and other insects in the many private gardens. I am sure the squirrels eat most of the rambutans off the trees in mine. Like parks, these gardens soothe jagged nerves, provide a refuge for nature and cool the heat of the city.The participants of the recent International Public Transport Conference discussed public transport, but shouldn’t we when we plan the urban environment also consider ways of putting nature back into our lives?
Why not plant shade trees along the streets so that we can walk to the parks? These green corridors could also connect green spaces.
One participant, the former mayor of Bogota City, Columbia, Enrique Penelosa believes that a happy city is one where people want to be outside (thesundaypost — Aug 7). Would Kuching be a happier city if nature were given a place? What do you think?
MORE TREES WANTED: Planting more trees along walkways in Kuching would encourage more pedestrians.

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