In Search Of A Sustainable Way Forward

10 March 2016

From making Kuala Lumpur’s first bicycle map to kayaking down the Klang River, there’s a lot that’s interesting about Jeffrey Lim and his numerous projects. We talk to him to find out more.

Up until the last few years, few people would seriously consider cycling to get from place to place in Kuala Lumpur. In a city where each household possibly has as many cars as residents, bicycles are not often seen as anything more than an evening or weekend hobby. Yet, since 2012, Jeffrey Lim has been thinking about how these two-wheeled transports could be something more for urbanites, and in 2015, he produced the first cycling map for KL.

“It was rather simple. It started with how I would get around KL on my bike,” Jeffrey explains. “I used to print maps to plan my route while visiting and living in other cities, using it as a guide to understand the areas and the routes passing through. The Cycling Kuala Lumpur map was like a journey planner, and the experience was invigorating - like I was visiting a foreign city, rediscovering Kuala Lumpur.”

Trained as a communication designer, Jeffrey has been involved in many areas of interest since coming back to KL and setting up his studio workshop - Studio 25 - in 2009.

“Most of my projects are based on a search for a Malaysian identity through heritage and cultural projects.” The aim, as Jeffrey puts it, was to try and “create a new relevance for myself”. This led him to incorporate his personal and design experiences along with a deep concern for the environment to search for a sustainable way forward.

Studio 25 has four core practices: design, photography, bicycle and junkie (collecting). Jeffrey makes sure that each practice has a social art project that runs in parallel as a form of ‘revolution from within’. “Hence the bicycle map project (design), Kanta Box Kamra (photography), Village Bicycle Workshop (bicycle), and sign-painting (junkie),” explains Jeffrey. “All these projects have led to other bigger things.”

And having completed the cycling map, is KL actually ready for more cycling commuters?

“The truth is, we will never be ready because of [contrary] policies put in place since 20, 30, 40 years ago,” Jeffrey shares. “[These policies] have directed us on a path in direct opposite for achieving such. It wasn't a conscious decision to exclude the bicycle, it just was replaced [by other vehicles] and forgotten.

“Even with the recent 11th Malaysia Plan, it draws a parallel line of 'sustainable' efforts without any viable inclusion of the concept of bicycling as a form of transportation,” he elaborates. “Key stakeholders - commercial cycling industries, academics, urban planners, government agencies, grassroots movements - have to start talking to each other.” And Jeffrey believes that we are on our way there.

A recent project involved Jeffrey kayaking down the Klang River with Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming. “Rivers are an integral part of our city. Yet we fail to see how we truly affect the environment; just 500 meters away from the source of the Klang River, the stream is already polluted and murky,” Jeffrey laments. “Unfortunately, there is only so much that our Government can do to deter or cure this river pollution; the public has to ultimately take responsibility and act too.”

Jeffrey believes that there is still much work to be done, not only in our search for more sustainable urban transportation or cleaner rivers. “I believe there are so many more fundamental issues that we as a country face and need to really address. While public attitude towards the environment is not at its best, I believe that the way forward is further collaboration and reporting of such issues. We are after all on the same team, working towards the same goal.”

Inevitably, the question of what other projects are lined up for this intrepid urban explorer arises. Jeffrey reveals that, among other things, he is exploring a digital mapping platform for future bicycle map projects and a commissioned project with Think City KL.

“I’m preparing some cycling map studies to share with Pemandu, a further collaboration with KTM Komuter on the greater cycling inclusion [in their operations], surveying new possible cycling-retrofit areas to share with DBKL and also preparing a reprint of an updated bicycle map for KL.”

While it looks like Jeffrey has a lot on his plate already, that’s not all that he will be working on in 2016. Under an initiative called the Village Bicycle Workshop (VBW), he is trying to get a Donate and Build a Bicycle program off the ground. He explained that, in 2015, a pilot of this initiative saw “three bicycles completed and donated, which were funded by donations. We purchased old bicycles as well as some new parts; the bicycles were rebuilt and reconditioned, before donating them to shelters, centres and places of higher learning.”

“And in my free time, if any, I do graphic design jobs to pay the bills.”

As the saying goes, a rolling stone gathers no moss!

By Burhanuddin Usman

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