Parking power to the people


I NEVER would have thought it. Here I am, a 22-year veteran of academia in the field of architecture, writing about ... parking lots. But, actually, they do have something to say to us, especially if you consider their implications for democratic architecture.

Basically, the simple message I want to convey is that in democratic architecture, parking must be designed to adequately serve people who visit government buildings.

Most Malaysians have learnt that it is impractical to drive themselves alone to a government hospital or to a bangunan perseketuan (federal building) because there is generally nowhere to park close by.

We all know we have to be dropped off at the entrance while the car would have to be driven off to either be parked miles away or driven in circles in the vicinity as the poor driver waits for you to finish your task. If there are any parking spots nearby, chances are they will sport “Kakitangan Sahaja” (Staff Only) signs.

Let me share two contrasting parking lot stories with you.

The first story is about the Wisma Persekutuan in downtown Johor Baru. If you want to renew your passport or register your son’s IC, you have to go to this building, which offers two parking choices: one is just a stone’s throw away but space is limited, it costs RM3 to park, and it charges by the hour; at the other lot, you only pay RM2 for the whole day, but it comes with a 150m-long walk in either the hot sun or a deluge.

Where do the kakitangan park? Well, in the architecturally designated space, of course, right next to the building, where else?

Now, I am not going to fault the architect (or administrator) who wrote the brief for the building with a requirement of only a certain number of parking lots. He probably never imagined a day would come when an office boy would be driving his Kancil or second hand Unser to work – all thanks to the wonderful New Economic Policy, of course.

Here’s my second parking lot story, about the lot at a shopping mall near my home in JB. My niece worked at the mall for two years, and she used to drive her Kancil to work. She told me that the mall’s kakitangan were not allowed to park either in the shaded areas or in the open air parking lots close to the building. These places were reserved for customers.

I never failed to get parking at the mall (except when there’s a mad card member sale!); and parking was free then.

Now the mall has upgraded the open air parking lots, covering them with metal roof decks to provide shelter from the sun and rain. We now have to pay RM1 to use those lots, which seems eminently reasonable to me. Pretty good deal and service, in fact.

Why did this happen, I asked? Well, it seems the mall feels strongly that “the customer is our business”. An unhappy customer makes for zero business. In other words, the bottom line speaks!

So how can those who design and build government buildings learn from this mall? Simply that the business of the civil servants employed by the Government is to serve the “customer”. The government would have no “business” if there were no “customers” to serve. Who are these customers? You got it. They are us, the loyal citizens of Malaysia, the rakyat.

So my message to the architects and administrators of Government buildings is: get your calculations right and give thought to the customer first and the kakitangan last. No two ways about it. If we are to forge ahead into a new 1Malaysia, “Citizen” must be spelled with a capital “C”. And the signs should read “Untuk Rakyat Malaysia” (For Malaysian Citizens).

You see, even the humble parking lot can give a building a vocabulary of democracy if the designers and administrators actually understand the meaning of that word.

Source: The Star

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