The physical and spatial characteristic of the street space in countries with hot and humid climates have failed to retain much or any user-friendliness for walking or for sustaining street life due to the current practices of street design that priorities air-conditioned cars as the favoured mode of transport. Such circumstance poses challenges to the architect, planner and designer interested in gaining a better understanding of how walking can be re-established into the street space. This thesis contributes to the advancement of knowledge in this area by integrating significant factors connected to walking in a single study.
In practice, the enormous urban sprawl that most cities are witnessing means “more time devoted to driving a car” (Anshel, 2014:147). Thus, the necessity of car use as a prerequisite to reach certain urban destination that are dedicated to, or more convenient places for, walking is greatly discouraging pedestrians from maintaining walking on a daily basis, and, most importantly, as a lifestyle. Moreover, several studies have been conducted to understand the causal relationships between the built environment and physical activity. However, most of these studies were concentrated in temperate climates. Hence, it is of great importance to identify, examine and understand the relationship between the components causing pedestrians’ withdrawal from the street space or the associated factors hindering street use for walking to better understand how street space can be reclaimed to restore walking and pedestrians. More clearly, the overall aim is to broaden the understanding of pedestrians’ requirements, attitudes and preferences in order to identify ways in which the neglected street space can be reclaimed for walking under hot-humid climatic conditions and to inform decision-making into improved street design.
Current State of Knowledge
Many studies have focused on the effect on people’s use of outdoor spaces through creating accessible and liveable urban streets for all. Others have emphasized applying concepts of outdoor thermal comfort to the use of public spaces. However, there has been limited research conducted on the use of urban streets under hot and humid conditions and on the design of streets for walking. This cannot be addressed properly if the pertinent information about the users does not exist in the first place. For Malaysia, the necessary information about the role of the pedestrians’ requirements in designing the contemporary streets does not already exist, because as Beer and Higgins (2005) explain: “Too often, sites are planned and designed in relation to the designer’s own life experience and opinions, without adequate understanding of how those most likely to use a site, who may have different outlooks and needs, might wish to behave within it” (Beer & Higgins, 2005: 84). However, my own quantitative data should provide me with enough information to answer the dissertation question rigorously.
My research question is how can the neglected street space be reclaimed to restore walking under hot-humid climatic conditions?
Consequently, three sub-questions are formed and serve as the basis for answering this key research question:
1) What is an appropriate approach to understand the factors affecting walking on urban streets that are specifically important to Malaysia?
2) How can the concept of outdoor thermal comfort be achieved and optimized on the microscale of the street space at the pedestrian level?
3) What design considerations are required by pedestrians to restore walking into the street space in Kuala Lumpur?
The concept of a good research design is that study identifies the factors most pertinent to the research problem and employs the most effective methods according to the nature of the phenomenon to answer the main question (Ittelson et al., 1974). Accordingly, this research adopted the strategy of the “mixed methods” (Creswell, 2015), combining participant observation with interviews and a questionnaire, as a subset data collection approach of the broader “case study” method (Yin, 2014) conducted in a “field study” (Mligo, 2013). The mixed-method data collection was implemented in situ and structured on the basis of a direct interaction with the walking places and the pedestrians. Moreover, there were further justification for collecting the required data through a field study:
1) It was a reliable source to obtain very timely information about the available walking places and pedestrians, due to presence of the researcher in the space, physically (Hume & Mulcock, 2004; DeWalt & DeWalt, 2011);
2) It was an “ideal laboratory” that allowed for the researcher to explore more realistically and thoroughly relevant data from the actual pedestrians, by directly interviewing and observing them, in their actual walking places (Miles et al., 2014; Yin, 2014). This is “referred to as the emic, or insider’s perspective” (Merram, 1988: 7); and
3) It was a contributing factor to gather significant evidence of “what worked and what didn’t. And such evaluation, goes a long way toward pinpointing where adjustments are deserved or preventing the duplication of mistakes in the next jon” (Molnar, 2015: 25).
It is evident that what makes any city a vibrant place is the presence of people outdoors where they can practice their daily activities freely and conveniently anywhere at any time. Certainly, there is no better public urban space where one can feel this vitality than streets. However, through this research I hope to reveal the centrality of walking between the influence of socio-cultural aspects, urban microclimate conditions and street design. Accordingly, in order to lead to the renaissance of urban streets in Kuala Lumpur to restore walking, the street space needs to be designed in a pedestrian-friendly, climatically-responsive and socio-culturally appropriate way. Therefore, this study would contribute and provide the needs of associated urban planners, designers and researchers with basic data on pedestrians’ requirements and the conditions of streets in Kuala Lumpur, which can be used in similar contexts.