ThinkCITY, now in JB

Since last year I heard rather often, among different circles of people, the name Think City, and about what they were doing in Johor Baru.

Close-up of the Think City sign-board on building facade 
It piqued my curiosity because what I heard so far, sounded both positive and encouraging. When I set my mind to find out more, I began to have an inkling of what Think City is about even from their tagline: Rejuvenating the City Together.

It’s a small agency set up in 2009 by Khazanah Malaysia to examine the effects of global and local urbanization trends.  This was done in response to the on-going evolution of cities and urbanization.  They recognized that safe, creative, dense and well-planned cities are where people and talents choose to live and work.

In short, Think City was established as a city-making institution to support the evolving urban landscape, and to look at ways to make our cities more innovative, resilient and livable.

Cover design of Think City magazine 2015
Collaboration is an important part of the Think City philosophy.  It encourages people and organisations to “crowd in” so that the burden or challenge of urban renewal was shared out.  This would also encourage creativity in new ways of thinking and problem-solving.

Think City started out in Georgetown by undertaking a baseline study, to fully understand the city – among other things – who lived there, what people did, how buildings were used.

From understanding the city and its challenges, they moved towards incubation where they either initiated projects or helped the community to initiate and carry out their own projects under a Grants Programme.

The three common aspects in Think City’s interventions at different cities are, starting with the public Grants Programme followed by working closely with the city government to identify areas where Think City can support their priorities and finally, management initiatives for projects that fall outside the first two categories.

The presentation on JB's heritage landscape included
a quotation taken from one of my published stories!
Each proposed project for the Grants Programme must feature characteristics like being catalytic, inclusive, partnerships, sustainable, developmental and creative/innovative.

Headquartered in Penang, Think City expanded nationwide to various cities outside of Georgetown, first to Butterworth, then to Kuala Lumpur and now they are in Johor Baru.  Think City has opened an office, appropriately in the heart of the JB’s heritage area, at Jalan Pahang.

I did not know it then but the team in Think City was doing their homework and stretching out their feelers in JB to seek out areas where they could collaborate in rejuvenation projects.

When I was invited to a presentation to showcase our city’s heritage landscape to Think City, I met Faezah Ayub, who expressed her delight in finally meeting up because Think City was keen to touch base with me.  As I sat back to focus on the presentation, I was both humbled and elated at such a warm reception.

Facade of the Think City office at Jalan Pahang
After this first contact with Think City, I later met with its Chief Operating Officer, Dr Neil Khor, who was visiting from Penang, and Programme Manager, Daniel Lim.

When I asked the affable Neil for his thoughts about Think City in JB, he had much to share.

He said JB’s urban fabric – its streets, monuments, parks and waterfront – all remind him of a Malaysian city that modernized on its own terms.  Johor’s royal family led the modernization process by establishing a multi-ethnic community, opened up lands for commercial agriculture, established English College as an educational institution and gave the state a written constitution.

Neil commended JB as a uniquely photogenic city with its heritage buildings like the Istana Besar and Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque.  He observed how JB’s character and personality is made up of its narrow national border with Singapore and region. 

He recalled personalities who crossed these national boundaries and made a name for themselves, starting with Han Suyin, the doctor and novelist who wrote, Love is a Many Splendoured Thing.

One of the views featuring the interesting
architecture of the Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque
Neil said Think City hoped to capture some of that famous JB personality through community participation.  Only then can the rejuvenation of the city have a wider meaning.  He said it would become meaningful for Johor if there were opportunities for participation.

“Whether you want to write a book about the city, organise events that celebrate the unique features of Bangsa Johor, produce a short film about border crossings, conserve a heritage property or help activate public open spaces,” said Neil because Think City welcomes Johoreans to check out their public Grants Programme and encouraged everyone to take the plunge to rejuvenate the city together!

Meanwhile Daniel, who’s based in JB, has been exploring the city and getting to know the happenings around here in the past few months.  One of the first things that impressed him when he arrived here was how JB’s strong community pride shines through.  He found that the Bangsa Johor pride made JB a very unique city in Malaysia.

He said, top of the agenda and fundamental to Think City initiatives in JB, is crowdsourcing and establishing working relationships with everybody here.

As there is already a JB Transformation Plan in place, championed by MBJB and IRDA, Daniel believes that Think City can add value by sharing their experiences and best practices gained from working with other cities, and work together with the authorities to make JB a livable international city.

Think City is one of the Strategic Partners of the
13th Johor Baru Arts Festival
They are a small team in JB but Think City is seriously working towards collaborating with the community in various initiatives for the city’s rejuvenation. 

Think City is clearly getting more visible and slowly but surely, making its presence felt here.

For a start, Think City is one of the strategic partners with Johor Society of Performing Arts and the Johor Baru: International Festival City initiative for the 13th Johor Baru Arts Festival, happening in the heart of the city from September 21 to October 8, 2016. 

Think City supports how the annual JB Arts Festival is moving in tandem with the ambition of the city and concurs that the hallmark of any great city is its ability to connect the arts and culture with the community here.

For more information about Think City, visit website:

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