Reclaiming JB's laneways

Sidang Teater, a street-style theatre competition, was held in a 3-day programme that showcased six independent theatre productions during the recent 13th JB Arts Festival.

A workshop session happening in the Sidang Teater event
This event aimed to bring theatre enthusiasts together, engage with the communities in the city and to tell stories with shared community values and ideals.

Organised by Sekutu Ghuraba, two productions were featured in a competition at 7pm held over three days in early October.

Each day’s event started from 3pm for the Dry Tech set-up where the technical crew familiarized themselves with the equipment and flow of the performance. 

This was followed by workshop sessions at 5pm, conducted by veterans in the theatre industry that focused on scriptwriting, directing and acting.

This is the same space before it was
transformed by ThinkCity's Laneways project
Now take a closer look at this shot taken during a workshop session on one of the evenings.  In the center, you will see the presenters seated on a small stage against a backdrop decorated by live plants.  Participants are casually seated in a rustic setting, on floor mats, wooden crates and benches.

Take an even closer look at this shot again and try to identify this place which is situated in the heart of Johor Baru’s heritage quarter.  This place was listed as, “the pop-up park” in the festival programme but there was no definite address to this location.

If you are familiar with the city’s heritage quarter, you may recognise the red wall on the left. It is the rear wall of what is popularly known as the Red House on Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and the opposite wall painted in green, is the rear wall of It Roo Café on Jalan Dhoby.

By now you would have figured out that this pop-up park is located along Jalan Pahang, within the back lane between the Red House and It Roo Café.  While space was limited, the acoustics was good and it served as a compact theatre for the Sidang Teater event.

Stakeholders being briefed at ThinkCity's JB office
Now who would have thought that a back lane could be designed into a pop-up park where the community gathered to enjoy a series of theatre shows?

But for three nights during the JB Arts Fest, huge crowds gathered to enjoy the six theatre productions presented here, in the heart of the city’s heritage quarter.

For a long time, back lanes were misused as dumping grounds, dirty and abandoned, and where drivers parked their cars illegally.  To create more space in the city, the clean-up project and use of this space as a pop-up park for the JB Arts Fest, was an initiative of ThinkCity Johor Baru

Representatives from MBJB, IRDA and stakeholders at
the discussion with Dr Neil Khor
The objective was to carry out a pilot project at one site, test out possible solutions and showcase community efforts to activate such underutilized spaces.  This place-making exercise was accomplished with the cooperation of relevant stakeholders including those occupying the adjacent buildings and nearby businesses.

ThinkCity’s Laneways Improvement initiative was implemented under the Johor Baru Transformation Programme in partnership with the MBJB or JB City Council and Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA). 

The project started with a discussion of the work-plans with a group of stakeholders in ThinkCity’s office, which happens to be also located along Jalan Pahang. 

Then ThinkCity led the stakeholders to an onsite discussion
Conducted by ThinkCity’s Programme Manager, Daniel Lim, the stakeholders were given a clear idea of how the project was going to be implemented.

This was followed by another discussion with representatives from MBJB, IRDA and the stakeholders on the design of the pop-up park conducted by ThinkCity’s Chief Operating Officer, Dr Neil Khor.

Once the relevant stakeholders understood what the project entailed, they had an onsite discussion to iron out further details. 

On Sept 22 the team from MBJB were at the site to flush out the drainage system as well as give the laneways a general clean up.  The site for the pop-up park was given priority and work commenced earnestly to resurface the flooring with a fresh coat of concrete. 

The team from MBJB in action at our city's back lanes
Together with MBJB, the community and ThinkCity, the first pop-up park in a back lane was designed and implemented for the 13th JB Arts Festival.  In a matter of days, a small stage with a backdrop decorated by fresh plants was completed and this created a cosy ambience for the Sidang Teater events.

“This is the first step in ThinkCity’s effort to rejuvenate the laneways,” said Lim who was clearly pleased with the outcome of this pilot project. 
ThinkCity, a city-making institution that supports the evolving urban landscape and seeks ways to make our cities more innovative, resilient and livable, has led the way in helping us reclaim our city’s back lanes.

A fish-eye view of the audience gathered to enjoy the Sidang Teater show at the pop-up park, Jalan Pahang,
during the recent 13th JB Arts Festival

As we reclaim our back lanes under their Laneways Improvement project, the community must continue to participate in cooperation with MBJB, IRDA and ThinkCity to maintain our laneways as they progress with their comprehensive, integrated and inclusive plan to rejuvenate our city and make Johor Baru a more livable and walkable city.

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