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Five-footways: the generator of public realm in Malaysian historical urban centre

Camelia May Li Kusumo (School of Architecture, Building and Design, Taylor's University, Subang Jaya, Malaysia)
Ken Ying Cho (School of Architecture, Building and Design, Taylor's University, Subang Jaya, Malaysia)
Robert Powell (Robert Powell Architect and City Planner, London, UK)


ISSN: 2631-6862

Article publication date: 28 June 2022

Issue publication date: 17 March 2023




Five-footways are an important feature in historical urban centres of tropical South East Asian cities. These colonnades along the rows of commercial shop houses provide comfortable pedestrian walkways. In spite of the decline of the liveability in many historical urban centres, the “kaki-lima” or five-footways in Klang Valley Malaysia are bustling and alive. Many studies have been done on kaki-lima, however it focuses mostly on historical and cultural context. There is lack of understanding on how the physical attributes of kaki-lima facilitate the liveliness of urban life. The paper aims to investigate the five-footway as the generator of public realm and to analyse the physical attributes of the five-footways that contribute to the “stickiness” of the public space.


The study utilized behaviour mapping to identify the sticky activity, then subsequently used Roger Barker's theory of Behaviour Settings to observe different stationary activities along the five-footways of the historical centres of Kuala Lumpur and Klang.


The findings show that all the identified behaviour settings along the five-footways are strongly characterised by tropical climate and local diverse culture. Additionally, the small architectural detail provides an important physical setting for informal activities to take a place in the five-footways.

Research limitations/implications

The study is limited only to two urban heritage districts in Malaysia, namely Kuala Lumpur and Klang.

Practical implications

The findings have the implication for the public space policy of the local municipalities, specifically for urban design policy of the five-footways. Firstly, the inclusion of five-footways should be encouraged in any new shophouse development and secondly, the policy maker should consider to retain certain physical features of the five-footways that support not only the informal economy activities but also the creation of third places in the neighbourhoods.


This study will contribute to the discourse of urbanism, especially in understanding the public realm in South East Asian cities. Additionally, the outcomes will assist the local municipality in developing urban design policy of the five-footways.



This work was supported by a Flagship Research Grant of Taylor's University (TUFR/2017/001/02).


Kusumo, C.M.L., Cho, K.Y. and Powell, R. (2023), "Five-footways: the generator of public realm in Malaysian historical urban centre", Archnet-IJAR, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp. 162-183.



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