Ipoh Bus Project: Placemaking Through the Transit Community as A Grassroots Effort

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Ipoh Bus Project is a movement about buses, the bus system and the possibilities of placemaking through the bus system and its community.

The painted bus stop that sparked the project

The project started out as a personal initiative in my own neighbourhood where a bus stop stood unmaintained for 20 over years. Growing old with mold, rust and neglect, a group of family and friends from the neighbourhood bought a can of cheery yellow enamel paint and painted it. No permission sought. We felt it was the right thing to do. We only polled enough money for one can of paint and comically had to paint scallops that resembled clouds because we ran out of paint. We gave the bus stop a name, the name the locals call the stop, and painted a bus on both sides for legibility and semiotic issues.

Coming to see the bus stop looking different than the day before, people talked, few if any knew who did it. Many were happy, some saw it as an act of defiance against the languid maintenance of the city council. Few months after, all bus stops on the street were renovated and renewed. We achieved what we set out to change, with only a can of paint and some brushes.

From here we knew that Ipoh needs us and we needed to do more for Ipoh. Since we started out on buses, we continued on buses.


As with many small cities, Ipoh is an ordinary city with an easy attitude which has seen better days in the past and is now overshadowed by larger cities in its close region. Pitted between the economic and cultural powerhouses of Kuala Lumpur and Penang, Ipoh has a language and flavour but sees itself in a dilemma as it seeks to compete head-on with the larger cities in the region. An underdog city, bleeding demographically through the imbalanced migration of young minds to larger cities.

The project itself is set in the temporal and transitional space of the city. The space and time that exists on the bus between two points in a city. This is where possibilities abound and lives cross; the links and the nodes in a living bus system.

With bus users made up of schoolchildren to senior citizens; the car-less working class to the migrant workers; the project is a focused search towards placemaking from the grassroots that balances but does not seek to antagonise the car-oriented society. The city belongs not to one group but to everybody.

Narrative Building

© Ipoh Bus Project 2014

© Ipoh Bus Project 2014

“A story is not something of this world. A real story requires a kind of magical baptism to link the world on this side of the world on the other side.”
– Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart.

As with most community efforts, the first step is narrative building. By making good use of the wide community base and tapping into existing intangible memories, the bus project links nostalgia of the old bus system with the present needs of commute. The paper buses and pin badges are meant to be a tangible key that unlocks memories and conversations of bus experiences. Similar to what a souvenir does when it becomes a centrepiece of a conversation.

© Ipoh Bus Project 2014

© Ipoh Bus Project 2014

At the art market

Bus Guide

A step ahead of narrative building is the functional purpose of the project. Some undoubtedly wish to hold on to the nostalgia of the air-ventilated buses, rickety ride and colourful decals but the bus system is functional and must place present commuting needs ahead. With little information on bus routes and system in Ipoh, it only makes sense to create a comprehensive bus guide. This in return will widen the commuter base and ridership. A win-win situation for bus companies, the city streets and the project.

New and experienced users using the bus system will be able to use the bus guides that will feature bus routes, and other important content complementing the system map. It is this information that makes the Ipoh Bus Project guide different. It features content on localised neighbourhood attractions, cottage industries, and food stalls. Promoting local and everything on the scale of the neighbourhood. The Ipoh Bus Project guide is a map that guides people to a journey of discovery, telling enough and keeping some hidden lest the joy of discovery is lost.

© Ipoh Bus Project 2014

© Ipoh Bus Project 2014

Working draft of the bus guide

Being part of a city, content is important. The Ipoh Bus Project opens a door to the city’s rich existing and fresh content. The project possibilities are limitless and it’s goals are long term. We are on a journey with the city on the bus. The experience of the journey is an act of self-discovery for Ipoh through the eyes and ears of it’s citizens and is more important than the destination. There is a word in Spanish, ‘vacilando’. It means one is going somewhere, but does not greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction.

Come visit Ipoh someday, let’s ride the bus together.


Facebook: ipohbusproject
Email: ipohbusproject@gmail.com

Alex Lee
Alex Lee is an urban explorer, DIY dude & greenie. He is constantly exploring, observing and apply interventions to cities to create conversations. Pint-sized but feisty, Alex believes the city is a living thing.