Think City first engaged Propertypricetag.com in a research project to understand the characteristics of the people of KL and to discover what makes the city unique. This led to the culmination of a coffee table book, graphically representing the city and its quirks. CHA-LY KOH, author of ‘Secret Atlas of Greater Kuala Lumpur’ and CEO of Propertypricetag.com, gives us a closer look through the lens of Big Data.
How did the book come about?
Originally, Think City was looking for us to investigate the patterns and behavioural traits of KL-ites. The end result they were looking for was – what makes KL unique from other cities in the region and globally.
While they found the data that we curate to be very useful in understanding our city, they felt the way we were presenting the information was borderline boring and suggested that we take on the challenge of communicating the information in a more digestible manner and reach out to a wider audience. Information is important for our city but futile if not understood. So, the book was just a much more graphically pleasing by-product of the original investigation.
Cha-Ly Koh, CEO, Propertypricetag.com.
Tell us about your findings and how these can be used to improve the city.
The findings, especially the ‘Not in my backyard’ sensitivities, reflect the prevalent car culture of KL and how our experience of the city is largely limited and enhanced by this reliance on the private vehicle. Think City is in the business of building communities and rejuvenating the city. By understanding the current behaviour of its people, they can better strategise how to build this sense of community amongst KL people.
A map indicating the distribution of senior and junior citizens taken from ‘The Secret Atlas of Greater Kuala Lumpur’.
What did you hope to achieve with this shared knowledge?
I believe that authorities and citizens can no longer deny technology’s power in affecting how we live in our city. Defaulting to “this is the standard way” is no longer acceptable. Our mission is two-fold, to enable better city planning by movers and shakers who shape our cities and to empower the individual citizen with information, to influence how his or her city is being shaped, if not politically, then economically.
What can we find in the book?
In The Secret Atlas of Greater KL, we attempt to understand the people of Greater Kuala Lumpur and their quirky behaviours through the lens of DATA.
Ever notice the mushrooming cafes in your neighborhood and wonder who actually buys these RM10 lattes? The number of cafes, it turns out, has a positive correlation to property prices in the surrounding area. Neighbourhoods with a high number of cafes are also neighbourhoods where property prices are most likely to rise.
“By examining such correlations and relationships, we view our city from a different perspective and gain insights into the underlying currents that move property markets, as well as the people it hosts.” – Cha-Ly Koh, CEO Propertypricetag.com
Graphical representation of preschools in greater Kuala Lumpur.
What are the ways the different communities within a city can use the information in the book?
The information in the book is useful to anyone from small business owners to individual citizens who plan to buy a home or simply understand their neighbourhoods better. A small business owner of an ice cream store, for example, might be looking to strategise the opening of her next outlet and would need insights on the age and income of various neighbourhoods while an individual home buyer might be curious to know how the LRT or MRT station near his home is affecting his property value. More importantly, we can observe how much the city has evolved over the years and how our neighbourhoods too have changed.
What was the process of creating the book and were there any interesting observations that you discovered on the journey?
The data that we utilise in the book is taken from a live database from Propertypricetag.com. That part was relatively easy because we have a running company continuously working on the data on a daily basis. The challenge was really to pinpoint the right graphical approach to represent the data. The radial histogram, for example, is really “made up” by us to communicate the idea of distance from a point of interest and using our sensitivity to the density of colours (think Monet) to show large amounts of information, intuitively. It was fun but a highly painful process as well.
Example of a radial histogram indicating the percentage of rise or fall in property prices in relation to the proximity of parks or green spaces.
Are there projects brewing of a similar vein for the future?
We have a lot more data that is yet to be explored and many curious topics in which we hope to get a data perspective on. But more immediately, we hope another key stakeholder will sponsor the structuring of Secret Atlas for other cities in Malaysia such as Johor Bahru, so that we can understand different communities a little more and hopefully, find some quirky behaviour that connects us all together as Malaysians.
‘The Secret Atlas of Greater KL’ is available in all major bookstores.
This story was first published under the now-defunct “Think City Channel”.