Identifying Place Distinctiveness Through Cultural Resource Mapping


  • Nur Farhana Azmi Center for Building, Construction and Tropical Architecture (BuCTA)Department of Building SurveyingFaculty of Built EnvironmentUniversity of Malaya, Malaysia
  • Faizah Ahmad Department of Urban & Regional PlanningFaculty of Built Environment University of Malaya, Malaysia
  • Azlan Shah Ali Center for Building, Construction and Tropical Architecture (BuCTA)Department of Building SurveyingFaculty of Built EnvironmentUniversity of Malaya, Malaysia



cultural mapping, documentation, identity, place, small town


Regardless of their size, every town, city, or more generally each place, has its own beautiful, unique and distinct characteristics. However, only few studies have provided valuable information on exceptional and unique features that can contribute to the distinctiveness and identity of small-scale towns. It is important to identify these cultural resources, especially now that the identity of small towns is rapidly weakening. This study explored the significance of cultural resource mapping as an important technique for identifying the unique characteristics of a place. A questionnaire survey was conducted amongst a random sample of 119 local community members in Sungai Lembing, a small town in the state of Pahang, Malaysia, to investigate respondents? mental representations of familiar features that they experience in the town, through cultural mapping. It was revealed that natural features, buildings, and non-building structures were seen by the respondents as the most dominant elements that constitute the individuality of their town. While deepening the community?s understanding and awareness of their cultural assets, this paper also highlights the significance of cultural mapping as a tool for identifying unique characteristics of a place, especially those that may have been previously overlooked.

Abstrak. Terlepas dari ukurannya, setiap kota atau lebih umum lagi suatu tempat, memiliki keindahan, keunikan dan karakter tersendiri. Namun, hanya sedikit penelitian yang memberikan informasi berharga tentang fitur luar biasa dan unik yang dapat berkontribusi pada kekhasan dan identitas kota skala kecil. Oleh karena itu, penting untuk mengidentifikasi sumber daya budaya tersebut terutama dalam kondisi saat ini di mana identitas kota kecil dengan cepat melemah. Makalah ini mencoba mengeksplorasi pentingnya pemetaan sumber daya budaya sebagai teknik penting untuk mengidentifikasi karakteristik unik suatu tempat. Survei kuesioner dilakukan di antara sampel acak dari 119 komunitas lokal di Sungai Lembing, sebuah kota kecil di negara bagian Pahang, Malaysia; untuk menyelidiki representasi mental responden dari fitur-fitur yang sudah dikenal yang dialami di kota melalui pemetaan budaya. Studi ini mengungkapkan bahwa fitur alam, bangunan dan struktur non-bangunan digambar oleh responden sebagai elemen dominan yang membentuk individualitas kota. Sambil memperdalam pemahaman dan kesadaran masyarakat akan aset budaya mereka, makalah ini juga menyoroti pentingnya pemetaan budaya sebagai salah satu alat penting dalam mengidentifikasi karakteristik unik suatu tempat terutama yang mungkin sebelumnya diabaikan.

Kata kunci. pemetaan budaya, dokumentasi, identitas, tempat, kota kecil.

Author Biographies

Nur Farhana Azmi, Center for Building, Construction and Tropical Architecture (BuCTA)Department of Building SurveyingFaculty of Built EnvironmentUniversity of Malaya, Malaysia

Nur Farhana Azmi is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Building Surveying, Faculty of Built Environment, University of Malaya, Malaysia. She holds a doctoral degree in Building Control and Performance from the Faculty of Built Environment, University of Malaya. Farhana's first degree was Bachelor (Hons) in Building Surveying from the very same department where she currently serves. Her main teaching and research interests focus on building control, building performance, and building conservation. She has been involved in various research grants and has published several publications in journals, proceedings and book chapter.

Faizah Ahmad, Department of Urban & Regional PlanningFaculty of Built Environment University of Malaya, Malaysia

Faizah Ahmad is presently an independent researcher and consultant in the field of Urban and Regional Planning. She is a Registered Member of the Board of Town Planners Malaysia, a Corporate Member of the Malaysian Institute of Planners and Lifetime Member of Malaysian Translators Association. She received her PhD in Urban & Regional Planning from Curtin University, Australia. Her areas of specialization are housing, urban transportation and urban conservation. She took optional retirement from her position as Associate Professor at the University of Malaya, Malaysia in August 2015. She has been involved in various researches in the urban planning field and published her works in refereed academic journals, books and book chapter.

Azlan Shah Ali, Center for Building, Construction and Tropical Architecture (BuCTA)Department of Building SurveyingFaculty of Built EnvironmentUniversity of Malaya, Malaysia

Azlan Shah Ali is a professor in the Department of Building Surveying, Faculty of Built Environment, University of Malaya, Malaysia. He is also currently a Visiting Professor at School of Built Environment, Liverpool John Moores University, UK. He has held various responsibilities in the academic administration including an Acting Dean, Deputy Dean and Head of Department. Dr. Azlan specializing in building refurbishment and his research interests lie in the area of building maintenance and refurbishment. He has been involved in a number of academic researches with a total amount of more than RM 1 million and has published over 150 technical publications.


Abd Rashid, M.S. (2015) Understanding the past for a sustainable future: Cultural mapping of Malay heritage. Procedia ? Social and Behavioral Sciences 170, 10-17.

Ahmad, F. (2009) Protecting the built heritage of capital cities: Case studies of Perth and Kuala Lumpur. (Doctoral Degree), Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia.

Arefi, M. (1999) Non-place and placelessness as narratives of loss: Rethinking the notion of place. Journal of Urban Design 4(2), 179-193.

Assumma, V., and C. Ventura (2014) Role of cultural mapping within local development processes: A tool for the integrated enhancement of rural heritage. Advanced Engineering Forum 11, 495-502.

Australia ICOMOS. (2013) The Australia ICOMOS charter for places of cultural significance: The Burra Charter 2013. Australia: Australia ICOMOS

Avrami, E., S. Macdonald, R. Mason, and D. Myers (2019) Values in heritage management: Emerging approaches and research directions. Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute.

Azmi, N.F., F. Ahmad, and A.S. Ali (2014) Place identity: A theoretical reflection. Open House International 39(4), 53-64.

Azmi, N.F., A.S. Ali and F. Ahmad (2020) Exploring the challenges in protecting the identity of small historic towns in Malaysia. Open House International, 1-17.

Bettencourt, L., and P. Castro (2015) Diversity in the maps of a Lisbon neighbourhood: Community and ?official? discourses about the renewed Mouraria. Culture and Local Governance 5(1-2), 23-44.

Blair, S. (2011) Study abroad and the city: Mapping urban identity. The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad 20, 37-54.

Brattland, C. (2013) Sami culture and the mapping of marine biodiversity. Norwegian Journal of Geography 67(2), 87-98.

Cabeca, S.M. (2018) Cultural mapping: A sustainable methodology for intangible cultural heritage. Memoriamedia Review 5, 1-9.

Caquard, S., and W. Cartwright (2014) Narrative cartography: From mapping stories to the narrative of maps and mapping. The Cartographic Journal 51(2), 101-106.

Crawhall, N. (2009) The role of participatory cultural mapping in promoting intercultural dialogoue ? ?We are not hyenas?: A reflection paper. France: United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Creative City Network of Canada. (2010) Cultural mapping toolkit. British Columbia: Creative City Network of Canada.

De Vita, G.E., C. Trillo, and A. Martinez-Perez (2016) Community planning and urban design in contested places. Some insights from Belfast. Journal of Urban Design 21(3), 320-334.

Devlin, A.S. (2018) Concepts, theories, and research approaches. In: Devlin A.S. (Ed.) Environmental Psychology and Human Well-being: Effects of Built and Natural Settings, pp. 1-28. United Kingdom: Nikki Levy.

Dincer, Y., and I. Dincer (2005) Historical heritage-conservation-restoration in small towns and question of rural gentrification in Turkey. Paper presented at the 15th ICOMOS General Assembly and International Symposium, Xi?an, China.

Duxbury, N. (2015) Positioning cultural mapping in local planning and development contexts: An introduction. Culture and Local Governance 5(1-2), 1-7.

Evans, G., and J. Foord (2008) Cultural mapping and sustainable communities: Planning for the arts revisited. Cultural Trends 17(2), 65-96.

Fertner, C., N. Groth, L. Herslund and T.A. Carstensen (2015) Small towns resisting urban decay through residential attractiveness. Findings from Denmark. Danish Journal of Geography 115(2), 119-132.

Fitri, I., Ratna, R. Sitorus, and M. Affan (2017) Cultural mapping of the heritage districts in Medan, North Sumatra. Paper presented at the 1st Annual Applied Science and Engineering Conference (AASEC), in conjunction with the International Conference on Sport Science, Health, and Physical Education (ICSSHPE), Bandung, Indonesia.

Freitas, R. (2016) Cultural mapping as a development tool. City, Culture and Society 7(1), 9-16.

Ghilardi, L. (2011) True to place: Embedding cultural distinctiveness in placemaking in European cities. Municipal World, 21-24.

Ginting, N., and J. Wahid (2017) Defining distinctiveness aspect of place identity in urban heritage tourism. Paper presented at the 8th International Conference on Architecture Research and Design (AR+DC), Surabaya, Indonesia.

Global Heritage Fund. (2010) Saving our vanishing heritage: Safeguarding endangered cultural heritage sites in the developing world. California, United States: Global Heritage Fund.

Hauge, A.L. (2007) Identity and place: A critical comparison of three identity theories. Architectural Science Review 50(1), 44-51.

Jackson, J.C. (1974) The structure and functions of small Malaysian towns. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 61, 65-80.

Jeannotte, M.S. (2016) Story-telling about place: Engaging citizens in cultural mapping. City, Culture and Society 7(1), 35-41.

Jokilehto, J. (2011) World heritage: Observations on decisions related to cultural heritage. Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development 1(1), 64-76.

Knox, P., and H. Mayer (2013) Small town sustainability: Economic, social, and environmental innovation. Basel, Switzerland: Birkhauser Verlag.

Krejcie, R.V., and D.W. Morgan (1970) Determining sample size for research activities. Educational and Psychological Measurement 30, 607-610.

Kuantan Municipal Council. (2013) Sungai Lembing Mines. Retrieved from Sungai Lembing Mines website on 27th June 2014.

Lee, D., and A. Gilmore (2012) Mapping cultural assets and evaluating significance: Theory, methodology and practice. Cultural Trends 21(1), 1-26.

LeFebvre, M.J. (2013) Protecting heritage in the Caribbean. The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 8(2), 311-314.

Lynch, K. (1960) The image of the city. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Mercer, C. (2006) Towards an architecture of governance for participatory cultural policy making. Paper presented at the Active Citizens ? Local Cultures ? European Politics: Barcelona Working Meeting, Barcelona, Spain.

Moore, S., and T. Borrup (2017) Cultural mapping. In: D. Borwick (Ed.) Building communities, not audiences: The future of the arts in the United States. Selangor, Malaysia: ArtsEngaged.

Municipal Cultural Planning Incorporated. (2010) Cultural resource mapping: A guide for municipalities. Canada: Government of Ontario

Mydland, L., and W. Grahn (2012) Identifying heritage values in local communities. International Journal of Heritage Studies 18(6), 564-587.

Nummi, P., and T. Tzoulas (2015) Engaging citizens in cultural planning with a web map survey. Culture and Local Governance 5(1-2), 161-173.

Pahang Town and Country Planning Department. (2010) Special area plan Sungai Lembing 2015. Pahang Pahang Town and Country Planning Department

Peng, J., D. Strijker and Q. Wu (2020) Place identity: How far have we come in exploring its meanings? Frontiers in Psychology 11(294), 1-19.

Pillai, J. (2013) Cultural mapping: A guide to understanding place, community and continuity. Selangor, Malaysia: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre.

Plieninger, T., S. Dijks, E. Oteros-Rozas, and C. Bieling (2013) Assessing, mapping, and quantifying cultural ecosystem services at community level. Land Use Policy 33, 118-129.

Poole, P. (2003) Cultural mapping and indigenous peoples. A report for UNESCO. Retrieved from Internet Archive Wayback Machine website: on 15th August 2020.

Proshansky, H.M. (1970) Environmental psychology: Man and his physical setting. New York: Rinehart and Winston.

Puren, K., E. Drewes, and V. Roos (2008) A sense of place and spatial planning in the Vredefort Dome, South Africa. South African Geographical Journal 90(2), 134-146.

Rapoport, A. (1977) Human aspects of urban form: Towards a man-environment approach to urban form and design. Oxford: Permagon Press.

Relph, E. (1976) Place and placelessness. Brondesbury Park, London: Pion Limited.

Rowe, J. (2012) What?s your story? Cultural mapping ? Best practices manual for rediscovering small town Canada. Wawa, Ontario: Wawa Cultural Mapping Project.

Schall, J.M. (2010) Cultural exploration through mapping. Social Studies 101(4), 166-173.

Shamsuddin, S. (1997) Identity of place: A case study of Kuantan town centre, Malaysia. (Doctor of Philosophy), University of Nottingham,

Shamsuddin, S. (2011) Townscape revisited: Unravelling the character of the historic townscape in Malaysia. Johor Bahru, Malaysia: Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.

Smith, B.W. (2006, 22-26 June 2003). Rock art tourism in southern Africa: Problems, possibilities and poverty relief. Paper presented at the Of the past, for the future: Integrating archaeology and conservation. Proceedings of the Conservation Theme of the 5th World Archaeological Congress Washington D.C., Los Angeles.

Stewart, B.J., and J. Allan (2013) Building relationship with aboriginal people: A cultural mapping toolbox. Australian Social Work 66(1), 118-129.

Tang, Z., A. Lu, and Y. Yang (2020) Design research in the practice of memory place-making. Open House International 45(1/2), 55-68.

Taylor, K. (2013) Cultural mapping: Intangible values and engaging with communities with some reference to Asia. The Historic Environment 4(1), 50-61.

Ujang, N., and K. Zakariya (2015) The notion of place, place meaning and identity in urban regenaration. Procedia ? Social and Behavioral Sciences 170, 709-717.

UNESCO Bangkok. (2017) Cultural mapping. Retrieved from UNESCO Bangkok Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education website: on 15th August 2020.

Vileikis, O., G. Cesaro, M.S. Quintero, K.V. Balen, A. Paolini, and A. Vafadari (2012) Documentation in world heritage conservation: Towards managing and mitigating change ? the case studies of Petra and the Silk Roads. Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development 2(2), 130-152.

Wan Ismail, W.H., and S. Shamsuddin (2005) The old shophouses as part of Malaysian urban heritage: The current dilemma. Paper presented at the 8th International Conference of the Asian Planning Schools Association, Malaysia, 12-14 September.






Research Articles