Armenian Street in George Town, which has the largest collection of pre-war houses – over 12,000 in all – in South-East Asia. Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Stadhuys Square in Malacca Photo credit: Wikipedia


Rua das Flores (Flowers Street), the main street in Curitiba, Brazil, has been a pedestrian avenue since 1972. Penang Road and other streets of George Town could be turned into pedestrian malls, serviced by buses and trams. Photo credit: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=377289

The historical Straits Settlement cities of George Town and Malacca have just been classified as Unesco World Heritage sites.

“The two towns constitute a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia,” said the citation on the Unesco Heritage list website.

This comes as a major boost to the lack-lustre economies of these two states.

The new status is the result of a 11-year-long struggle. “It has been a touch and go affair until the last minute,” said heritage conservationist Loh-Lim Lin Lee, when contacted.

This from the Unesco World Heritage website:

Eight new sites, from the Straits of Malacca, to Papua New Guinea and San Marino, added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List
Monday, July 7, 2008

The World Heritage Committee meeting in Quebec City has added eight new cultural sites to UNESCO’s World Heritage List on the morning of the 7 of July. With these inscriptions, Papua New Guinea and San Marino enter the World Heritage List for the first time.

The new sites inscribed are:

Melaka and George Town, historic cities of the Straits of Malacca (Malaysia) have developed over 500 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West in the Straits of Malacca. The influences of Asia and Europe have endowed the towns with a specific multicultural heritage that is both tangible and intangible. With its government buildings, churches, squares and fortifications, Melaka demonstrates the early stages of this history originating in the 15th-century Malay sultanate and the Portuguese and Dutch periods beginning in the early 16th century. Featuring residential and commercial buildings, George Town represents the British era from the end of the 18th century. The two towns constitute a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia.

If there are any lingering doubts about the city status of George Town, the listing should now dispel them. Unesco has recognised the two cultural and religious melting-pot sites as “historic cities”!

Blog reader Greg has this to say, while adding a few words of caution:

My only hope is that the authorities in both places will continue to pay more attention to the sites listed and the NGOs will continue to keep a vigilant eye. The neglected inner city esp in GT should be carefully nurtured back into use. I am sure there are enough local experts to lend their expertise. Don’t for the sake of tourism turn our treasured heritage into artifically created venues for earning cheap dollars. An immediate project that can be put into place is to reintroduce the trams.

Yes, an excellent bus and tram service would go well in keeping with the character of George Town’s new status. George Town (along with the rest of Penang) needs to clean up its act and introduce a more pedestrian-friendly (and even cycle-friendly) environment.

Another pedestrian mall in Curitiba Photo credit: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=377289

Sustainable transport and transport infrastructure that blends with the heritage landscape is a must. This rules out the Penang Outer Ring Road (along with future traffic congestion) and the monorail (with its monstrous and unsightly pillars).

Public toilets need to be in tip-top shape! Beaches, coastal waters and rivers must be cleaned up. All sources of pollution must be cut off.

Local communities should benefit from tourism in a positive way and not be harmed or displaced.

If George Town plays its cards right and enhances its heritage appeal, the boost to the local economy from tourism (even domestic tourism) should more than make up for any shortfall from the expected downturn in the electronics industry. The city’s new status should more than compensate for the shortfall in federal allocations of funding, which Guan Eng has been complaining about. Penang has just been handed a life-line.

The biggest challenge now is to keep greedy property developers at bay and to prevent them from marring the heritage setting with hideous high-rise structures. And please no tacky tourist gimmicks; instead, the entire area should be carefully and meticulously preserved, with strict planning guidelines.

The state government should now realise that Penang is more than just an FDI-driven economy. “We should not be focused on just industrialisation and on bringing in foreign investors and multinational corporations to build their factories here,” says an enlightened operations director of a Penang-based MNC. “Instead, we should look at a more sustainable form of revenue-generating development and I think this new heritage status is a great avenue for promoting this,” he said. “We can never lose this status unless we ‘screw up’ our sustainable development, for example, if we start building things like PGCC…”

There is now a real opportunity to look into boosting local small-scale economic activity in the city, which doesn’t have to rely on FDI. There will now be more local economic activity and job opportunities in public transport, urban planning, heritage restoration and conservation, parks and recreational spaces maintenance, museums and art galleries, theatre and the performing arts, inner city tours, and of course Penang’s famous street food. Even the dying breed of eco-friendly trishaw pullers could be given a new lease of life…

27 COMMENTS

  1. […] George Town, Malacca now Unesco World Heritage sites […]

  2. Stadhuys Square is definitely a beautiful, historic area. I just returned from a visit to Malaysia, mostly Melaka, and I truly loved the city and its history.

    Let me also commend the authorities in charge for keeping the streets of Melaka immaculately clean.

  3. Visited Merbok Museum yesterday.

    The chandi in Lembah Bujang were potentially Buddist temples and not Hindu temples. The Ganesh statue was planted there, and was not from the site.

    Even the museum employees admitted it!

  4. Anil,

    You have brought up a good idea – to turn Penang Road and other streets of George Town into pedestrian malls, serviced by buses and trams.

    Hope that local authorities will accept your suggestion and do some research as well as plan out to do it.

  5. Lembah bujang have some remains of potentially Buddhist-Hindu temples…but it was not a city.

    Kedah is bigger than lembah bujang.

  6. Good point, so many magnificent new roads can be used to commemorate local and Malay rulers, judges, prominent civil servants, academicians, and other contributors to the civil society.

  7. This road name should be changed back to the originaly name, eg.
    Pitt Street (Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Kling, Yahudi Road (Jalan Zainal Abidin), Green Lane (Jalan Mesjid Negeri) and Northam Road (Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah).

    There are so many new road, which can be used to reuse those name.

  8. to answer radzi : yes, Melaka was small town, which is established and controlled by the Ming Chinese, ChengHo history is the prove.

    Kedah, ayoo… is Indian city, Lembah Bujang already proven that, other part of Kedah is Arab.

    Nobody erase your history, is your history is unrecorded in this region, coz the peninsular Malaysia was … originally occupied by Orang Asli…

  9. to answer: Illegal permanent roadside hawkers stall in Penang??

    I think is concentrated in the area or on the way from Airport to Georgetown. Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Jalan Tun Dr Awang, Jalan Relau (now known as Jalam Ismail Hashim), Jalan Gelugor. Is very lawless region, no tax, no permit, like a kerbau-boy city.

  10. Georgetown should be written in one word, why two words “George Town”, who has seperated Georgetown??

  11. Great news, but to me, it’s just step 1 in 10 steps.

    1) Too many buildings within Gtown are in delapidated condition – need to refurbish and revitalize inner Gtown.

    2) Polution is a big problem – from air polution to hawkers and kopitiams dumping food/drink wastes into the drains which then polute the rivers and seas.

    3) Waste treatment – still a lot of raw sewage dumped into rivers and sea

    4) Control and enforcement – from parking to hawkers, just too lawless and haphazard now – not to mention poor hygiene as a result

    5) too many illegal permanent roadside hawkers stall in Penang, very eyesore and poor clealiness.

    …. many more

  12. Yeah…

    Both Melacca & Penang are heritages of colonization. They are and were not our heritage. Melaka Empire don’t even exist. Melacca was a small kingdom (not Empire..just a amall kingdom) that survived for about just a hundred years….1400 till 1510AD.

    Penang was a part of Kedah. Kedah, Ligor and Langkasuka are and were our heritages….but our history were erased by the British.

    …world of lies!

  13. Hello Anil,

    What a good news!!I’m proud to be malaysian. Everyone should be thanked for their contribution towards achieving this credits from the UNESCO.

    Neither oppostion party nor the BN party should appreciate this credits given. This is a little cheer up for those who felt miserable with the politics scene in MALAYSIA. Cheers!!

  14. This is great for Penangites! At last our dream comes true without any political biases that has been marring Penang’s chance at getting this Heritage recognition.
    Now with this life-line given to Penangites, what we should do is go all out to promote Penang. Forget about Federal or Tourism Ministry help or guidelines. Penangites should know too well how to self promote to the global market.
    Let’s do it the Penangite way. Forget about Federal funding, pay less tax and to all corporations and businesses in Penang, do invest in Penang’s future thro’ tax deductable means.
    God bless Penang.

  15. Anil

    First off, this is good news! Malaysians should be proud.

    But I do have a question that maybe you could answer. Being on the World Heritage list means Malaysia can request for financial assistance from the World Heritage Fund in order to maintain certain parts of the city, be it Georgetown or Melaka. Does the funding go straight to the state govt? Or to the federal govt? Would we know how much we can benefit from the funding, and how much of it is actually spent to preserve the two cities?

  16. The current Penang state Exco meeting will necessarily discuss and debate this new development of UNESCO World Heritage city, whether via planned or unplanned questions.

    Penangedia.com, PenangWatch.net, and a few of us earlier suggested 222 questions for the meeting. Some may or may not have made it into the official question list.

    The following questions concern the WHC status and issues of development, birdnest impact, follow-up plan, oversight entity, cooperation with other states and Melaka:

    http://www.penangwatch.net/node/2343#c15
    http://www.penangwatch.net/node/2343#f27 up to
    http://www.penangwatch.net/node/2343#f32

  17. I notice some KL street signs have a small print below for the old English names. Couldn’t this be done locally?

    I don’t want to be cultural chauvinist for suggesting the inclusion of Chinese street names. This is also a DAP election theme.

    But there are some really falvourful, historical names, telling us the place’s historical association to: gangster, stone cutter, blacksmith, lacqueror, windmill, sawmill, japanese, theatre, lotus, tram, slaughterhouse, timberyard, saltfish, pepper, etc.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Street_names_of_George_Town%2C_Penang

    I think these should be done selectively, with the expressed purpose of adding tourism flavour, not as a general rule.

    Small prints of various language names would add tremendously to the local flavour for northeast Asian tourists (even Japanese and Korean tourist can read some of these Chinese characters), as well as Indian, and middle east tourists.

    Small prints of English can be placed on the front of road sign below the official name. Small prints of Chinese, Indian or Arabic languages can be at the back for pedestrian tourists. This means some selective road signs need to be redesigned to be double-sided.

  18. Dusk is my favourite time of day. As the bustle of the city begins to die down and the day begins to cool, it really is the best time to experience the old world charm of Penang. After the best chicken curry at Hameedias, a stroll along the quiet enclaves of Georgetown evokes a sense of tranquility and a yearning for days gone by.

    Why pay to go elsewhere? It’s all here!

  19. Wonderful! Congrats Penang (and Melaka)!

    Since it looks like economic strangulation is being attempted on Penang, this new status will help to boost tourism to Penang.

    The progressive state govt needs to see things from the perspective of the tourist i.e. good transport network to see the major sights, protection against crime and local conmen, good info on local hotels, etc.

    May I suggest the following for a start?

    1. Stars rating system for Penang hotels (rated by the govt)
    2. A “Penang Card” good for 1 day or 1 week that enables the tourist to travel easily using the local buses and for entry into local museums
    3. Get proud Penangites to serve as volunteer guides for foreign tourists
    4. More police protection in places where tourists like to go

    Please also take a good look at what’s done to promote tourism in countries like Austria where tourism is a major part of the economy.

    Phua Kai Lit

  20. Yes finally its happen in this bolih land but…….

    In this bolih land anything can happen – The coridor of power.
    1.This politician can change their mind anytime for their cronies benefits if they found gold or oil under this heritage side.

    Example.There are so many forest reserved already sondol by the Goverment in the name of development.Plants are missing,water catchment area are depleting.

    Someone said we are romours moggers but because they are the one create us because all the MSN already brainwash us.

    Rajraman.Dont believe anyone in Politics.

  21. Anil,

    Perhaps one way to enhance the historic status of Georgetown and Malacca is to restore the original names of some of the important roads which had been changed during the era of mindless so-called nationalism in the 1970s. I am talking about certain important streets in Georgetown like Pitt Street, Yahudi Road, Green Lane and Northam Road. I understand their names had been changed in the 1970s without due regard to the sensitivities of those who value history. I’m sure if a survey had been conducted then, the majority of all those who give their views would not want the names of these historic roads to be changed because this in fact killed the identity of the roads and indirectly conceal its rich and varied history. Restoring the names of these historical roads does not mean that we are reverting to colonialism as some of these mindless so-called nationalists may want to say. The alternative names of these roads can still be retained in brackets e.g Pitt Street (Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Kling, Yahudi Road (Jalan Zainal Abidin), Green Lane (Jalan Mesjid Negeri) and Northam Road (Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah)in the same enlarged road signs. I am sure there are some major Penang roads whose original names have been changed, I have missed. The original names of these streets should also be restored. Restoring the original names of these historical roads which tell us a lot about their history specifically and the history of Penang in general does not mean we are reverting to colonialism, the same kind of logic applied to actively promoting the use of the English language. I hope the new PR state govt of Penang will look into the possibility of restoring the original names of its historic streets.

  22. Bravo ! I’m very happy for my hometown, Georgetown.
    The is just the beginning of a journey, not the end. The inner city badly needs renewal. I rarely go to the inner city area now, its so depressing.

    There is a large potential market for heritage and cultural tourism.
    The government (and I mean both Federal and State) together with the private sector have a lot to do to turn this into a successs.
    The inner city needs to be revitalised. And we need to do a better job promoting and marketing the city as a quality destination.

  23. Long overdue. Now is the time for LGE & Co. to put in place a good public transport system, be it trams, monorail and just an adequate bus network – things that the previous inept CM had failed to do.

  24. The Billion-Ringgit Question: What next?

    Good news. Although I am not a supporter of the Gerakan government, the current DAP government should be gracious enough to publicly give some credit to teams and individuals in the previous government.

    Invite some from the previous government, and the NGOs who are “so critical” of the government (both Gerakan and DAP) to participate in the post-approval heritage preservation and development team.

    This concerns the billion-ringgit question: What next?

    This celebratory event calls for magnanimity, and is an opportunity to build political bridges to the not-so-corrupted Gerakan. Here is an opportunity to broaden managerial repertoire and strengthen the Penang state governance on the outer fringe of power – tourism and heritage.

  25. Anil.
    Am happy for both Melaka and Georgetown (or is it George Town?)— the former the place I was born and the latter the place I chose to live. My only hope is that the authorities in both places will continue to pay more attention the sites listed and the NGOs will continue to keep a vigilant eye. The neglected inner city esp in GT should be carefully nurtured back into use. I am sure there are enough local experts to lend their expertise. Don’t for the sake of tourism turn our treasured heritage be turned into artifically created venues for earning cheap dollars. An immediate project that can be put into place is to reintroduce the trams.

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