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 ListMonday, 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…