George Town: Power to the pedestrians


I strolled around Market Street, Chulia Street and Jalan Kapitan Keling from 8.00pm and the place was bustling with activity.

Some quick impressions of the George Town World Heritage City Day celebrations:

Entire stretches of roads were closed to vehicles. But people didn’t seem to mind at all. They just soaked in the festive atmosphere along the streets. And they actually looked happier and more relaxed without the traffic around them.

Instead of businesses being affected, cafes, restaurants and shops in Little India and elsewhere were packing in the crowds, and their doors were kept open later later than usual.

I think it’s time we turned parts of George Town into pedestrian malls, closing off streets perhaps in the late evening. We could experiment doing this once a month and gauge public reaction. This could revitalise George Town at night more than any expensive project could. I am positive that shops and businesses will then be clamouring for the pedestrian mall pilot project to be extended and made more frequent, perhaps even permanent and covering a wide area. Let’s do this on a Sunday, once a month for a start, and take it from there.

The Han Jiang Ancestral Temple, managed by the Teow Chew Association, looked resplendent and brightly lit. A beaming Ch’ng Teng Liang, the secretary general of the association wearing a bright red batik shirt, hovered around the entrance, where crowds milled throughout the evening looking on at a variety of cultural performances.

The Temple had won a Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation in 2006, and it looked brighter than ever (more spotlights helped). Teng Liang said the association this time included performers to draw in the young, apart from impressive classical renditions including a mini-orchestra using traditional musical instruments. One of the energetic dances performances was by a group of Chinese youth strutting their stuff to Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’!

Over at the Kapitan Keling Mosque, I found a treasure trove of old photographs of Penang, some of which I hadn’t seen before, including photos of the old Barkath Stores. A pair of mannequins, one black and the other white, both decked in traditional Indian Muslim attire, seemed to be promoting a multi-cultural message.

At the entrance to the mosque was Kamarudin Abdullah, the president of the Islamic Propagation Society International Malaysia, who enthusiastically welcomed visitors to the mosque. “Please tell people we are open to the public not just today, but everyday. Somehow most people are not aware of this,” he told me.

A couple of Christian friends I met outside remarked that the dress code for females entering the mosque seemed more relaxed than St Peter’s in the Vatican!

On the whole it was great to see the various communities celebrating their heritage side-by-side on the streets of George Town and show-casing their diverse cultures, all adding up to a colourful mosaic, a living tapestry. That in itself was cause for celebration.

The only downside to this whole heritage business is my nagging fear that George Town will become more gentrified and ‘sanitised’ as the years roll by and new boutique hotels and swanky cafes overwhelm the traditional coffee shops and little family businesses. Already property prices are sky-rocketing as speculators grab entire stretches of shop-houses in the hope of making a tidy bundle. Whither traditional cultures and authentic communities?

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14 Jul 2010 8.42pm

I really agree that George Town has to be more pedestrian friendly. One of the best ways of sorting this is to reopen the 5 foot ways and return them to the walking public. Living in the middle of Goerge Town now I walk a lot and it is the closure or blockage of the 5 foot ways that really are a pain- in rain and in hot sun but most of all because cars do not care a bit if they hit you with their side mirrors as they speed down the narrow streets. Mind you MPPP has to… Read more »

Observer Observer
Observer Observer
9 Jul 2010 1.24pm

> The only downside to this whole heritage business is > my nagging fear that George Town will become more > gentrified and ‘sanitised’ as the years roll by and > new boutique hotels and swanky cafes overwhelm the > traditional coffee shops and little family businesses I miss the days when instead of coffee shops and little family business in George Town, we had just coconut trees, kampung houses and mosquitoes flying abound. Really, there is no pleasing you, is there? First you complain about Georgetown being dirty, with the hawker shops and such, then next you complain that… Read more »

8 Jul 2010 7.56pm

I have a suggestion to Penang state government.

Can the City Hall draw giant foot steps on the road surface to show direction to various heritage buildings in the Georgetown? Visitors can follow these foot steps to recommended heritage trails.

14 Jul 2010 8.45pm
Reply to  nkkhoo

You can just follow the stenciled pictures of the bicycles! Because there is too much traffic you can’t ride the bicycles and because the 5 foot ways are all packed with stuff, you have to walk on the road anyway!

8 Jul 2010 7.51pm

“Please tell people we are open to the public not just today, but everyday. Somehow most people are not aware of this,” he told me.


The main gate was closed when I visited the Kapitan Keling Mosque last year.

I managed to take some photos.

8 Jul 2010 2.20pm

Penangites should not Shiok Sendiri.
This occasion should have been advertised in our neighbouring Asean countries viz Thailand,Indonesia & S’pore.

Isn’t this year “Visit Penang 2010”?

8 Jul 2010 1.45pm

More shame on Koh Tsu Koon and Gerakan. Syabas to PR.

Danny Lo
Danny Lo
8 Jul 2010 11.16am

That’s a good idea. But instead of once every month, make it every Sunday and with certain stretches set up stalls for hawkers. It’ll work.

8 Jul 2010 11.05am

Hi Anil, thanks for above piece…

Let’s help the present government (PR) to build a better Penang. That should be our attitude !!!

Everyone needs to play a part and not just fold our arms and throw criticism and cakap besar…

When i go back to Penang, i definitely will take a walk too around the area…

Salam and Allah God bless Penang and Pakatan government for many many many years to come !!!

P/s Remember not too long ago Lee Kuan Yew visited Penang
and he said Penang was 20 years behind time.
Really, shame on Gerakan/BN !!!

8 Jul 2010 7.11pm
Reply to  kee

Isn’t the guy above throwing criticism himself?

Tau cakap je!

Richard Loh
8 Jul 2010 12.51am

Anil, I fully agree with your idea of turning parts of George Town into pedestrian malls, closing off streets. I did mentioned it to one of the adun sometime ago. You proposed it to be gradual, that is good. What my thought is that the whole area from Komtar right to the heritage area be of pedestrian mall whereby only buses or tram car if implemented can move people within the area. The only problem facing it is the people who are living within this vicinity and have cars. A serious and proper study to look into it and maybe… Read more »

14 Jul 2010 8.49pm
Reply to  Anil Netto

Absolutely! Once a month during a weekday would be ideal. On Sundays?- this may actually encourage(eventually) more people to open shops as it is pretty quiet on Sundays now- a lot of visitors walk about on Sundays because there is less traffic but not much is open- although its a great day to just view how people live in George Town.

semuanya OK kot
semuanya OK kot
8 Jul 2010 12.48am

The logical way to re-align towns is to restrict motor traffic to roads that merely get you to the vicinity of a suburb or street. This has been successfully implented elsewhere, with excellent results: no rocket science is called for. For this to happen, the powers that be must first stop worshipping the gods of petrol, roads and private cars.