If Seoul can courageously dismantle a highway carrying 180,000 vehicles a day and revitalise a stream in the city centre, there is no reason why we cannot restore Prangin Canal in Penang.
Today’s guest writer is Chau Loon Wai:
A good city always provides local residents and visitors alike with quality public realms that invite people to be there – people opt to be there, instead of being there out of necessity. The Prangin Canal is one very important water body in George Town, which had unfortunately been transformed into an open sewer, then conveniently covered, which then led to it being forgotten for too long a time; perhaps many young Penangites may not even be aware of its existence.
More and more cities around the world have become aware of the importance of water bodies in the city and have taken positive steps to right past wrong actions of turning the city’s back on the waterways in the city. Steps towards revitalising water bodies oftentimes involve demolishing even expensive structures (such as freeways and bad buildings). I hope the Penang state government can be persuaded to clean up and uncover the canal, conserve and adaptively reuse historical buildings around the area (crucially for residential or accommodation purposes) and transform the area into a major urban public place that belongs to the people – a living, sustainable urban community. Unless the state government is not serious about the long-term socioeconomic and ecological benefits to countless future generations of Penangites, they should seriously consider the potential and opportunities for creating better people-places in the city.
If you’re interested, please search in the Internet for “San Antonio Walk” (Texas, USA) and “Cheong Gye Cheon Restoration Project” (Seoul, Korea) for two quick examples of how cities invest(ed) in revitalising the city centre by capitalising positively on available waterways in the city (there are of course many more outstanding examples from which we can learn).
The Cheong Gye Cheon (a stream in the Seoul City Centre) project is especially worth looking into because it is a recent project that involved the demolition of an expensive 5.9km expressway that was built over the length of the stream late in the 1960s and completed in 1971. The elevated 5.9km expressway carried over 180,000 vehicles per day before its demolition and sceptics were hoping that traffic chaos in the city would result from the dismantling of the expressway but it turned out all well! The people celebrated its demolition in 2003 and by 2005, clean water flowed again in the stream and it was open to the public.
The stream is now among the most celebrated public places in the city and even more importantly, it becomes the seed that spawns even more revitalisation projects in the CBD of Seoul, which will see the city becoming a network of high quality, vital places for people.
We mustn’t repeat and perpetuate past mistakes of conveniently visually concealing dirty and ugly waterways in the city, which is like throwing the baby out together with the dirty water. What needs to be done is to clean up the Prangin Canal, sensitively redesign its surrounding environment (especially with respect to its historical context), and eventually open it up to the people. In the long term, the canal should become part of the blue-green network of high quality public places in George Town, and even the whole Penang Island.
The scale (width, length) and context of the Prangin Canal are of course different from the Cheong Gye Cheon in Seoul. The eventual design for the Prangin Canal should be of a more moderate scale, that may allow small boats to sail up to Komtar. (I remember seeing old pictures of boats being moored around “Sia-Boey”?) If Seoul can demolish 5.9km of elevated expressway that carried 180,000 vehicles with polluted water flowing below in the CBD and replace the corridor with a stream of clean water in which children can play, it would be a shame if we are unable to clean up the (perhaps 2km?) Prangin Canal, solve the traffic issue of narrowing Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong (for more pedestian spaces or widening of the canal) and revitalise the whole historical enclave on both sides of the canal.
By the way, could anyone advise whether there had been any public consultation prior to the construction of the “mall-like” project (whatever it is) over the Penang-Road-end of the Prangin Canal? I just had a glimpse of the structure when I passed by on my brief return to Penang a while ago. We really need a more holistic and context-sensitive approach to revitalising George Town.
I have more ideas which I would love to share especially if we eventually are able to persuade the people and state government to grab this hard-to-come-by opportunity to do something for the long-term good of Penang.