The results of a competition to come up with the best urban renewal design for the congested and run-down Rifle Range area in Penang will be revealed on 4 November.
Rifle Range is one of the state’s oldest low-cost apartment projects, and when completed in the 1970s, the 17-18 storey blocks, were among the tallest buildings in the state. (Did you know that Rifle Range got its name because the site was originally used for target practice back in the 1950s?) The nine blocks contain one- or two-bedroom pigeon-hole apartments, measuring about 400 square feet each. Haphazard hawker stalls and parking of vehicles add to the general sense of congestion.
The design competition, which closed on 22 September, has received 57 entries (17 from overseas), of which 22 have been shortlisted.
The local government hopes that this urban renewal project will be a benchmark for transforming other state low-cost flats. So far, it seems the local government hasn’t decided whether to tear down the existing buildings or refurbish them.
I hope the plans will include a strong public transport component.
If the refurbishment is done right and if residents are consulted and their views incorporated, it would be a positive move in transforming Penang. After all, a poor built environment may breed all kinds of social problems.
The general decline in foreign direct investment could also be a blessing as it could pave the way for public and private funds to be mobilised into projects that really benefit and empower the people. Apart from urban renewal, such projects could focus on public transport, public health care (as opposed to medical tourism), affordable housing, food security, meaningful education, skills development and arts and culture. All these sectors can generate jobs and improve human dignity.
Residents of other low-cost flats in the state – many of which are poorly maintained – will be watching closely to see how the Rifle Range renewal works out.
The urban renewal design competition was organised by the state government, the MPPP, Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia Northern Chapter (PAM NC) and the Malaysian Institute of Planners.
An exhibition of the entries is now being held at City Hall daily, and from 1 November, the display moves to the Town Hall. It might be interesting to hop over and see what could be in store for Rifle Range.