Penang may soon set up the country’s first public speakers’ corner.
(I use the term ‘public’ because a speakers’ corner at the Perdanasiswa Complex in Universiti Malaya has just been re-opened after about 40 years.)
The Penang state government said yesterday that it was thinking of a permanent stage at the Esplanade for candlelight vigils, open forums and demonstrations. It would be at a distance from traffic, said a report in today’s Sun.
“The stage can be used on request by anybody, provided it has not been reserved for other events,” said exco member Chow Kon Yeow, who added that a committee may be set up to liaise with NGOs in this matter.
Now this is a positive development, especially if the state government folks are going to discuss the exact location with civil society and the public – but why do we need a stage? In London, the Speakers’ Corner does not require any prior request or approval for speakers to address whoever is willing to listen. On weekends, anyone can step up on a crate (no stage is needed) and speak to whoever cares to listen. At any one time, there could be around half a dozen different speakers animatedly addressing small crowds at different spots in the area while engaging with or ignoring hecklers. We should not follow the farcical Singapore ‘Speakers’ Corner’.
All the same, the loss of the fine public space in front of Dewan Sri Pinang still saddens me.
The state government yesterday clarified that the ‘candle-light square’ was fenced off as the area had just been landscaped with “ornamental vegetation”. In reality, much of this area has already been paved and tiled; the landscaping is mainly around the fringes.
Fencing sprouting up last year – Photo by Anil
Landscaping should result in public spaces being enhanced rather than fenced up to keep the public out. Which raises the question, was the state government even aware of this fencing project? Or was this something decided and implemented by the state secretariat? It wasn’t the Penang Municipal Council’s decision, a councillor told me. Please dismantle this fencing. It is an eye-sore that is not in keeping with George Town’s world heritage city status.
In another development:
The Penang Island draft Local Plan, which was prepared by a consultant in KL, is now being revised by the state government to put in higher density in certain areas, in the name of providing a bigger catchment area for public transport corridors. Now higher density is fine if you have an effective and integrated public transport system already – or about to be put – in place; otherwise we will be saddled with both higher density (which will no doubt please the developers) and congested streets.
The Penang Munipal Council had approved the draft Local Plan without those higher denisity changes; its position was that higher density should only be allowed when we have genuine public transport corridors, the same councillor told me.
Penangites must scrutinise this Local Plan carefully when it is eventually put on display.
Something to watch out for:
A controversial plan to build a 37-storey building on a steep hill-slope near Shamrock Beach in Batu Ferringhi is now being looked at by the Penang Municipal Council. The Council may organise a session to hear objections if it receives negative feedback from five neighbouring landowners.