Heritage conservation achievements in Penang — Joshua Woo Sze Zeng

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DECEMBER 4 — Just a short three months after Penang Hill was enlisted as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve, the state received an award of merit for 2021 Unesco Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

The international jury of heritage experts has picked Penang from 39 entries from 12 countries across the Asia Pacific. Penang is the only state from Malaysia that was honoured with this award this year.

This is the second time Penang received this prestigious award after the first one in 2008.[1]

Earlier this year, George Town has also picked up the Jean Paul L’allier Prize For Heritage award from the Organisation of World Heritage Cities.[2] Heritage conservation efforts in Penang are among the most renowned in the region.

Besides the local council, the Penang state government has established a specialist agency, the George Town World Heritage Incorporated to oversee the conservation and development work in the heritage zone.

Tourists are seen riding rented tandem bicycles with canopies around George Town’s heritage area on September 1, 2013. — Picture by K.E. Ooi
Tourists are seen riding rented tandem bicycles with canopies around George Town’s heritage area on September 1, 2013. — Picture by K.E. Ooi

Therefore, it is puzzling to read the piece ‘Decaying state of George Town’s Unesco World Heritage Site‘ by Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli (New Straits Times, 30 November 2021).

The author criticised Penang’s conservation efforts as compared to that of Melaka. However, it is evident that he showed no familiarity with the conservation works in Penang.

Within George Town’s core heritage zone alone, there are various significant projects that are currently going on, such as the strengthening of sea wall and place-making at the Esplanade, the restoration of Fort Cornwallis and the 140-year-old Penang Town Hall, and the Penang Bay urban regeneration development which has recently received RM41 million funding from the World Bank.

Other past efforts within the heritage zone include Sia Boey Urban Archaeological Park, back lane revitalisation, and the preservation of the Clan Jetties.

Religious sites in Penang are also recognised for their heritage conservation work, such as Masjid Kapitan Keling that won an award from the Malaysian Institute of Architects.

Outside of the George Town heritage zone, the Guar Kepah Archaeological Gallery in Kepala Batas is being constructed to house local archaeological findings including the one and only Neolithic skeleton found in the country, dated back 5,000 years ago.

The author’s potshots at the reclamation in Gurney Drive and the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) at Teluk Kumbar are misdirected.

Gurney Wharf is developed to create new recreational space for the public, while the southern reclamation project at Teluk Kumbar is Penang’s long-term climate adaptation plan for socioeconomic growth.  

 The author’s complete silence over the reclamation project in Melaka which is more than twice the size of PSR betrays his prejudice and one-sided evaluation.

* Joshua Woo is a former councillor in Penang.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

[1] https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/holistic-development-needed-penang

[2] https://www.ovpm.org/program/lallier-prize/

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