In local happenings lately, we have read about a man who fell into the drain in Farlim and has caused serious injury to him. And apparently, this is not the first case in Penang. This has brought to our attention that what the Gerakan have raised and voiced out before is indeed important. Not only that we have raised bigger issues like Penang Transport Master Plan and Undersea Tunnel; but we have always felt the importance of local issues like drainage, cleanliness and so on that the DAP probably felt that it is not important.
If it is important to them, I believe these matters could have been solved by now; which probably we do not have the opportunity to bring up the issues.
Just about a week ago, a local activist with the name of Andrew, recorded a video on how a normal citizen in Penang would face daily being a pedestrian. He shared the video on social media and within a few hours, it was shared by more than 100 other people. It literally shows how concerned the people are regarding the matter.
Andrew has shown how problematic Penangite’s life would be as a pedestrian especially for those who depends on public transport. He took 1 hour and 20 minutes to travel from Farlim to Gurney Paragon by a public bus. There is lack of zebra crossings and it is very difficult to cross the roads. The walkway for the people was blocked by objects like plants, and he has to walk on the roads full of vehicles instead. These are among the few problems that pedestrian faces in Penang daily. The MBPP has boasted about their ‘Pedestrian is King’ campaign, so much so we wonder whether it is just rhetorical?
These issues may not seem as big as terrorism or corruption, but to me it is an issue of utmost importance as it involves the lives of the people, daily. Particularly, in a city where we have a growing number of population and incoming tourists. City design is not something new, but we’re still behind compared to many other cities.
Such issues of the city has been deliberately discussed, debated, and studied in many cities already. The questions of walkability, city design, placemaking, livability and similar issues which revolves around building a quality city.
With the current internet technology, we do not have to look far to learn from others.
30 years ago in Copenhagen, Denmark, wastewater from sewers and industrial companies has horribly polluted the water of its harbour. The city’s authorities then decided that it should be cleaned and serious efforts were taken up. Today, the harbour is a place where the citizens gather. People now interact, have paddleboats and even swim in the harbour now. Imagine if it could be done in our very own Sungai Pinang today.
In another city in Europe, Freiburg, the city was planned towards a strong bicycle infrastructure. That city has a comprehensive network of cycling routes. Ease of biking access was made throughout the city with many considerations that gives priorities towards biking. In Penang, we have only seen a controversially painted ‘inconvenient bicycle lane’ at an exceptionally high cost. With only that, the authorities claimed that Penang is a ‘bike-friendly’ city.
Not so far away to the south of us, Singapore has been one exemplary city that has created open, public space and improving outdoor comfort through the introduction of greenery. It is done through the government’s placemaking efforts which capitalizes on the local community’s assets, inspiration and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness and well being.
Back to our lovely Penang today, throughout the 8 years of DAP leadership, we have witnessed rapid developments; many high end properties rising up, being built by big time developers. The state government of today has shown that they allow free markets to flow, which is technically not wrong. But with no proper development guidelines, regulations and city planning, then problems arises. It seems that certain developers were waived from certain regulations under ‘special projects’. Although we may have seen many new, cool looking developments in Penang, but it does not necessarily shows a sign of a quality city being built.
What worries us now is that the free market is being left to freely shape our cities. We have to keep in mind that the Government should always be driven by addressing challenges and creating liveable space for the people. And private developers are driven by profit, which is common.
That is why one of the ideology of Gerakan is ‘Belief in free markets, but with state protection for the poor’. Today, ‘the poor’ does not only reflects the people, but also public spaces in Penang where has been exploited and many have been sold off to private developers.
As I have read in an interesting article about legacy, we as Penangites must make sure that our state government and city council builds a legacy that lasts in the city, and not build a legacy of developers.
This article has been published in Mandarin in Kwong Wah Yit Poh dated 18th November 2016.