Sense of Purpose

In this world, I rarely hear of any person who has never graduated from a university making a commencement address to graduating students. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg could be the only two exceptions.

It was only last week when Mark Zuckerberg made his commencement address at Harvard and it gives me the inspiration and hope of doing what may seem a long journey.

The key points of his speech were the challenge of creating a purpose. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.

When we look at ourselves, our families, our friends and our community, doesn’t it look pretty much the same?

Many wakes up in the morning, rush to work, brash through the traffic hour, back from work, rest for a couple of hours, sleep, and the same thing runs all over again on the next day. Sometimes they spend some rest, family time or some hobbies in the weekends.

There is this story of when John F Kennedy visited the NASA space center, he saw a janitor carrying a broom and he walked over and asked what he was doing. The janitor responded, “Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

The janitor could have grumbled about his job and low pay throughout his entire working life. But this janitor at the NASA space center decided to create a sense of purpose for himself. What if nobody cleans the space center, it becomes dirty and messes up the working environment? It could have influenced the health and working attitude of the engineers and astronauts. These small things could have made an impact to the mission of putting man on the moon.

This is what that has kept our society moving forward. It is our challenge, not only to create new jobs, but to create a renewed sense of purpose.

Pursuing meaningful projects together is one way to create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.

Meaningful projects can come in different forms.

The driver who chauffeured our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman around could have been seen just as a driver to some. But many never thought that he was the one that drove Tunku to important meetings that makes our nation’s independence successful.

The janitor at the Malaysia’s badminton training facility could have been only a cleaner, but he plays an important role ensuring the hygiene of the place, so that the players would not get ill.

The industrial sector of Penang would has been developed not only because of Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu; there are also his team of advisors, the state EXCOs, their assistants, and moreover the people of Penang who have put their tears and sweat working in the factories.

Many jobs could have been seen as job for us to earn a living. But if we put the sense of purpose into it, we could do great things.

As Mark Zuckerberg has said to the millenials who have just graduated, we have to also tell ourselves that it’s our turn to do great things.

We do not have to be a highly educated or attain a high level of skills to do great things. Use what we know and turn into a sense of purpose; then we could do great things.

What about putting our time educating poor children who have lack of access to education?

What if we could educate drivers to have a better driving etiquette? We could have reduce traffic jams and accidents.

How about getting the employees of a factory to conduct environmental friendly practices? Pollutions may have been reduced.

What if we could spend time discussing ideas and solutions for the community’s problems; and submits it to the government? This is what we call citizen participation; and this could be a new political culture that we can cultivate.

I believe these aims are achievable. Let’s do them all in a way that gives everyone in our society a role to be better; in creating a better city and community. Let’s do big things, not only to create progress, but to create purpose.

This article has been published in Mandarin in Kwong Wah Yit Poh dated 2nd June 2017.

Garden in the city

As I was watering and pruning my plants while making sure it is healthy in my small garden at my Pulau Tikus office, I was thinking of the possibility of Garden Cities in our lovely Penang state.

The ‘Garden City’ was initially introduced in 1898 by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the United Kingdom which contains proportionate areas of residences, industry, agriculture, open spaces and public parks.

Howard believes that overcrowding and deterioration of cities was one of the troubling issues of their time and therefore it is important to provide the people an alternative to ‘crowded, unhealthy cities’. Despite his ideas that were more than a century old, it has proven that is still relevant today as we are still facing such a situation.

Many of the cities in western countries still adopt Howard’s idea of garden city as of today. As a matter of fact, it is so important that his writings has become a basic text for town planning students.

While the urban planning method of Howard may go into very details in his book, ‘Garden Cities of Tomorrow’, let us not look too far within yet.

Looing at the reality of Penang, despite the state government’s slogan ‘Cleaner, Greener Penang’, I believe it is still far from the ideas of Ebenezer Howard’s ‘Garden Cities’.

Trees were removed to build and widen the roads; hill slopes were destroyed for developments, beaches and the nearby waters reclaimed for unsustainable developments, traffic jams, flash floods, unsanitary conditions, haphazard developments: these are all failing signs of ‘Cleaner, Greener, Penang’.

Allocating budgets for greeneries may be one way to actively develop an environment-friendly city, but there are many simpler ways in looking at encouraging a ‘garden city’. It is not just about spending huge amounts of government budget in opening up massive parks with huge publicity. At times it is the small public areas that make up a real green city. There are many areas such as sidewalks, below an overhead bridge, pedestrian bridge and many more which can be a good place to make up as areas for the greens.

Authorities can also opt to implement the ‘reward or punish factor’ to push for the green movement. Incentives can be rewarded to the private sector or private property owners who take the effort to create a garden within their area. Rooftops and walls of buildings are the areas that are practically nothing on it and it can be used as a garden. There are indeed many countries that have took the initiative to promote rooftop or vertical gardening. In relation to that, if the private sector doesn’t comply with certain ‘green regulations’, they will have to oblige to pay ‘green tax’.

Farming in Penang may not seem to be a lucrative industry in Penang due to many known reasons, but I think urban-farming should be promoted in the state. Urban farming not only creates a place with greeneries; but it also reconnects urban-dwellers with the origin of food. Besides that, the people could have save some of their living costs by planting and farming for their own vegetables.

Environment and the greens may not be seen as attractive as other sectors which have more benefits in terms of economic value; but they do provide the values that give the people a quality, healthier and happier life.

As I have mentioned in my previous article of leaving a legacy in the city; today I want to reiterate that preserving and creating green spaces in the city is very urgent to leave behind a positive legacy for generations to come.

This article has been published in Mandarin in Kwong Wah Yit Poh dated 2nd December 2016.

Building a legacy in the city

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.