COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Leveraging the Value of Heritage in Malaysia through Placemaking

Oct 20, 2014
Dec 14, 2017
PPS Senior Vice President Cynthia Nikitin conducting a workshop in Malaysia | Photo credit Think City

Think City, an urban regeneration group based in Georgetown, Penang, is making big waves in the Placemaking world. Founded in 2009, Think City has been helping Georgetown, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, preserve its cultural history while also creating an economically and socially vibrant city, and we are happy to now be officially working with them towards Placemaking in Penang.

Georgetown, Penang’s capitol city, is filled to the brim with cultural and national gems. Named after Britain’s King George III, the city was founded in 1786 by the British East India Company and today is the second-largest metropolitan area in Malaysia, behind Kuala Lumpur. Once the center of a lucrative, Chinese Secret Society opium trade, Georgetown is now a tourist hot spot. With destinations such as Kek Lok Si Temple (the largest Buddhist temple in SE Asia), Fort Cornwallis, and fabulously ornate historical mansions, Georgetown never leaves its globetrekking visitors wanting for cultural stimulation. With its recent emphasis on tourism, the city has sought innovative ways to maintain its cultural heritage. Think City is on the cutting edge of placemaking, and is helping Georgetown maintain and celebrate its natural vibrancy.

Placemaking in action in Malaysia | Photo credit Think City

Think City has helped develop plans to ensure that low-income tenants do not fall victim to rapidly increasing property prices brought on by Georgetown’s recent UNESCO induction. The group has helped in piloting community arts programs and in funding local festivals. They have analyzed local markets and used BIDs (Business Interest Districts) to enable development and government groups to increase economic growth using a ground-up approach. By making grants easy to obtain through increased transparency, Think City has increased community pride by encouraging heritage restoration projects.

"What’s more important in such a project is the engagement of the community as they are the ones who will keep the place alive and maintain it for the years to come, ensuring its sustainability" - Think City program manager Daniel Lim

Deputy-President of the Heritage Trust of Malaysia, Laurence Loh is very active in heritage work across Malaysia and is a member of the Penang Heritage Trust. He believes the success of Think City comes from good corporate culture and transparency, which affects every aspect of their operation, including their ability to effect positive change. We believe in Think City’s ability to effect change, and are pleased to announce that we joined them in signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with them on September 25th, 2014 for a period of 30 months. A MoU is an official statement between two parties that establishes a partnership. It is not legally binding, but it carries some serious weight. What this means is that we are going to work together with Think City to further Placemaking efforts in Southeast Asia.

Hamdan Abdul Majeed, Executive Director of Think City, looks on as Fred Kent of Project for Public Spaces, signs the MoU | Photo by Think City

Our first goal with Think City was to train their staff in Placemaking ideas and techniques. We did this through the analysis of three key areas in Georgetown: Little India, the BIDs, and Armenian Park.

All of these spaces were doing okay, but were not living up to their full potential as places. It was our job to help Think City develop new ways of thinking about community-based planning. One of our longer-term goals is to help them disseminate Placemaking ideas throughout Malaysia by creating a community of practice among Placemakers. We will also help Think City advocate with different levels of government to develop high-quality public places nationwide. By developing strategies, pooling resources, and forming partnerships, we hope to accomplish many joint goals in the coming years.


Hamdan and Fred after the MoU signing | Photo by Think City


This MoU is based on years of working with Think City including workshops and seminars aimed towards taking core values of heritage and applying them to Placemaking. We are proposing to collaborate on a  program that creates a community of practice amongst Placemakers in Malaysia, and potentially the region, including planners, designers, community advocates, economic development specialists, cultural actors, historic preservationists, etc. 

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