George Town is Malaysia’s oldest city. It has over 200 years of history as a global and regional trading hub, but in 2007 it was in a state of urban decay. Think City was established in 2009 to arrest and reverse the decay. It conceived the George Town Grants Programme (GTGP) and received a RM20 million allocation from the federal government to spearhead urban regeneration in Penang and transform the state into an “engine of future growth”. Penang was to serve as a test bed for implementing the nation’s strategy of “unlocking the development potential within cities through urban renewal and redevelopment of brownfield sites.”
Today, Think City continues to transform George Town into a more economically resilient, clean and inclusive city. Its approach of building partnerships and trust across local communities and the private and public sectors, as well as leveraging space, the economy and people, continues to shape all its initiatives.
As of December 2013, Think City has committed some RM16.4 million to 206 projects. In 2013, Think City focused its efforts on shared spaces and projects that bring people together. Initiatives like the inner city housing project are examples of interventions with long-term implications. In addition to the GTGP, Think City has also been the pioneer in providing innovative thinking on urban transformation and on shaping policy both at local and national levels. For the first time in Malaysia, the need for growth to be concentrated in cities and how well-managed cities could create positive outcomes is being seriously discussed.
PEOPLE ARE THE LIFEBLOOD OF A CITY
In Penang, existing inner city, lower income tenants face the threat of being driven out of their houses due to higher property values and rental. In 2011, Think City piloted an affordable housing project involving 10 shop houses owned by the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple. These shop houses are tenanted by families who had been there for generations. Working in partnership with the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights (ACHR), Think City extended grants to the temple trustee, while ACHR provided funding to the tenants. On 6 December 2013, this approach proved effective when tenants were given a 10-year tenancy agreement with no increase in their rental.
Think City’s ethos has always been about building strong public-private partnerships in a relatively short timeframe and on a modest budget. After three years of implementing a broad range of urban regeneration projects, Think City has the ability to fine-tune its approach as well as the delivery mechanism. It envisages that the ideas that have been adapted and implemented in Penang can be applied in other cities in Malaysia.