The Newsletter 57 Summer 2011

George Town: A historic urban landscape in Southeast Asia

Khoo Salma Nasution

George Town, the capital of Penang, Malaysia, is now a World Heritage Site. How it was built and the way it should be conserved or developed are issues constantly contested as part of a discussion on the extent to which it is possible to acknowledge the contributions of diverse peoples, mostly migrants. The ‘Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca’, comprising the former British Straits Settlements ports of George Town and Melaka, were jointly listed by UNESCO in July 2008. Melaka dates from 1400 and has seen Portuguese, Dutch and British rule, whereas George Town, Penang, dates from 1786 and flourished in the era of British expansionism. Both cities illustrate the co-evolution of Asian family business and the shop-house form in Southeast Asia. The attainment of world heritage status for George Town was partly due to long-term, bottom-up lobbying by the Penang Heritage Trust and the arts education group Arts-Ed, as well as private conservation efforts. The listing is now celebrated with a  monthlong George Town Festival in July.