Friday, 14 January 2011

Inner city blues

I was reading in yesterday's newspapers that Lim Chong Keat, the main architect behind Komtar in George Town, had called on the state government to relook at the landmark's Phase 5 development that is slated for completion by 2013. He said the massive five-phase project which was launched in 1974 was in its final phase and "something must be done now before it's too late."

He claimed that the Penang government had deviated from the original plan and purpose of the project as proposed in the 1970s, which was to have an all-encompassing plan for urban renewal of the city so that the people of George Town are economically better off. The final phase would comprise an urban park - a "city within a city" - where all the five phases were to be linked by a landscaped rooftop garden meant to be a public space.

I don't believe there was any straying from the original objectives while his brother, Dr Lim Chong Eu, was running the state but once he was defeated in the 1990 General Elections by Lim Kit Siang and thereby lost his Chief Ministership, the subsequent BN government was the one that chose to forget all those objectives. That batch of politicians, emboldened by the fact that they had become the new leaders in Penang, probably thought they knew how to develop the Komtar land better.

Anyway, despite the rehabilitation of the older parts of Komtar, this is a place that I wouldn't want to visit if I can help it. What is there to do within Komtar? Those earliest phases of Komtar held its original soul. The traders who owned those small shoplots within Komtar's Phase Ia and Ib were the pioneers; they were the soul of Komtar. But then corporate privatisation crept in and we saw the Prangin Mall and the One Avenue shopping malls built. Once the former was built, the original Komtar, the part beneath the tower and the geodesic dome, became grossly neglected. All sorts of small traders were allowed to ply their stuff in the podium block with little control. Facilities were allowed to deteriorate. The lighting was so dark that it became an adventure to walk the corridors. The false ceiling boards, once broken, were never replaced. All thse, I remember of Komtar's decay.

And I really don't know the reason for allowing this One Avenue to be built, especially when it is directly next to the Prangin Mall. There is already a big glut of commercial activity within Komtar. What can possibly be there that cannot be found at Prangin Mall or further afield? Why allow the duplication when you know that it is the same department store or shops selling the same brands that will open? No doubt competition is good but when you have similar named shops selling the same items at the same prices, I think that sort of competition is really no competition at all. Last month, I walked into this One Avenue and within half an hour, I had walked out. Really, there's nothing really new. It may look really posh presently but in the next one or two years, chances are that it will befall the same fate of the Prangin Mall and become another cheap shopping centre with little sophistication.

I hadn't planned on this little rant. My original intention was to show these few pictures below which showed the amount of urban decay in the streets of George Town, practically within a stone's throw of Komtar. Of course, this place is on the other side of the Prangin canal, so is unaffected by the UNESCO world cultural heritage zoning and by extension, can be left to rot (who cares, right?), but this is no excuse at all. If redevelopment is in the works, why is it taking so long? Really, I've even no idea what's going on. The abandoned houses is a reflection of the failure of the city's planners, past and present.

I may upload more photos to my facebook account later.

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