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The heritage battles of Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Melaka in Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur
Issue Date: 
Blackburn, K. (2012). The heritage battles of Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Melaka in Malaysia. In C.H. Chang, B.S. Wu, K. Irvine, & K. Chatterjea (Ed.), Proceedings Southeast Asian Geography Association Conference 2012 (p. 34-60). Singapore: Southeast Asian Geography Association
This paper examines the political battles over heritage in Penang, Kuala Lumpur
and Melaka since Malaysian independence. These preceded the successful
listing of George Town in Penang and Melaka as World Heritage in July 2008,
helping raise public consciousness on the value of built heritage in Malaysia. The
decision to make George Town and Melaka World Heritage cities was taken in
1998 by the Malaysian government in conjunction with the Penang and Melaka
State governments after a long succession of heritage battles led by Malaysian
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). The key heritage battles include the
1984 galvanising of the Chinese community against the development of Bukit
China in Melaka. For Penang, the focus is on the protest against rapid urban
redevelopment in George Town during the real estate boom of the early 1990s.
According to architect and Vice-President of Badan Warisan Malaysia (the
Malaysian Heritage Trust), Laurence Loh, speaking in 1996, ‘More old buildings
have been knocked down in Penang in the last five years than in the last 30
years’. The paper traces the role of NGOs in these heritage battles. The creation
of the Badan Warisan Malaysia (BWM) in Kuala Lumpur during 1983 and the
Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) in 1985 are examined. The paper also surveys the
heritage battles in the 1970s and 1980s before the creation of the BWM and PHT.
These were fought by other NGOs, such as the Consumers Association of
Penang (CAP), formed in 1969, Institut Masyarakat (the community institute),
organised in the mid-1970s, and Aliran, founded in 1977. These Malaysian
NGOs pursued heritage conservation as part of a broader agenda of what they referred to as ‘sustainable development’. They rejected the model of
development advocated by Malaysian councils and state governments, as well
as property developers that meant destroying what the NGOs saw as heritage
areas and replacing them with modern shopping complexes, office towers, and
tourist theme parks. The paper evaluates the impact of the Malaysian heritage
NGO’s ideas of ‘sustainable development’ across several decades.
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