By Ooi Kee Beng
It has now been two years since this magazine, Penang Economic Monthly, was revamped into a new colourful product meant for wider circulation and sale.
The reasons why that had to be done are still valid. In fact, they are more valid than ever. After March 8, 2008, when a majority of the people of Penang decided to have a change of government, it was impossible not to imagine that a new era was dawning for the state.
As a result, the Socio-Economic and Environmental Research Institute (SERI) had adopted a more pro-active stance in response to this. Besides, in July that same year, George Town was finally placed, along with Malacca, on the Unesco World Heritage List. This was the culmination of long and painful years of work put in by the state’s many dedicated heritage activists.
Furthermore, the following year saw the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Open Skies policy coming into place. This led to a steadily increasing number of flights coming to Penang. This has done wonders for tourism in the state. Plans had already been made for Penang’s airport to be expanded. These are on track and will be realised later this year.
The second bridge joining Batu Kawan with Batu Maung is also being built, and foreign investments have been flowing into the state as never before. However, some issues have surfaced which need comprehensive planning and serious thinking to solve. These include the bad traffic situation on the island, which is expected to get worse once the second bridge is open; and the housing situation. Developers are building as never before on the island. What is worrying is that they focus largely on the higher end of the market. This means that absent investors will own much of these new residential areas while the middle and working classes will find it hard to afford a good home on the island.
For the island’s economy to continue growing and for the city to maintain good and sustainable living, growth in the young population is totally necessary.
Beyond Penang, changes are aplenty; in the country the federal government is trying to come to grips with the need to reform and the need to stay in power. Regionally and globally, the economic crisis throws a long shadow; while the Arab spring has inspired some and frightened others.
All in all, an exciting time lies ahead for think-tankers. To announce its new orientation and ambitions, SERI will now be known as Penang Institute, and its monthly magazine will drop “economic” from our name. We are renamed Penang Monthly to reflect better the breadth of the issues we discuss and the broad interests of our readers.