Dirty, poor, dangerous, overcrowded, teeming with drug addicts and gangsters… these are common perceptions of the Rifle Range Flats in Air Itam. The flats which were completed in the 1970s were one of Penang’s earliest low cost housing projects and were once the tallest buildings in the state – ironically, a symbol of hope for Penang’s urban poor. The nine compact high rise blocks (which range between 17 and 18 stories) were constructed out of prefabricated concrete blocks and considered an engineering marvel of their time.
Despite the shabbiness around the edges, Rifle Range is teeming with life and energy. While the area attracted young working families in the 1970s and 1980s, the demographics have since undergone a dramatic shift , today’s typical Rifle Range inhabitant is more likely to be a senior citizen whose own kids have flown the coop. Everywhere you turn, groups of elderly folk gather to share a chat, eat, drink, read the newspapers and watch the world go by.
The low cost apartments were not built with any carparks and today car owners have to park along the road and in the lot of a demolished building a distance from their tower blocks. However, Rifle Range is well connected by public transport and is served by four Rapid Penang bus routes.