Penang's Walkability in Numbers

By Syafiqah Nazurah Mukhtar, Ng Kar Yong

September 2021 STATISTICS
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A STUDY BY Stanford University from 2017 found Malaysia to be among the most inactive nations.1 It ranked third-last in the average number of steps taken per day, just slightly more than Saudi Arabia and Indonesia (Figure 1). Malaysians simply don't like moving about. Now, whether the figure is scientifically determined or not as being optimal in keeping you in good health, walking 10,000 steps daily has been suggested and widely accepted as a standard exercise for urban dwellers wishing to keep fit.

The study also showed that while the prevalence of obesity is inversely linked to levels of physical activeness, it has a stronger correlation with that of activity inequality.2 This implies that if two countries have similar average daily steps, obesity prevalence tends to be lower for the country with lower activity inequality. Furthermore, activity inequality is also associated with a city's walkability, a concept that is gaining in popularity. The more walkable a city is, the more economically sustainable it is. Examples of relevant factors run the gamut from traffic and road conditions, to the presence of public green spaces. The following section focuses on Penang Island's public parks.3

Public Green Spaces

Penang Island has 265 public parks and green spaces, covering an estimated area of 239 hectares (ha)4; and a national park covering 2,563 ha.5 Collectively, this spans a total area of 2,802 ha. Neighbourhood parks account for 60% of all types of parks, followed by pocket parks (26%) and fields (6%). Area-wise, recreational parks constitute 44%, with neighbourhood parks making up 25% of the total area (Table 1).

Bayan Lepas has the most number of parks, although Teluk Bahang and George Town boast the largest areas; this is mainly attributable to the Penang National Park and Penang City Park (formerly Youth Park), respectively.

But open green spaces alone are not enough. Maintenance and accessible facilities must also be considered. There are seven main recreational and forest parks in the Island with a wide offering of outdoor activities (Table 2).

Other Walkability Factors


Shaded footpaths encourage more walking. According to the Penang Island City Council (MBPP), 14,169 trees are planted along the streets and in the parks of the Island, with about 92% in the Timur Laut district and the remaining in the Barat Daya district.6

Public transport

Public transport connectivity is another important factor for a walkable environment. As shown in Figure 2, public bus services are concentrated in areas such as George Town, Batu Maung, Air Itam, Paya Terubong, etc. But there remains a lack of connectivity between any of the two areas, which deters Penangites from using public transportation and thus, preventing the city from becoming walkable.

Given the small size of the Island, the idea of walkability should not be confined only to its heritage zone. By enhancing the public transportation system and access to its open green spaces, Penang as a whole has the potential to be an exceedingly more walkable state.

  • Tim Althoff, Rok Sosic, Jennifer L. Hicks, Abby C. King, Scott L. Delp, Jure Leskovec. (2017). Large-scale physical activity data reveal worldwide activity inequality. Nature, 547 (7663).
  • Activity inequality uses the same concept as income inequality, referring to the differences in the level of physical activeness within a population.
  • Parks in Seberang Perai will be covered in a future issue of Penang Monthly.
  • Data is obtained from findings by Penang Institute and the Penang Geographic Information Centre (PeGIS). The information was updated as of September 2019, and is preliminary.
  • This includes both land and sea areas. Source: Penang_National_Park, accessed 26 Jul 2021.
  • As of July 28, 2021. Author notes that this number alone is unable to give any insights. However, data (such as urban tree canopy) is unavailable to make comparisons with other cities or states.
Syafiqah Nazurah Mukhtar

is an Urban and Regional Planning graduate from Universiti Sains Malaysia. She is currently pursuing her PhD and is a project researcher at Penang Institute.

Ng Kar Yong

is a statistician at Penang Institute who loves art and nature.