Promising Initiatives at the Local Government Level

By Ooi Tze Xiong

September 2023 FEATURE
main image

WITH ITS AMBITIOUS goal of becoming a “Family-focused Green and Smart State that Inspires the Nation”, the Penang Island City Council faces numerous challenges such as an aging population, climate change events and playing catch-up with digital innovations.

Towards An Age-Friendly City

Penang is the most rapidly ageing state in Malaysia after Perak. As of 2020, 14.9% of Penang’s population comprises of citizens aged 60 and above. While Penang has been named one of the best islands in the world to retire on by International Living, there is still much the state government can do to become an even more age-friendly city, especially in light of Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang’s (MBPP) recent application to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities.

The City Council of Penang Island’s Strategic Plan 2021-2025 identifies eight areas relevant to age-friendly cities on which to focus their planning—outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information as well as health services and community support. The State and MBPP, in recent years, have improved accessibility in the built environment for the elderly, such as building user-friendly neighbourhood parks and a transit home for the homeless, as well as ensuring that public facilities and transportations are wheelchair-friendly.

There are also a few retirement villages in Penang such as Eden at Botanica CT, which features a purpose-built Active Living Resort that provides accommodation and services to active seniors as well as professional nursing care residence for those who require constant care.

Building a more inclusive infrastructure entailing mixed developments, multigenerational housing, enhancing accessibility through a more robust public transport system and social inclusivity are some aspects that MBPP and MBSP may look further into.

Countering Climate Change

In an officiating speech for the IMT-GT Sustainable Urban Development Framework Seminar in 2019, Chief Minister, Chow Kon Yeow, defined a green city as an “area that is resilient and inclusive, able to manage its natural resources well, promotes low carbon growth to remain competitive but, at the same time, ensuring the livelihood of its citizens”.

The Sungai Ara Linear Park in Bayan Lepas—established under a taskforce which consists of MBPP, Indah Water Konsortium and the Penang Green Council, among other government departments—has proven to be a successful pilot project for a blue-green corridor that acts as a temporary storage of storm water to reduce flooding, and with the active involvement of the community.

Apart from that, the Penang Green Connectors Project, helmed by George Town Conservation and Development Corporation (GTCDC) and MBPP, which will see the 18,000ha-development of various parks and amenities on the island, aims to create coastal parks stretching from Tanjung Tokong to Batu Maung. Once completed, the route will significantly increase waterfront recreational amenities for Penang residents on top of creating ecological corridors which will have cooling effects.

In 2020, Penang’s climate adaptation programme centred on nature-based solutions, developed by MBPP, Think City, UN Habitat and Energy, as well as the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change, also won the inaugural Climathon Global Awards under the Cities category. The achievement comes with a RM273,585 cash prize, which was used to plant climate-resilient species of trees, introduce upstream retention to prevent flooding, and raise awareness through social programmes.

Digital Innovations at the Forefront

Penang is among six city councils in Malaysia that will enhance its smart city and urban development plan through real-time data, communication and digital technology with the country’s first centralised citizen services solution project. The platform, which will be collaboratively developed by digital infrastructure solution provider, Quantela Inc, and Malaysianbased Geographic Information System (GIS) provider, MAP2U, will enable Malaysian authorities to access insights and data analytics on a single dashboard to collate, control data and facilitate decision making.

Phase one of the project—expected to be completed by December 2025—includes creating a central platform that unifies urban observatory and digital citizen services platforms, and integrates with IoT and non-IoT components across these city councils.

Other than that, MBPP and ManagePay System Berhad (MPay) launched the first phase of the PEARL—One Touch Penang app in April 2023, which consolidates all of MBPP’s as well as other state agencies’ services onto a single platform, and is equipped with e-wallet and marketplace facilities. Functions of the app include paying utility bills, mobile phone top-up services, Link Bike booking around George Town as well as access to the police department, fire and rescue department, hospitals, et cetera.

Still relatively new and untested, it remains to be seen if the PEARL app will live up to expectations. If managed and executed well, it could simplify and facilitate bureaucratic processes in the state.

Ooi Tze Xiong

currently delves into content creation and enjoys piloting drones as a hobby. After years of sojourning in cities across Malaysia and Singapore, he eventually decided to call Penang home.