Current Issue

Social and Cultural Implications of Gentrification in George Town Penang

Yuen Beng LEE, Thomas BARKER, and Yat Kuan LAM
IJCCI volume 5, issue 1, 2017

The listing of George Town, the capital city of Penang, Malaysia as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and repeal of the Control of Rent Act (1997) altered the city’s cultural and social landscapes. Since then, restoration work on age-old colonial buildings led to an economic boom through an influx of artists, bohemians, tourists, entrepreneurs, and hipsters. Creative spaces such as Hin Bus Depot and Whiteaways Arcade mushroomed and are populated by galleries and spaces. Festivals such as the George Town Festival and George Town Literary Festival gained importance in immortalizing the past, present, and future arts and culture of Penang. Gentrification works also stimulated the sale of properties within and around the heritage site. While the increase in property sales may have helped the state’s economy, the negative effects of gentrification are often ignored. This paper examines the gentrification process and its social and cultural implications for the city of George Town. The research findings discuss how the increase in property value has led to increased rental costs, evictions, and closure of traditional trades as the owners of such properties, who are often foreigners, find it more profitable to sell off their shop houses or to convert them into boutique hotels and hipster cafes. The escalation in rental costs has driven tenants who have rented such shop houses for generations to relocate to the suburbs. This transformation of traditional businesses has led to a decline in local cultural identities as residents and age-old businesses are forced to relocate while foreigners buy up properties in the city.


Keywords: Gentrification, Creative spaces, Eviction, Local cultures, George Town, Heritage, Malaysia