Think City, George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Think City is a community-focused urban regeneration organisation based in George Town, Malaysia, with operations in Kuala Lumpur, Butterworth, and Johor Bahru. A subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional Berhad (the investment arm of the Ministry of Finance) and funded by Yayasan Hasanah (Khazanah’s foundation), we work closely with local authorities, communities, institutions, private entities, and global experts to trial, plan, and implement programmes to rejuvenate cities and solve contemporary urban issues with an emphasis on historic city centres.
After George Town and Melaka were jointly recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, the momentum surged for the conservation, celebration and protection of the cities’ unique heritage. A year later, Think City was born with RM20 million from the Ministry of Finance to launch the George Town Grants Programme (GTGP) designed to spearhead urban regeneration. The programme focused on promoting community engagement to preserve and celebrate heritage through grants and technical support.
Think City’s first step was to understand the city, its people, and its issues through baseline research and cultural mapping. This was the first fact-based “audit” of its kind to be conducted for any city in Malaysia, documenting the condition of buildings, types of business, as well as the nature and location of residences and vacancies.
Over a four-year period, the GTGP disbursed more than RM16 million to 240 grants and special projects for public realm improvement, conservation, capacity building and content development.
Today, George Town is a vastly different urban environment. The demonstrative nature of the GTGP projects, the know-how and skills that have been developed, and the market confidence stimulated by co-investments has successfully provided a catalyst for city-wide urban regeneration.
Penang’s success story has garnered international attention in recent years, including coverage in the New York Times and the Guardian, as well as receiving tourism accolades from CNN and Lonely Planet.
Think City’s principles have consistently rested upon higher-level thinking about cities in general, while its approach and spirit has always been ‘local’, ‘entrepreneurial’ and ‘experimental’, adjusting as implementation challenges arise, and new information emerges during the course of our work. This “entrepreneurial DNA” naturally underpins the second phase of our evolution.
Following the success and experience gained from the George Town Grants Programme, in 2014 Think City expanded to Butterworth, Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur. Today, we have evolved from dispensing grants to more actively shaping and supporting other aspects of citymaking, in partnership with local authorities, community organisations and the private sector.
Through close collaboration and sustained innovation, we have continued to develop citymaking know-how while experimenting with different approaches to strengthen our methodology. We are now beginning to see the early stages of regeneration, and we continue to build successful local, regional and international partnerships alongside growing community participation to transform the city-making movement in Malaysia.
To make cities more people-friendly by catalysing change in the way cities are planned, developed, and celebrated.
- Build a movement to advocate quality in city-making across communities, government and the private sector.
- Foster community participation and engagement in city-making to increase citizens’ ownership and excitement about their cities.
- Initiate new ideas through experiments and demonstration projects and programmes, supported by data to promote evidence-based policymaking.
- Develop ‘city-makers’ who are entrepreneurial, inclusive and empathic to broaden the base of city-making professionals with similar mindsets and values across the country.
- Ensure sustainability of our work and impact by rigorously tracking outcomes, expanding delivery partners and diversifying sources of funding.