Think City, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

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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), it works closely with local authorities, communities, institutions, the private sector and global experts. Working in partnership to plan and implement programmes to rejuvenate cities and solve contemporary urban issues, it has a particular emphasis on historic city centres.

After George Town and Melaka were jointly recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, interest surged in the conservation and celebration 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.

The 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 and business types, as well as the nature and location of residences and vacant premises.

Over a four-year period, the GTGP disbursed more than RM16 million in 240 grants and special projects for public realm improvements, conservation, capacity building and content development.

Today, George Town is a huge success with a vastly improved urban environment. Through demonstration projects, the GTGP provided a catalyst for city-wide urban regeneration. The experience and skills gained, and the market confidence stimulated by co-investments, triggered international attention in the worlds’ media on the renaissance of Penang.

Think City’s principles are based upon higher-level, strategic thinking about cities in general, while its approach and spirit has always been ‘local’, ‘entrepreneurial’ and ‘experimental’, adjusting flexibly as challenges arise and new information emerges during the course of its projects. This ‘entrepreneurial DNA’ has underpinned the second phase of its 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, it has evolved from dispensing grants to more actively shaping and supporting other aspects of city-making, in partnership with local authorities, community organisations and the private sector.

Through collaboration and innovation, it has continued to develop progressive thinking, experimenting with different approaches to strengthen its operations. It is continuing to build successful local, regional and international partnerships alongside growing community participation transforming the city-making movement in Malaysia.

Its Vision

To make cities more people-friendly by ensuring that change acts as a catalyst in city planning and development.

Its Mission
  • To build a movement advocating quality in city-making across communities, government and the private sector.
  • To foster community participation and engagement in city-making to increase citizens’ ownership and excitement about their cities.
  • To initiate new ideas through experiments and demonstration projects supported by data to promote evidence-based policymaking.
  • To develop ‘city-makers’ who are entrepreneurial, inclusive and empathic and build the capacity of city-making professionals nationally based on a common philosophy and values.
  • To ensure the sustainability of its work by rigorously tracking outcomes, building partnerships and diversifying sources of funding.
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