Widely known as the food paradise of Malaysia, Penang could offer a much-needed economic boost as the country strives to reach high-income status by 2024.
Malaysia witnessed an economic miracle over the past several decades. Poverty declined, the quality of life improved, social infrastructure expanded and the economy transitioned away from agriculture and commodities to manufacturing, services and all things digital. Today, Malaysia is one of the leading economies in Southeast Asia. To sustain its meteoric rise, Malaysia’s leaders must improve the quality of growth by creating new opportunities for the country’s large working-age population.
Penang is the catalyst for the next phase of growth. In 2018, the Penang State Government launched Penang 2030 – a four-pronged approach to boost the region’s flagging economic engines. The initiative aims to enhance livability, create new economic opportunities, empower people and sustain the environment. Central to that is a three-island development that has the potential to send positive ripples through Malaysia’s economy for years to come.
Building a Better Tomorrow
The Penang South Island (PSI) project embodies the social and economic goals at the heart of Penang 2030. Measuring 4,500 acres of state-owned land, the project will span three islands that comprise an advanced new ecosystem and serve as a model for the future of work and livability in Malaysia.
On the lifestyle front, PSI will deliver 20,000 new homes including affordable housing, mixed-used residential and landed residential. Future residents will enjoy over 13 kilometers of public beaches, 140 acres of coastal parks, 12 kilometers of cycling tracks and plenty of open green spaces. Smart city components including digital connectivity and energy management will future-proof infrastructure across the islands, while eco-conscious development will ensure a sustainable environment that takes the challenges of climate change into account.
PSI will attract a new wave of tourists to Penang, which is already one of Malaysia’s top tourism destinations. An idyllic waterfront area dubbed “Heart of the Island” will be the main draw with its public square, retail walk, convention center and Instagram-worthy views. It will also offer a vibrant mix of entertainment and lifestyle options that rival those in popular high streets around the world.
A robust integrated transit system will make it easy for residents and tourists to commute throughout PSI. The system will include highway, light rail transit, trams and water taxi services. Walkability and bike-ability also make personal mobility a great option for thoughtful connectivity.
A Place to Live, A Place to Work
Where electronics and manufacturing for low-value sectors once drove Penang’s economy, the future lies in advanced manufacturing and R&D facilities for the next generation of digital technologies in aim for high-value E&E sector.
PSI will include an 800-acre Smart Industrial Park that will create a range of new jobs for the country’s young population and draw global companies looking to expand their businesses and tap into the potential of Southeast Asia’s burgeoning middle class. The Smart Industrial Park will cater to companies producing everything from automotive electronics and mobile devices to cloud computing technology and digital medical devices.
The Smart Industrial Park will be a boon for companies looking for new industrial land to locate high-tech production facilities, house a campus for software and business services and much more. With 480 multinationals already operating in nearby Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone – an area that has driven economic growth in Penang for forty years – the challenge won’t be attracting companies, it will be finding space for everyone that wants to take advantage of what the Smart Industrial Park has to offer.
Laying the Foundations of the Future
The State Government of Penang kicked off the project with an international Masterplan Design Competition. The competition invited architects from around the world to partner with teams in Malaysia and pitch design masterplans for the islands.
The government received 124 submissions from 26 countries that included world leading architects and planners as well as experts in smart city engineering, design and more. In January, it announced five finalists and their Malaysian partners (listed in no particular order): BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group (Denmark) with Hijjas Architect & Planner; Foster + Partners (UK) with GDP Architects; MVRDV (the Netherlands) with aLM Architects; Tekuma Frenchman Urban Design (USA) with EOWON Architects; and UN Studio (the Netherlands) with Architects 61. The winner will be selected in May 2020.
Phase one of the PSI work is scheduled to commence in the second half of 2020, and will focus on developing the first 2,300-acre island over the course of ten years. Yet, the first benefits will come as soon as that begins. Reclamation during phase one is expected to create 9 billion ringgit worth of new construction jobs.
Throughout the course of its development and long after its completion, PSI will be a catalyst for Malaysia’s economy and help the country achieve high-income status along the way. Once PSI reaches its full potential, it will serve a model for how people in one of Asia’s most dynamic countries will live, work and play in the future.