Gentrifying George Town Penang: Foreigners In, Locals Out


  • Lee Yuen Beng Universiti Sains Malaysia
  • Thomas Barker University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
  • Lam Yat Kuan Han Chiang College


Since George Town, capital city of Penang, Malaysia was listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site; age-old colonial buildings have been vigorously restored. Gentrification, whilst boosting the social, cultural and economic landscapes of the city through the arrivals of artists, tourists and investors, has also stimulated the sale of properties within and around the Heritage site. While the increase in the sales and purchase of real estate, in particular, centuries old shop houses or “tiam chu†in George Town seem favourable towards the state’s economy, there are certain negative effects to gentrification often not discussed. This increase of property value has directly led increased rental costs, evictions and closing down 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. The increase in rental costs have also led to tenants who have been renting such shop houses for generations to relocate to the suburbs. This transformation of traditional businesses has directly led to the decline of local cultural identities as residents and age-old businesses are forced to relocate whilst foreigners own more properties in the city. In short, George Town is beginning to transform into a tourist town that lacks its original charms of a living cultural heritage. This paper examines how the increase of property values and escalating rental costs through gentrification works in George Town affects local residents and businesses.

Keywords: Gentrification, Eviction, Culture, George Town, Heritage, Malaysia