Protecting Penang’s cultural heritage with smart mapping technology

Penang’s rich colonial heritage and globally recognised architecture have been transformed into a virtual smart map to support the preservation and monitoring of George Town’s cultural legacy.

George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) with their mission to preserve, protect and promote the George Town World Heritage Site (GTWHS) have developed an Integrated Heritage Database System (IHDS)using smart mapping technology – also known as Geographic Information System (GIS) technology - from geospatial solutions provider Esri Malaysia.

IHDS leverages the same software behind the design and development of the world’s leading military, law enforcement agencies and smart cities.

GTWHI research officer Muhammad Hijas Sahari said the technology enables policymakers to monitor and enhance conservation efforts by creating a virtual map-based inventory of Penang’s heritage sites, sourced from local municipal agencies’ data.

“Prior to the map’s implementation, we were concerned by several commercial developments underway surrounding George Town which did not have the legal approval from local authorities,” Mr Sahari said.

“These developments threatened GTWHS’ Outstanding Universal Values – which are i) the multi-cultural trading port town; ii) the coexistence of multi-cultural heritage and traditions both tangible and intangibles; and iii) the uniqueness of the architecture, culture and townscape without parallel anywhere,” he said.

“In addition, they also hindered the ongoing conservation efforts undertaken by GTWHI, government agencies, the private sector, and local communities around George Town.”

“Previously, the majority of information on heritage sites, conservation activities and commercial developments was only accessible in the field via spreadsheets and paper-based maps.”

“Now, using mobile devices, staff can access and record data on the ground and share this information in real-time with colleagues stationed in the office.”

Since leveraging smart mapping technology at the end of last year, GTWHI and its partner agencies have already experienced an improvement in their monitoring activities.

“Local authorities can now provide standardised guidelines to property owners or investors seeking to develop commercial spaces near heritage sites,” Mr Sahari said.

GTWHI and local state agencies such as PEGIS also use the smart map to manage and promote traditional festivals and other local community events to tourists and the general public.

Esri Malaysia CEO Lai Chee Siew said GTWHI’s use of smart mapping technology helps ensure George Town’s enduring history – is accessible for future generations.

“Smart mapping technology extends beyond plotting points on a map. It enables decision-makers to analyse the impact of proposed commercial developments, policy legislations and even public events on Penang’s cultural heritage,” Mr Lai said.

“By doing so, GTWHI and other concerned local agencies can confidently make informed decisions on how they can partner with the community to preserve and protect the tangible and intangible aspects of our culture.”

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