Mapping a Decade of Change

George Town World Heritage Site: Population and Land Use Change

23 Aug 2019

George Town, Penang

George Town has changed significantly since it became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. Growing recognition has increased tourism, transformed the economy, and changed land-use patterns in the historic city.

Noting this, Think City has conducted a comprehensive population and land use census to understand this change. Previous data has been collected in 2009 and 2013. The 2019 census will build on previous data and document a range of demographic and physical changes. Our study captures every business, resident, association, street vendor, and vacancy within the UNESCO World Heritage boundary.

Overall, the number of visitors to George Town has increased significantly and more tourist services have entered the UNESCO site. This suggests the shift in George Town’s economy from local household and business services towards hospitality, tourism, and creative industries. Demographic data indicate that local families have been leaving the historic zone, leading to an increase in number of migrants working and living in the site. Our data also suggest an upward trend in heritage building conservation efforts by owners. Importantly, the data reveal the relationship between different aspects of the city.

It is with an evidence-based approach like this that Think City demonstrates the importance of data in monitoring and managing urban areas. Moving forward, this data also informs intervention strategies to retain the assets amidst tourism pressures.