By Jerry Francis
“City That Tin Built” – about sums up the history of Ipoh and its heritage. These four words are also an effective slogan to promote the city. Not “Bougainvillea City” or by any other slogans. On May 27 Ipoh will celebrate its 22nd anniversary as a city. But it is sad that through all those years nothing seems to have been done to reflect its glorious past as the centre of the tin mining industry which had been so significant in the economic development of the country. The tin mining industry has since collapsed; the history of the city will also slowly fade away and be forgotten. Look around us. What is there to reflect the tin mining industry? Why can’t the city become one big monument of the tin mining industry in the country which can be both educational as well as a tourist attraction? Are we ashamed of the city’s past?
Ipoh is also not a city just living on past glory but is very much alive with natural attractions and some beautiful architecture, such as the Railway Station, Town Hall and High Court.
It is surrounded by beautiful limestone outcrops with fascinating cave temples and as well as producing some iconic products, among them pomelo, white coffee and taugeh which have become well-known abroad.
Yet, what have we done to boost tourism in the city? The typical comment from many people is “what can the city offer?”
It is useless for us to lament the failure of the city’s attractions and just fold our arms and watch each City Day pass by without fanfare and excitement. Those who care and are in a position to help promote the city need to come forward by participating and contributing ideas.
Public Transport Critical
Though Ipoh has grown from a sleepy hollow on the banks of Sungai Kinta, in size covering 643sq.km, new commercial areas and suburban towns have increased the population to over 750,000. However it still lags behind other cities in the country in terms of public amenities. For example, bus services in the city needs to be urgently overhauled so that it will be the choice mode of transport for the residents, as well as tourists arriving by bus, train and air.
Taxi service in the city is equally bad. The drivers have been stubbornly refusing to use taxi-meters and will charge at least RM7 for just a short distance.
Perhaps Ipoh must start planning a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system for the city centre and its satellite towns from now on.
Although traffic in the city is not as chaotic as in Kuala Lumpur, city planners must look into it very seriously as traffic congestion is imminent. Already traffic jams are becoming regular occurrences.
Cleanliness and Beautification
Perhaps one of the first things to do is for the City Council to spruce up the city with beautification projects. At this moment there is no project worth mentioning. Instead, whatever beautification we have, such as fountains and gardens, are being neglected. And the rubbish is everywhere. Lack of an efficient rubbish collection scheme has resulted in thousands of illegal rubbish dumps all over the city. Frequently, buffaloes and cows are still seen in the city, obstructing traffic, messing roads with dung, damaging flower plants and fruit trees in housing estates.
In fact, ever since Ipoh was declared a city it has deteriorated rapidly probably because it was accorded in the wake of the collapse of the tin mining industry. Prior to being declared a city, it was a vibrant town and a playground for the rich, with more posh cars in a one kilometre radius than anywhere in the country.
It was also reputed as one of the cleanest towns in the country with potted flower plants located in strategic places and even hanging from street lamp-posts. There were well maintained public parks, Taman D.R. Seenivasagam, People’s Park, Children’s Park and the Japanese Garden.
Now, many of the buildings in the old city centre are empty, condemned or abandoned, painting a gloomy picture.
Bleak Future Drives Away Traders
Those traders along the two main streets – Jalan Sultan Iskandar Shah (Hugh Low Street) and Jalan Sultan Idris Shah (Brewster Road), once the business hub of the old city centre, are too old to continue and their children are not keen to take over because of the bleak future.
If the City Council does not focus its attention on rejuvenating the old city centre within the next decade, more and more business premises will pull down their shutters and move to new commercial areas.
According to some leading businessmen in the city, there seem to be a lack of enthusiasm from the City Council to induce redevelopment.
The city is also not pedestrian-friendly. Even crossing between the Old and New Town sectors is not planned and facilitated for pedestrians.
The City Council has, instead, allowed food-stalls to erect permanent structures on pavements endangering the life and limb of pedestrians.
Wider Pavements to Induce Business Activities
Among the suggestions to induce business activities to the old city centre is to have wider pavements along Jalan Sultan Idris Shah, like those in Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur.
The parking bays on both sides of the street can be sacrificed for the wider pavements and yet wide enough for three-lane traffic.
“Allowing cars to park along the streets will not generate business activities, but wider pavements do,” commented Dato’ Chin Lean Choong, a miner turned entrepreneur.
“The wider pavements can connect with the Kinta Riverbank’s project and thus encourage the residents to walk. As more and more pedestrians move about, the business premises along Jalan Sultan Idris Shah will find it viable to reopen for businesses.”
He said covered pedestrian walkways, connecting the old and new town sectors at the bridges in Jalan Sultan Idris Shah and Jalan Sultan Iskandar Shah, also need to be constructed to protect pedestrians from rain and sun. This would encourage motorists to park their cars somewhere between the two sectors and walk.
What is happening now, motorists would drive to their destinations even a short distance away, resulting in more vehicles moving about in the city centre causing traffic congestion.
“Ipoh City Council needs to hold a brain-storming session for its councillors to come up with plans to rejuvenate the city,” said a businessman located in the old city centre.
“The collapse of the tin mining industry and as well as the subsequent recessions in the country, have begun the city’s deterioration.”
A City Centre of Swiftlets’ Hotels
Eventually more swiftlet hotels will take over the business premises. Already the annoying recorded chirpings are clearly heard in both new and old town sectors.
Just looking at the numerous condemned and abandoned buildings and vacant business premises in the old city centre is enough to scare away any potential investors. It will not take long before the city deteriorates further and be like a ghost mining town, rather than a vibrant city.
The City Council must enforce whatever regulations to get property owners to redevelop their commercial premises rather than giving excuses, such as the owners could not be traced.
A big contrast to when Ipoh was just a Municipality under the control of the People Progressive Party (PPP). A councillor would be on the roster daily to deal with the problems of the ratepayers. Others were tasked with various duties to ensure efficiency.
The City Council is now headed by a Mayor. There are 23 councillors, each in charge of a zone, but are they effectively inspecting their respective zone and are accessible to the residents?