Kinta Valley’s Fading Heritage

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Demolished. The block of townhouses on Jalan Chung On Siew

Ipoh and the Kinta Valley are in danger of losing its branding and outstanding universal value as a Tin-Mining UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rampant demolitions of heritage structures and pre-war buildings over the years have raised the fear among the heritage community namely: Perak Heritage Society and the Kinta Heritage Group.

The community are saying that the “indiscriminate” removal of the old structures if not controlled would resulted in nothing left to show for the tin-mining heritage of the Kinta Valley.

Perak Heritage Chairman Mohd Taib has inquired whether there is a plan to initiate “legislation related to heritage conservation. If there is, what kind of enforcement is in place before property owners are allowed to demolish their buildings?”

Director of Kinta Heritage Group, Mr. Jek Yap, has similar sentiments. “A list of important heritage sites and buildings has already been established. Now clear and precise guidelines must be established before these ‘gems’ can be protected.”

Among the old structures demolished were two pre-war buildings in the city. One building at the junction of Jalan Theatre and Jalan Tahwil Azhar (Osbourne Street), and the other was off Jalan Sultan Iskandar (Hugh Low Street), in the New Town sector.

Another structure removed was a block of pre-war town houses along Jalan Chung On Siew. Boxed in between Jalan Chung Thye Phin, Jalan Ali Pitchay and Jalan Chua Cheng Bok this block was the set for an Ang Lee film, “Lust Caution” depicting a Shanghai scene.

Last portion of the Gopeng pipeline, located across the trunk road south of Gopeng Town, an icon of a glorious tin mining industry which had a global story behind it involving Asian and European participation, was also removed.

Although the company that originally purchased the entire pipe had given an assurance earlier that it would not remove the last portion of the pipe nevertheless it came down citing “reasons of safety for the public” as why it had to be removed.

The value of these pre-war structures like the Gopeng pipeline and pre-war buildings are actually legacies of administrators, Malay aristocrats, millionaires and workers who financed and built Ipoh city. Hence these old buildings contain immense historical significance and cultural value. Let’s not forget that Ipoh is the ‘City that Tin Built’.

It is apparent that the intention of all parties is to preserve our heritage. However without any guidelines or legislation, which only the state authorities can initiate and enforce, ‘heritage vandalism’ will continue to be rampant.

So let’s not forget that heritage statement, “Once Gone, It’s Gone Forever.”

More information about Ipoh’s heritage can be found at Perak Heritage Society’s website: http://perakheritage.wordpress.com as well as Ipoh World blog site: http://www.ipohworld.org/blog.

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5 thoughts on “Kinta Valley’s Fading Heritage

  1. The demise of the tin-mining industry retarded the development of Ipoh. It was a good thing. But too many our Ipoh’s old buildings have been neglected for too long.

    The cultural landscape of the Kinta Valley is the heritage we want to preserve and pass on to the future generations. With Ipoh its focal city, complimented by small towns each with its unique history and heritage, the rich cultural landscape is a tourism winner. Ipoh’s physical environment reflects the wealth from tin-mining. Without its neat rows of shophouses and their period style, Ipoh would be a cultural desert, as some have already opined.

    Every building tells a story. But owners are the ultimate stakeholders, and the law respects only ownerships. It is up to the individual owners to re-develop the site of their properties. Only enlightened owners would know what to do, or they might seek out heritage consultants for preferred practices, town planners for best options, and architects for aesthetic contributions.

    The conservation of Ipoh needs all stakeholders working towards the one thing: preserving the heritage of the city for the future generations.
    We need MBI to promoe conservation and encourage adaptation in any re-development. MBI must consider the our streetscape and not sacrifice aged buildings to greedy high-rises. Artificially increasing land value will guarantee rapid demolitions. Incentives and tax rebates are helpful to all owners.

    Swift farming is farming and it cannot be allowed in our urban places. Why can’t existing law apply to them? Will MBI, and the State government stand up to the profiteerig swift farmers who disregard public health and undermine the city’s heritage on our streets?

  2. VIEWS and complains of the residents are sometimes taken lightly by certain authorities. Unless like the recent case of illegal open burning which caught the attention of The Regent to inspect personally. Then the outcome is, from the Mayor to the workers every one moves simultaneously to perfectly overcome the problems.

    Similarly, as a Perakean I have The Regent, World Heritage Listing, the Tourism Portfolio in my mind. There is a lot of talks about UNESCO’s Listing. Surely Ipoh which has a rich legacy of historical buildings with outstanding craftsmanship and architecture quality stands a good chance to be in the listing. Since realizing the importance of conserving heritage buildings for posterity and to boost heritage tourism, I suggest that the Tourism Portfolio set up a special Heritage Entity.

    Ipoh’s distinctive history out of a diverse strands of narratives and reinforce the city’s unique plurality of peoples, social institutions and cultural influences, can led to its own unique heritage enclave listing. As such the proposed Special Heritage Entity should include :-
    the Chief Minister, all Excos of Perak State, local council, UPEN Director, National Heritage Department, the Mayor, outstanding architects, Uitem and Utar’s architectural lecturers, Perak Heritage Society, Perak Tourism Board and the Director of Culture, Art and Heritage Perak.

    I am sure if all these concerned people and sit an map a positive move for IPOH, the UNESCO listing could become a reality.

  3. when we talk about preserving heritage in ipoh, we must not go overboard with it. the demolisions of a few unimportant pre-war buildings are sometimes necessary for redevelopment.
    almost all the buildings in both old town and new town sectors are pre-war buildings – what do you expect of a century-old city that tin built.
    all we need is to identify those important heritage buildings and gazette them against demolision. putting restrictions on all pre-war buildings will result in the city centre becoming just “birds’ hotels”. we can already hear the chirping of the swiftlets clearly now.

  4. Even after declaring the intention to apply for listing in UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ipoh and the Kinta Valley were still sleepy from a long decline since the crash of tin price in 1985.

    The context and focus (the branding) is our world industrial heritage of tin-mining. The mining history is well documented, but its heritage is not understood. Ipoh has to be global to attract visitors and tourists. This is the thrust for development of Ipoh.

    Ipoh has experienced brain-drain but mature brains can be attracted back. What needs to be done is upgrading our city, give it a unique character (it cannot be another city like KL or Singapore) based on its unique history and heritage.

    Reticulated, neat rows of pre-war shophouses in Ipoh is unique in Malaysia. There is hardly any Straits Ecletic style because Ipoh is not a Peranakan town. It went early into International Style modernism. The outstanding feature of Ipoh’s streets is the architecture of International Style, as practised by BM Iversen, the Danish architect of Ipoh.

    Until we learn about the true cultural heritage of Ipoh, and that includes anything we made and built, all talks and actions will be futile, disco-ordinated and eventually, destructive.

    I echo: once gone, it’s gone forever.

  5. As Ipohites, we should be proud of our historical buildings, monuments, parks, gardens and designed landscapes. But that’s not the case for IPOH. Too many of them are suffering from neglect, decay and pressure from development. That’s why rampant demolitions of heritage structures are slowly, but surely taking place.

    The problem with some of our local council Acts, people and planners are they choose to be ignorant concerning heritage values. They must realize that the streets and buildings of IPOH are part of the historic character of IPOH. Each town tells the story of its unique development, and gives us a sense of place, continuity and cultural identity.

    The streets mentioned in the above article which have buildings almost original conditions, should be turned into a mini heritage enclave. Penang and Singapore have their own Straits Eclectic Style Shop houses maintained as original, why can’t IPOH then?

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