I refer to the recent report that Penang NGO's have set a public dialogue on environment.
The balance between development and conservation is like a delicate trapeze act. Smaller than Singapore it faces even more constraints in its land usage. But it has the advantage of more space on the mainland.
Penang is one place where no one can claim indigenous settlement because everyone came from somewhere to live after the British opened up the island for the British East India Company to replace Goa as its trading centre in the Far East.
The conservation of Georgetown is now a global concern after it secured World Heritage listing. More than ten years ago I had the pleasure of participating in the Penang Story project which was well organised by the Penang Heritage group and The Star newspaper. It enabled us to learn many things about the island's history and cultural heritage.
The vision of Penang being an international, intelligent and liveable city however is not something new because Penang has always been just that not long after its early founding in 1786.
In addition it should also be an important city for the right reasons.
In fact it was not only the British East India company's most important port for its ships but the mainland Malays went there to escape debt slavery practised by the sultans of the day on the mainland.
British administration in Penang offered them immunity, just as the British prevented the Siamese from overruning Malaya in the northern mainland states.
It was an important place for those who escaped all forms of hardships elsewhere from political persecutions and natural disasters and Penangites are well known for their friendliness and independent streak.
The island also offered the Chinese a sanctuary from famine ravaged areas in Southern China and soon they and Indians from the British sub-continent arrived in large numbers along with other foreign nationals who congregated in certain areas so that streets were named after their community.
Penang had the best schools in the region and boasted some of the country's brightest brains and talents. Singapore's original leadership under Lee Kuan Yew had several Penangites who were the brains behind the scene.
The British educational and bureaucratic systems were of a relatively high standard and the late English Christian missionary Rev RS Hutchings, who founded the Penang Free School, played a leading role.
This Englishman cared for the locals and ensured they received an education second to none and even modeled a school for Muslims so they too felt comfortable within their own community though several of the country's later top leaders including the first Agong and Tunku Abdul Rahman studied at the Penang Free School.
So if people understood the island's rich history they will not do anything to destroy the island's unique legacy of social harmony.
The air was fresh, water clean and the island was extremely liveable when Petaling Jaya was still being developed and often a dust bowl while under construction in the early 60's.No other place was as desirable a place to live in as Penang in those days.
No one has the monopoly of ideas so it will be a good idea not only for the NGO's to have a talkfest with the state government but I think a symposium with a wide range of experts from various social and scientific disciplines eg historians, conservationists, developers, exercise professionals, historians, farmers, ordinary Penangites, will ensure the major concerns are covered.
And more importantly the common public not just the elite and experts must have a say in what happens to their island because they are the ones who have to live with the decisions, good or bad. And many may offer intelligent ideas and perspectives otherwise overlooked.
A participative approach to governance is what is needed for any place to ensure no one is left out and the best ideas are considered. There are pockets of Penang urban poor that are often overlooked and they are still around and often lack a voice.
Development must never overlook the needs of the masses to placate and indulge in the pleasures of the wealthy. This was the fault of colonialism that concentrated wealth in the hands of the ingratiated few and relied on its proxy leaders in various communities to maintain its power structure.
Those of us who knew the 'old Penang' lament the loss of the island's unique ambience, especially when you take a drive along the coast road from Georgetown to Teluk Bahang. Some of the apartments are exciting but the same can't be said for their impact on the natural landcape without much effort made to restore what was destroyed.
It is time Penangites have a say in what happens to their island and hinterland and not be at the mercy of those who may not give a second thought for the welfare of the people and move on to the next profitable project.
The concrete jungle of towers that have replaced the rainforest look and feel of the place is something that cannot be reversed unless people start re-vegetating the developed areas and remove illegal commercial activities on the beachfronts.
Wanton development must stop for the benefit of the island's environment that has come under enormous pressure and in some instances been destroyed.
Stop the inordinate development of hillsides with ugly tower blocks that stick out like sore thumbs and that create traffic snarls. I don't think most people are against development but bad development.
There are now ways to plant trees and small plants on such tall buildings to cover their obtrusive 'in your face' appearances. The gargantuan road divider near the Penang Swimming Club is an eyesore. And the Botanical Gardens sorely need botanical revitalization not more uncharacteristic concrete structures.
Stop the wanton construction of more religious buildings and icons that destroy the natural ambience and beauty of the island's dwindling green areas so that people can appreciate the clean air, natural scenery and quietitude.
Malaysia is not short of religious places for everyone but is losing more and more of its natural environments.
Neutralising nature is so important before people start erecting all sorts of edifices in all sorts of places and spoil the natural beauty of a place.
Clean the rivers, clean the beaches but how Gurney Drive and its beach can be saved I have no idea. I am told there are plans to reclaim land there which will mean the end of Gurney Drive and with it a vital part of Penang's heritage. Save Gurney Drive.
The beach there is no more than a swamp now especially during low tide and this is the result of mindless development elsewhere that have had a negative impact on the area.
One cannot think of the natural environment without considering the impact of development on it and and on the human environment as well.
In this regard the traffic jams will make life on the island unbearable as air quality drops exacerbated further by reports of open burning. Considertion should be given to better public transport and the small size of the island will be to its advantage. If there are too many motorbikes it will be another Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.
In my novel 'Tiger King of the Golden Jungle', the character Adam, a Malay tycoon turned environmentalist had a vision of a Rainforest City where people work and live with nature.
A better world is not created by business alone but the souls who think beyond money and with their creative genius and talents humanize a place and with much indigenous talent Penang can be a hub for the creative arts. There are stories waiting to be told, films waiting to be made.
A place with a soul can be a nice place.
We saw Singapore grow into the beautiful 'Garden City' it is today with its verdant landscapes and tree lined and tree canopy covered roads. There is no reason why Penang cannot be a Rainforest City and the Burma teak trees the Angsana, that line many roads in Penang already give a hint of the possibility.
Climate change necessitates that Penang becomes a place of trees and nature reserves otherwise the burgeoning development will make the living environment unbearable.
Trees can reduce the temperature of bitumen roads by several degrees according to some studies but shade will reduce the heating of the roads.
There is no shortage of ideas for a somewhat jaded environmental pearl.
And someday they ought to restore the brooks that run through the Botanical Gardens that have been covered up and converted into drains. We need to restore nature to its rightful place as we prevent its further destruction. The gardens have given more than it has received as far as I can see.
Penang the natural state is crying out to be saved from irresponsible development. Its natural assets must be conserved and development can occur if profit takes a back seat from concerns for the preservation of the islands natural aethetics and enviroment.
Then profit and the natural environment will be friends not enemies if developers can work closely with conservationists because compatible development is what is needed for a mutually beneficial outcome.
There is much Penang can offer everyone - a place to live, work, and recreate - and for this to be a sustainable reality there has to be proper planning and sound execution of well laid plans and a good administration free of corruption.
When the world was a relatively undeveloped place and Singapore was still a jungle, Penang was already the centre of vibrant British trade and a cosmopolitan place.
The island grew because everyone - British, Chinese, Indian, Malay, Armenian, Jew, Arab, etc the real pendatangs then - worked hard under a sound albeit foreign leadership and moulded the diverse communities into a people with a distinctiveness that is uniquely Penang.
I have alluded to history because it is in history that we learn the truth and gain inspiration from the constructive lessons it teaches us.
There is no reason why history cannot repeat itself and Penang reclaim its role as a place of international importance and regain the title of Pearl of the Orient again despite its scarred beauty and lost innocence.
I am sure the Penang diaspora will be willing to contribute in whatever ways they can if the administration has the foresight to tap into their resources and talents.
All hard work brings a profit but mere talk leads only to poverty.