Activist sees disaster in Hollywood-style sign for Penang

The Hollywood-style sign for Penang proposed by design student Chng Senn.

PETALING JAYA: A design student’s idea of a Hollywood-style sign to boost tourism in Penang may prove to be short-lived, now that an activist has raised the alarm over potential environmental damage.

Leela Panikkar, who leads a group called Treat Every Environment Special, warned of soil erosion, pollution of waterways, landslides and loss of flora and fauna if the idea was taken up.

She was referring to amateur photographer Chng Senn’s viral picture of Penang Hill which he has edited to have the word “Penang” stretched across it in capital letters.

Penang Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh has said Senn’s idea was a good one but would need to be discussed with the state housing committee. He spoke of road safety and maintenance concerns.

Speaking to FMT, Leela took those concerns further.

She asked how big the sign would be, pointing out that the Hollywood sign is 13.7m tall and 107.3m long, made of steel and supported by steel columns on a concrete foundation.

“That is taller than most two-storey houses in Malaysia,” she said. “A similar sign on Penang Hill would put its fragile ecosystem at risk.”

She noted that heavy machinery and large amounts of concrete would have to be used in constructing it.

“Construction paths created will cause further environmental damage,” she said, noting that such a project would see cut-and-fill operations and earth works.

Another concern she raised was maintenance and continual access to the sign as it would be constantly exposed to the elements and subject to wear and tear.

The need for access, she said, would entail the construction of roads, which members of the public would take advantage of, causing concerns over littering and vandalism.

“In Los Angeles,” she added, “people frequently hike trails to the base of the Hollywood sign for photo opportunities. It is almost assured that the same will occur here.”

Senn’s picture, which has gone viral on Facebook, has had mixed responses from internet users.

Some have said such a sign might affect the natural environment around it, and Senn has concurred, saying the idea would have to be developed in a balanced manner so that Penang’s greenery is preserved.

Others have chided Senn for using “Penang” instead of “Pulau Pinang”.

One questioned the rationale in seeing such a project through just to boost tourism. “U cross the bridge u know u r in Penang alreadi… haih,” wrote Alex Thomas.

Andy Koay Choon Sean commented: “I respect your idea, but the necessity is zero for such thing.”

Still others have praised the idea, saying it deserves the notice of the state government and encouraging Senn to formally propose the idea.

Senn told FMT he was determined to see his proposal through. “Maybe Penang will become iconic and it will attract more tourists,” he said.

Leela, however, said: “The reality of this is a potential nightmare in many different respects.”

Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil, president of Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia, said the proposal should be considered by the Penang government if there was a guarantee that the environment would not be damaged.

She suggested painting the letters in different colours.