Column - The best place to visit and retire

RECENTLY, CNN published an article entitled 17 Best Places to visit in 2017. Penang Island was not only in the list, it was ranked second. This is welcome news for Penangites and Malaysians as a whole to start the new year.

Charlottetown, a city in Prince Edward Island, Canada was ranked first. The rest of the 17 towns, cities or countries are Cartagena in Columbia, Bermuda, Katahdin Woods in Maine, United States, Isaan in Thailand, Taktsang Monastery (Tiger Nest) in Bhutan, Chendu in China, Aarhus in Denmark, Bordeaux in France, Reykjavik in Iceland, Durres in Albania, Amman in Jordan, Rwanda in Africa, Senegal in Africa, Houston and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

According to the report, Penang is "arguably one of Asia's best street food destinations". It mentions the mix of traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes, as well as Peranakan cuisine.

The report also notes the historic buildings in George Town, including colonial mansions, shophouses and religious buildings. It points out that George Town is a place for eating and walking.

If one stays in a hotel in George Town, many of the delicious street food shops and popular hawker centres are within walking distance.

Last year, Penang was listed sixth out of 10 Best Places to Retire in Asia by Investopedia-Live & Invest Overseas 2016. It has the sea, the sun, urban city centre and a relaxed lifestyle coupled with relatively cheap cost of living and the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme.

Penang's ranking on lists such as CNN's and Investopedia's makes it clear that the charms and benefits of our island are no longer secrets to many people outside the country.

While the residents of Penang should be happy and proud that Penang has been given such honours, it is important to note that there are tough challenges ahead if the residents and the Penang Island City Council, officially known as Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang (MBPP), want to keep the city and island in the global spotlight continuously. We all have responsibilities and roles to play in this effort.

The first factor, as mentioned in earlier articles, is cleanliness. Penang is not clean despite the large amount of money spent on sweeping the roads and open spaces. Although the city council has workers to collect waste products from house to house, it is still common to see rubbish being thrown into drains and waterways, roadsides and even playing fields and parks.

There is a need to ensure that Penangites do not discard their rubbish indiscriminately. The city council must enforce the law. If Singapore can make Singaporeans keep their city clean, there is no excuse for Penangites to throw rubbish indiscriminately. The natural beauty and historical heritage of our island will not be enough if many parts of the city remain eyesores.

Second, there is a serious need for more orderly use of streets and pavements. Motorists and motorcyclists should strive to be more civic-conscious and law-abiding. They must park their vehicles in proper places. For example, although the city council has provided car parks and pedestrian walkways in Little India, it is difficult to walk on the pavements. The walkways are obstructed by motorcycles, bicycles and even cars.

Shopkeepers should ensure that the five-foot ways or pedestrian paths are not obstructed by goods and furniture. Many pavements are also used as places to park bicycles, motorcycles and hawker stalls.

Although the city council has the power to take action and there are enforcement officers, it is clear that Penangites and visitors are not concerned about the law.

There should be strict enforcement. A key to making a city visitor-friendly is to ensure the safety of pedestrians. People should be able to walk safely. Better still, where possible, there should be adequate shelters from the sun and rain along the five-foot ways. At present, there are not enough proper pedestrian paths in the city centre.

Our colourful history, natural beauty, diverse built environment and world-famous street food are attractive draws for people keen on visiting interesting and unique places. It will be all the more memorable for visitors if the residents and the local authorities work together to maintain a welcoming city.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: