IF OLD buildings could talk, they would tell of a long ago humanity that had more time to live life.
They would speak of humans who cared more for being rather than having.
Whether they are pre-war shoplots or sprawling mansions, their dining rooms would describe mealtimes that were treasured social events for family and friends, and not just a daily necessity.
They would show that with enough headroom, any part of the home would be cool and cosy no matter how the sun pummels the land.
Old buildings would show how masons once drew a lot more inspiration from nature than many of today’s architects.
They would laugh at the straight lines and right angles of today’s structures, designed more for engineering efficiency than to keep a connection between civilisation and nature.
In particular, old buildings would laugh at developers and their preoccupation with plot ratios.
If the local authority allows development on a certain piece of land to have a plot ratio of five, for example, then it means the developer can build upwards and create a floor area five times the size of the land, thereby maximising the legal limit and the potential profit.
Development is not automatically equal to progress.
More, bigger, taller and faster will not necessarily bring a higher quality of life.
That is why heritage conservation exists.
The monuments and buildings of generations long gone and also the magnificence created by Mother Nature are the anchors of time that keep humanity grounded, rather than racing for profits and imagined growth at breakneck speed.
On the Christmas of 1993, the Metropole Hotel building in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah in Penang was reduced to rubble.
On the second day of this Chinese New Year, all the ancillary buildings of Runnymede mansion on the same street were flattened.
One cannot help but wonder why the developers picked holidays to do stuff like this, when most citizens would be sleeping or on their personal time and be off guard.
It seems that only when people are on guard that the old buildings are given voice.
When the trustees of the 110-year-old Vivekananda Ashrama building in Kuala Lumpur tried to de-gazette the heritage site, city dwellers took to the streets by the hundreds in protest. The High Court did not allow the move.
When plans were submitted for an 11-storey tower that might cause the destruction of a part of Soonstead Mansion, not far from Runnymede, heritage conservationists ran an online petition and roused the population. This building was saved.
The authorities and developers need to stop hiding behind legal curtains.
Just because Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah is not within the Unesco World Heritage Site does not mean the old buildings there are not worth saving.
All that wrangling cannot negate the social capital derived from heritage conservation anywhere in Penang or Malaysia as a whole.