first published in the South China Morning Post on 7 March 2008
For many - locals and overseas visitors alike - our vibrant street culture symbolises the energy and entrepreneurial spirit that is the heart of Hong Kong. Unfortunately, an increasing number of such areas are under threat of being swept away in the name of providing a "better" living environment and neighbourhood. In short, our cherished street life is under threat; our city is becoming increasingly sanitised as well as sanitary.
One project in my constituency, which has attracted vocal criticism from a number of concerned groups and individuals, is the Urban Renewal Authority's (URA) scheme to redevelop the Graham and Peel Street area of Central. For over 100 years, this area has been home to a thriving open-air market that is heavily patronised by local shoppers and overseas visitors. One particular concern group - The World City Committee - has gone as far as to submit an alternative proposal to the Town Planning Board in a bid to prevent wholesale demolition of the market and its surrounding area, and its replacement by four multi-storey towers erected on large podium structures.
Members of this committee and their technical advisers are all volunteers who have devoted their time and effort to producing alternative ideas, not for any monetary reward, but because they feel passionately about preserving the unique character of this part of town. I am therefore pleased to see that the Town Planning Board has recently agreed to publish the committee's alternative master plan for public consultation and evaluation alongside the URA scheme, which has already been approved by the board.
Worldwide, examples abound of imaginative schemes that have enabled decaying market areas to be revitalised in situ and often go on to become a focus for art and crafts, and other speciality retail offerings, which create employment and attract overseas visitors, as well as serving local needs. The Peel and Graham Street area is ideally located to evolve in this way. There is nothing wrong with the URA's overall mission and mandate which, among other things, requires it to place high priority on "enhancing and strengthening the socio-economic and environmental fabric for the benefit of urban communities". But there is a growing perception and deepening concern in the community that the authority does not always practise what it preaches and that its approach to urban regeneration is outmoded. It is not good enough for the URA to plead that this criticism is based on misconceptions and inadequate understanding of the benefits of particular schemes. Nor should the government stand back and allow responsible criticism to be swept aside, when it bears the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that its urban renewal strategy benefits the whole community - not just the big property developers and those residents directly benefiting from removal compensation.
There needs to be a much more conscious effort to think creatively and abandon conventional development templates. We need to ask just how many more giant commercial or residential tower blocks we really want, blocking sunlight and airflow. How many more glitzy shopping malls, populated by empty boutiques selling luxury goods that the vast majority of Hong Kong people can't afford?
If there are misconceptions, if people are wrong in fearing that urban redevelopment proposals are being driven primarily by a requirement to maximise plot ratio and generate the highest development premium, then representatives of the authority, and the relevant government departments and policy bureaus, should engage openly with their critics, listen to what they have to say and be prepared to concede that there may be merit in some of their suggestions and counterproposals.
In recent days, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, in his budget speech, and URA chairman Barry Cheung Chun-yuen have hinted that the government and the URA will explore redevelopment strategies that are both more flexible and more responsive to the overall needs of the districts concerned. If so, I am sure they will be warmly welcomed by the community as a whole.
In her now classic song, Big Yellow Taxi, folk singer Joni Mitchell muses on how all too often:
... you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.
It may not be paradise, but the Graham and Peel Street market area is a valuable part of our city's heritage. There is still time to rethink the current plan and to make sure that the best possible balance is achieved between needed environmental upgrading and cultural preservation.
In using research, design and built methods, the seminar curriculum engages students and the community on architecture's role in building community structures that relate to the urgency of preserving and promoting cultural and social activities in Hong Kong's built environment and public space. The location for this semesters project is the Graham Street Market in Central Hong Kong, which is currently undergoing development and regeneration. Supporting seminars at The University of Hong Kong led by Marisa Yiu, and other discussion forums (such as ‘Public Space’ with Designing Hong Kong to URA Presentations organized by Prof David Lung have taken place).
Students gain an understanding of the history, heritage, existing planning and questions relating to the future of the Central Street Market. The seminar entitled, 'The Politics of the Object: Transformative public and cultural landscapes' is led by Ms. Marisa K.S Yiu (Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture at The University of Hong Kong). Students have the opportunity of working closely with Ms. Katty Law from 'Save the street market' - campaign, that is focused on reversing the disintegration of the historic Graham Street Market in Hong Kong. The project includes researching the history and development of the Central street market and producing final designed 'Lighting' objects. With this background - workshops with Mr. Christopher Mok a professional Light consulatant (Principal of Spectrum Design Associates) have assisted students to produce seven small built Light objects.
The two-hour long temporary installation on site hope to encourage the public to engage with the student's projects and act as a dialogue between various audiences of the community.
On going progress class website: www.arch.hku.hk/5108b
Tuesday April 15th
Student presentations with invited guest critics (final review) and tour of installations onsite
Meet at No.10 Gage St at 6:15pm for briefing
7:30pm - 9:30pm
Light installation event and reception onsite at Graham St. Market
No. 10 Gage St.
April 28th to May 2nd
Exhibition continues of the Seven Light Objects
Location: Public covered courtyard adjacent to the Main Library at HKU
Seven Light Objects.
Seven groups (14 Students)
On Peel Street, Graham Street and Gage Street.
- Each student group must work within an approximate dimension of 1m x 1m x 1/2m.
- How the Light installation illustrates their research and questions their work within the context.
- Site specific and/or Hawker Booth specific.
- From Research, concept, testing to final fabrication (6 weeks)
- Fabricated within limited budget and resources. Well crafted.
我們問她覺得街市節怎麼樣，她說街市節間接增加了她的生意，而且覺得市集地圖製成精美，內容深入淺出，能夠扼要說出每個商鋪的特式。不過，她認為街市節尚有可改善的地方，如街市節的內容主要是「文娛活動」，街坊難以參與，大都只是於開幕典禮當天吃過燒肉，所以那些活動並不能代表嘉咸街，不能表達「民情」。她續說如主辦單位與街坊開會的時間改在晚上七至八時後，待各人收拾攤檔後，就會更為適合。至於嘉咸街的將來，殷太認為政府提出的老店街及名店街的方案完全違背了街市的「拼搏精神」﹝善用每一分可利用的空間擺放自己的產品﹞，而將來只劃分3尺x 4尺的地方給每個小販租戶，試問只擺放一至兩籮蔬菜，怎能讓一名小販賴以維生？另外，當街市兩旁的商店變成了名店，小販們還能生存嗎？租金又會變成怎樣？面對不明朗的前景，殷太最後還是選擇賣掉嘉咸街的舖位，搬到信德大廈， 仍表示希望關注團體替他們爭取保留整個嘉咸街街市。