Friday, 8 October 2010

"Let's halt the destruction of historic Graham Street area for profit"

Since the handover in 1997, there has been a clear increase in local interest to preserve historic Hong Kong.  Witness the fights over the Queen's Pier, Wedding Card Street (Wanchai) and now Graham Street in Sheung Wan, west of Central.  In response, the government has even set up a Heritage Commission to try to identify those areas that ought to be protected.   This is all good news.
The bad news is that the government's knee-jerk reaction to "old" is to "rebuild" it: of course with the major developers making fat profits out of it (declaration of interest: we own shares in some of said developers.  Still, I'd rather they had a bit less profit, and hence slightly lower share price, than for places such as Graham Street to be destroyed in the name of "development").
Today Katty Law, of the Central and Western Concern Group, writes a nice letter beseeching the government to save the best of the old,  the best of Graham Street. [go to her letter and vote 5-star for it!]
My letter in support is below, and her letter below that....
[photo: Graham Street, by Felix Wong, courtesy SCMP]
To the Editor, South China Morning Post:
I fully agree with Katty Law about the need to preserve the Graham Street area ("Let's halt destruction of historic Graham Street area for profit", Letters, 8 October”).  [see below]

When I show guests to Hong Kong around our city, one of their best and most abiding impression is of our vibrant, bustling streets and street markets.  Tourism is an important industry for us; let’s not spoil our best attractions.

We don’t need to do anything at all to them — just keep them as is.  If the government must do something then let it be the sorts of things already proposed by the area Concern groups: paving, pedestrianising, rehabilitating and so on.

The government needs to show that “consultation” really means something.  That when it consults and gets local input, that it will take it into account.  Only in this way can the government prove that it is not in the pockets of the big developers.

Yours, etc,
Letter as printed, 11 October 2010

Let's halt destruction of historic Graham Street area for profit

Despite strong objections from members of the community, architectural and planning professionals, the secretary for development has decided to recommend to the Chief Executive in Council the resumption of land for the Graham Street market redevelopment scheme, which will effectively put a death sentence on the most historic street market in Hong Kong.

For many people who love this special place in Old Central, it's heartbreaking to see our government making such a decision. It is equally frustrating to hear the Urban Renewal Authority's line of defence: its argument that it will keep the market is unconvincing, when four towers, between 26 to 33 storeys high, have been planned for the site and the construction period, which will bring great disturbances, is estimated to last five to seven years.
The historic urban fabric of this area will be totally destroyed with this kind of large-scale, blanket redevelopment. The air and noise pollution that comes with it will affect a vast area in Central and Sheung Wan. And the small streets and lanes just will not be able to handle the additional traffic load that redevelopment brings.
Every day this market serves thousands of shoppers and restaurant chefs in the vicinity, and many tourists come especially to visit this market to feel the pulse of our city, to see local people doing their daily grocery shopping. It is another side of Central, a more human side. It is hard to understand why our government cannot understand the cultural significance of this area; that this sensitive zone is not a place for large-scale development.
This redevelopment project has little to do with public purposes - unlike land resumption for building highways, public facilities, etc. Its goal is largely profit-making - to squeeze more high-rise buildings into this area to make more money.
There are better, and more sensitive, options to regenerate the area. Streets could be repaved, electricity and water supply for the hawkers installed, market hygiene improved and the buildings rehabilitated or partially rebuilt in an appropriate scale. Concern groups have proposed feasible solutions to better conserve the historic urban landscape.
Although Graham Street market is a place with great cultural significance, a heritage impact assessment has never been done. The URA claimed that it had commissioned a heritage report, but it has never been made public. Besides members of the public, many architecture and planning professionals have complained about this project but their objections have been deliberately ignored. The URA claims it has fully engaged the public - yet it has overlooked the many objections to the scheme.
The government tells the world that the future of urban renewal lies in "regeneration" and "holistic planning", yet it contradicts itself by putting a death sentence on this historic street market. There is still a chance to find a better solution. It would be in our city's best interests if this plan were reconsidered.
Katty Law, Central and Western Concern Group