Life would seem to be sweet for the old couple next door. Their daughter moved them from the wilds of Ma On Shan to North Point to be closer to their grandchildren, giving them a luxuriously furnished flat convenient for every need and providing a maid. But the pair are not happy. They shuffle around, bemoaning the poor air quality, street noise and, more than anything, the lack of a nice neighbourhood park in which to sit with friends.
Their concerns are close to my heart. I live on the 10th floor, but have to keep windows closed most of the time because of the soot from the exhausts of diesel buses and trucks. Daytime traffic noise along the canyon of the main thoroughfare, King's Road, is deafening, punctuated by road repairs, sirens and the seemingly perpetual loudhailer electioneering of the district's representative, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. Parks feel like afterthoughts, being small and unappealing (one was the site of a Japanese internment camp for Canadian soldiers during the second world war; many of the prisoners starved to death).
As displeasing as it all sounds, I have chosen this area in favour of convenience. North Point has been my home for most of my 24 years in Hong Kong. There is nowhere as central to the places I go, nor am I more than a five-minute walk from whatever I need, be it a shop, restaurant or public transport. Only when the downsides are raised, as during a recent chat with my neighbours, do I think about what I am missing by not moving to a better environment.
But I - and the couple next door - could have some of our cake and eat it, too, if only the authorities cared a bit more for the people they claim to govern. That was all too obvious at the weekend as I stood on the site of the former North Point public housing estate on Java Road, a perfect place for a park. The 251,875 square feet of harbourfront land is next to the government market, the MTR, ferry pier and the bus terminus. Despite the exhortations of district councillors since the last of the estate's blocks was cleared in 2003, though, there has never been the possibility of this happening - the land is far too valuable as a source of government revenue.
Just what it is worth will be known in a matter of months. The Lands Department recently announced the site will be open for tender from May 25 to July 6. With the government stipulating that the buyer must build at least 700 flats - an effort to stabilise the property market - analysts expect it to bring in about HK$10 billion. Flats are likely to average 825 sq ft, which, with an anticipated value of HK$11,000 per sq ft, will target them at luxury buyers.
The estate was about 45 years old when it was levelled, not for structural reasons, but because officials said maintenance costs were too high. It is ironic that thousands of public housing tenants were moved on so that wealthy citizens could have their views. Even when the buildings were gone, the authorities did not want the district's people to use the land while they pondered what to do with it - much of the site was turned into a car park.
My neighbours are eager to move back to the clean air and open spaces of Ma On Shan. They may have been convinced to stay were we to have a government that put the needs of citizens first.
Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post