Competing with Miami
IN these dark times it is comforting to realise there are plans afoot for the greater glorification of our humble Special Administrative Region.
When the financial squalls have spent themselves on these rocky shores and the rays of a kinder economic light shine down, Hong Kong people will, we hope, be able to dust themselves down and get on with their future.
The big question remains what kind of future that will be. The subject of planning controls and the golden opportunity presented by the redevelopment of Kowloon Bay and its environs has been grist to the mill of these columns before.
So it was keen interest that greeted the news of proposals by the Society for the Protection of the Harbour to develop a cruise-liner terminal facility on the former Kai Tak airport runway.
This debate is less of a trifle than it may at first appear. First, architecture is no carbuncle - whatever minor European royals might have to say. Carbuncles can be lanced, their stain wiped from the otherwise blemish-free face. Architecture is somewhat more permanent, and when it takes root in a cankered form it can destroy a city's face and prospects.
The aim, says the society, is to attract very large cruise ships to Hong Kong, ready to disgorge 2,000 dollar-toting shopping-machines.
To pander to their needs there would be a complex of shopping centres and restaurants, bars and other amenities.
Kowloon Bay will become the 'Miami of the East' and take a whack at Singapore's title of regional cruise queen.
This is all laudable. If the SAR wants to attract these cruise ships to its waters it must have top-of-the-line facilities of this kind.
We have to ensure that the debate surrounding the redevelopment of Kowloon Bay, and indeed any other areas of urban renewal, is conducted in the open, and that there is proper concern and accommodation for public opinion.
This is all fine and dandy, but while the grandiose plans to build a honey pot for super-liners may help soothe the stings inflicted on our egos, just how realistic are they? Is Hong Kong really the stuff that dream cruises are made from? Taking that romantic stroll along the deck at dusk, what can our well-heeled lovebirds expect to gaze upon? The filthy flotsam and jetsam that we spew into the harbour every day; the stench of sewers and illegally dumped industrial waste; perhaps the bobbing corpse of the odd endangered porpoise.
Singapore, and no doubt Miami, have a clear advantage over Hong Kong. They both have clean images and sit as the sophisticated bridgehead to a tourist hinterland of blue skies and clean seas.
They have Malaysia and the Florida Keys - we have China.
Disembarking in our new Miami, what will then take our special guests' fancies? Surely not more heartless shopping malls thrumming to the beat of piped musak backed with an air-conditioned backbeat. Is that really the size of it? 'Stay an extra day' has really always meant 'shop an extra day', because that is about the sum total of what we have on offer.
Venture into the hinterland and there is really very little that will attract the average cruise tourist.
Scratch beneath the surface of Hong Kong and you find a different city - but when does the package tour find time or inclination to do that?