Not in my backyard

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 12:00am

This city has long been a breeding ground for entrepreneurs, so when it comes to making money, most people here are willing to put up with a little inconvenience. However, when economic development clashes with the community status quo, the results can sometimes be negative, even destructive.

Such is the case in Tiyu Xi Xiao Qu, a neighbourhood nook located behind two gargantuan shopping centres in the heart of Tianhe district. This small cluster of apartment buildings has become a beehive of activity, with more than 30 small first-floor shops opening since last summer. This quaint area, with its grassy walkways and palms, has attracted a swarm of private-store owners who have brought a kind of Greenwich Village or Lan Kwai Fong feel.

With rental fees as low as 5,500 yuan for a 68-square-metre shop on the first floor and 2,200 yuan for the same size on the second floor, tenants can afford to invest in their own enterprise. But residents have fought back against the tide of economic development. A handwritten poster reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution appeared at the beginning of the month on a wall, complaining about the noise and traffic these shops have brought to the area. A week later, officials questioned several store owners about building codes and sanitation laws. Last week, signs showing the location of the shops were destroyed.

'About 300 people signed a petition complaining about these shops,' said Ling Chao, a manager at Cheng Jian Development Company, the property management firm in charge of the area. 'Most of these people are complaining about the noise at these places at night. They feel it's too loud and disturbs their sleep.'

To some shop owners, these complaints and acts of vandalism are just minor problems on the way to greater development. 'I expected this kind of turbulence from the beginning,' said Zita Lou, owner of Cangaroo Stop, a restaurant aimed at mothers and toddlers.

This particular owner was once a resident of Lan Kwai Fong, and has seen this kind of reaction before. 'The tenants and shop owners will have to be flexible.'

Certainly, these shops have brought some inconvenience, but they have also brought character and quality to an area that would otherwise have been lost in the shadows of their giant neighbours, Teem Plaza and the soon-to-open Grand View Mall, expected to be the largest shopping centre in Asia. 'These places offer something different - open air. You can't get that in a shopping mall,' said Zita Lou, who believes that the shops have become the lifeblood of the neighbourhood.