Cultural hub or ghetto? It hinges on transport

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 December, 2008, 12:00am

The arts hub in West Kowloon could become a 'cultural ghetto' if the 40-hectare site is not better connected to the city, Chicago arts and planning experts warned, as they offered tips for building an arts and cultural venue capable of attracting millions of visitors annually.

In an interview with the Sunday Morning Post yesterday, the experts, speakers at the Business of Design Week, organised by the Hong Kong Design Centre, shared their own successful experience of creating a popular arts and cultural park in Chicago.

The 10-hectare Millennium Park, built in 2004 with museums and arts venues, attracts more than 4 million visitors each year. The park's executive director, Edward Uhlir, and the Art Institute of Chicago president, Tony Jones, were responsible for the design and management.

With corporate sponsorship and private-sector funds, more than 200 free arts programmes, free open-air concerts and other cultural activities are organised each year. The park is still expanding, and a children's museum will be finished in 2011.

'One simple reason for the park's enormous success is the people of Chicago know it was done for them, not to them,' Professor Jones said.

'The danger is the West Kowloon arts hub could become a cultural ghetto, which you don't want,' he said, stressing that a good design would connect the hub to neighbouring districts with proper transport links.

The arts hub should also be built on the right scale and businesses should have an indigenous character. 'The retail can't be McDonald's or Gucci,' he said.

He said Millennium Park faced criticism during the planning process because of its budget. 'Some said we should invest in schools and hospitals. But they now take tremendous pride in it,' he said.

The area was designed with pedestrians in mind. Segways, which are two-wheeled electric vehicles, are also available for rent.

The Chicago park cost US$490 million and does not charge an entrance fee. Professor Uhlir said the park recovered operating costs by renting the open space for corporate events and weddings. Maintenance costs are also recovered through interest generated from the park's endowment, although this had been eroded by the economic meltdown.

Iconic arts venues and sculptures are the main attraction, but Professor Jones said they were built in phases and not all planned in advance.

'Nobody thinks of the park as an icon. They just think of it as really good,' he said.

He dismissed the idea that an arts hub needed to have iconic buildings and said it should not be developed in one go.

'It's an organic process,' he said.