Art of the yin yang street gets more complicated

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 November, 2009, 12:00am

The ancient philosophy of 'yin' and 'yang' may seem far removed from Hong Kong's cut-throat property market. But for some, it explains why businesses may be booming on one side of the street and going bust on the other.

Yin and yang - or the opposing forces of dull and vibrant, dark and bright, scarcity and abundance - may have been first explored by Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu 3,000 years ago but for the city's businessmen, retailers and assorted property watchers, it explains empty stores or those bursting at the seams with customers.

Yin and yang are now applied to define the popularity or lack thereof of certain streets and districts in areas such as Peking Road, Lockhart Road and Causeway Bay. In a fast-changing city such as Hong Kong, picking the right street could make the difference between getting rich and going bankrupt. The problem for property developers and retailers is that today's yang may quickly become tomorrow's yin, because of forces outside their control.

Infrastructure projects and mega developments may dramatically change shopping patterns and make it hard to pick when yang will become yin. And with the government embarking on a massive infrastructure drive, the problem will only get more difficult.

'Originally, a yin yang street referred to a street that was full of pedestrians on one side but no one on the other,' said Backy Fung Lok-shing, a director of the investment department at property consultant Savills Hong Kong.

A typical example, according to Maureen Fung Sau-yim, the general manager for leasing at Sun Hung Kai Real Estate, are the opposite sides of Lockhart Road where Causeway Bay Plaza 1 and Causeway Bay Plaza 2 are located.

Direct access to the Causeway Bay MTR station through Causeway Bay Plaza 1 made that side of Lockhart Road vibrant and busy. On the other side, where Plaza 2 is, it is quiet, partly because accessibility is not as good.

The difference in pedestrian traffic flow between the two sides narrowed somewhat after the new owner of Causeway Bay Plaza 2 brought in new restaurants and a 24-hour McDonald's, Fung said.

She said the idea of a yin yang street had been changing as shopping habits shifted from street-level shops to shopping centres. The development of new shopping centres affected the popularity of entire areas now, she said.

The redevelopment of the Russell Street tram depot in Causeway Bay into Times Square in the early 1990s is seen as a typical example of how a new shopping centre development changes yin streets into yang streets.

'The area had become rundown with the depot itself a bit of an eyesore,' said Benedict Ma, an associate director of CB Richard Ellis' research department. 'However, with the completion of Times Square, that part of Causeway Bay was transformed into a prime retail section of the city, attracting both locals and tourists alike.'

Veteran street-shop investor Edwin Leong agreed, saying that Times Square was a focal point in the city. Rents in Russell Street ranked top in Asia and the third-highest in the world, according to Colliers International.

Another example is the area of Kwun Tong, where Sun Hung Kai Properties built its huge office and retail development Millennium City and apm shopping centre.

'Yee On Street, behind the office blocks of Millennium City, was a dead street a few years ago. It came alive as many restaurants opened to cater for the white-collar workers,' said Ng Wan-yiu, a manager at Te Fu Property Agency in Kwun Tong. 'Rents have jumped from HK$15,000 a month to HK$30,000.'

That was an example of how yin changed over time into yang because of changes to shopping and commercial developments in the area.

However, not everyone is as lucky as retailers or shopowners in Yee On Street or Russell Street.

Retailers in Kowloon City were struck a blow after the relocation of the airport from Kai Tak to Chek Lap Kok, Fung said.

Retailers in Peking Road near the junction of Nathan Road and Kowloon Park Drive also have seen their businesses decline since pedestrian subways at the junctions of Austin Road/Canton Road, Kowloon Park Drive/Peking Road and Kowloon Park Drive/Salisbury Road were built. The subways had the effect of diverting traffic away from the former tourist hot spot.

'Tourists seldom come over here [from Canton Road] since the subways were built a few years ago,' said Wong Hong-chung, the manager of pearl and jewellery shop International Pearl Centre, which opened in Peking Road 28 years ago. 'Even if people or tourists walk through the subways, they will be diverted to the two shopping centres - One Peking and the Sun Arcade.

'We complained to the government when the subway was built, but that didn't help.'

Helen Mak Hoi-lun, a senior manager of retail services group at Colliers, said Peking Road was one of Hong Kong's busiest tourist strips and retailers paid high rents. Now some of those shops are vacant.

The big question is which areas of the city will be the next yin and yang sections, benefiting from infrastructure projects or new property developments or suffering from them

'We will see a rejuvenation in Tsim Sha Tsui after years of redevelopment,' Ma said.

The works included the widening of the Tsim Sha Tsui East MTR extension and retail development on Nathan Road such as the new ISquare, or former Hyatt Regency, the One, on the former Tung Ying Building site, as well as the K11 retail centre.

This redevelopment would see a refocusing of activity towards Nathan Road, which had been affected by redevelopment and infrastructure works in recent years, said Ma. 'With the completion of the works, the new developments are likely to attract curious locals and interested tourists to, in a sense, rediscover the eastern side of Nathan Road.'

Fung said infrastructure projects such as the Sha Tin-Central link (running from Tai Wai Station to Central through a new tunnel under the harbour) or the West Rail Line (which starts at Hung Hom Station and ends at Tuen Mun Station) would speed up residential and retail developments in areas along the routes.