Unique neighbourhoods lost to developer-friendly 'renewal'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 January, 2010, 12:00am

We have been promised a review of the urban renewal strategy for some time now and yet nothing seems to have changed.

The Urban Renewal Authority continues to impose its will and those left in its wake are forced to abandon what they thought was their private property protected by rights to ownership. The URA says homeowners are fairly compensated and what it builds in place of the demolished buildings is of far greater value to the communities in renewal areas.

All the URA accomplishes is the destruction of neighbourhoods rich in character. They are replaced with indistinguishable investment opportunities where all the towers look alike. The old neighbourhoods, where generations of Hong Kong families have lived and new arrivals have found a welcome alternative to the bland and anonymous high-rises, will never be built again. It would not make economic sense to create low density neighbourhoods when there is so much money for the URA to generate from working with developers to create these new investment opportunities.

What seems to be lacking in the urban renewal strategy is a longer-term vision for what a truly international city could be if it was managed properly. As we destroy every last hint of Hong Kong's past, we lose a part of the city's rich culture.

Preserving only buildings of historic significance does not go far enough as most of these have already been lost. What today may look like tenements, such as the tong laus in Central (for example, in Staunton Street), are only now beginning to be appreciated for their unique look and quality construction. Deciding that these buildings are not worth preserving seems a hasty decision that will be regretted as more people recognise the value of these lovely buildings.

The need for a complete overhaul of the renewal strategy should be completed soon to prevent further cases where neighbourhoods are destroyed and our rich history is swept away. The URA and its strategy for renewal has not worked. It is time to start a new and hopefully enlightened chapter in the city's development.

Dare Koslow, Central