Give new commission chance to be harbourfront's champion

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 July, 2010, 12:00am

I would like to comment on three recent pieces regarding the new Harbourfront Commission and our pursuit of a world-class waterfront.

Your editorial ('Waterfront authority must listen to the people', July 5) has the priorities misplaced. Before seeking public feedback, the commission ought to be given a chance to develop what we've lacked all along - a coherent vision and plan for the entire harbourfront.

The public wants a waterfront that is accessible, open, green and vibrant.

The commission must reconcile what people purportedly want with what they might actually use. When surveyed, urban dwellers often say they want a quiet place, only to then behave quite differently, frequenting spaces filled with people.

Commission chairman Nicholas Brooke says it will develop a master plan. This is crucial. Our harbourfront has a range of sites. The commission must tap the potential of each to deliver a varied waterfront whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Sydney's waterfront is special, in part, because of its variety. Open and green? One can wander through the botanical garden. Vibrant? You can join the crowds at the Opera House or dine at Darling Harbour.

Given multiple sites, our harbourfront development need not be an either-or proposition - parks or buildings, public or private.

With world-class as the target, the commission's greatest challenge will be envisioning certain sites as vibrant magnets that represent Hong Kong internationally. That will require promoting certain development - for example, convincing the public that an open space ringed with restaurants can be as good a choice as a plaza like Chater Garden (which, while open and green, is generally empty).

Commenting on Central waterfront, Winston Chu Ka-sun ('We need international contest to design world-class waterfront', July 7) noted we 'should be concerned more with planning than design'. Put another way, form should follow function. We should define the waterfront's key uses before advancing its design. Mr Brooke seemed to have that in mind when he wrote that the commission's immediate task is developing a 'master concept' for the Central waterfront ('Quay asset', July 8).

It is encouraging that the commission intends to focus on Central first. Viewed against our strategic competition with Singapore and Shanghai, it is arguably the most important urban development site in the world. As Mr Brooke notes, it is essential the commission gets it right.

In 2005, the respected Urban Land Institute studied the question of who might effectively lead the development of our harbourfront. One of its recommended alternatives was a commission.

An independent statutory authority would have been better but, as your editorial noted, the commission is an important step in the right direction. We should give it a chance to lead, to be, as Mr Brooke puts it, the harbourfront's champion.

Dick Groves, Wan Chai