Rezoning plans threaten to mute street colour
Two of Hong Kong's most colourful areas could soon become more orderly - and probably much greyer.
Zoning officials want to end the mixing of shops and homes in the same buildings in Wan Chai and Causeway Bay. The Planning Department says this will make life healthier and safer for residents.
But many prominent urban planners and consultants are up in arms, saying it will drain the vitality from the two areas. The powerful Real Estate Developers Association shares their concerns.
'Mixed use generates round-the-clock activities,' said architect Vincent Ng Wing-shun, vice-president of the Institute of Urban Design.
'Without it, Causeway Bay and Wan Chai, upon redevelopment, could become as sterilised and homogenous as commercial Central or residential Tseung Kwan O. I don't want to see the two areas become so boring.'
According to the latest revised zoning plans of the two areas, about 15 hectares of Causeway Bay and 25 hectares of Wan Chai, now zoned as 'commercial or residential', will be turned into single use for either businesses or homes. In Wan Chai, all streets north of Johnston and Hennessy roads will turn from mixed use to purely commercial zones. The area south of Wan Chai Road will switch to residential land.
In Causeway Bay, the shopping and residential cluster around Sogo department store and a cluster covering Jardine's Bazaar and Percival Street will become commercial. Only a small area around Paterson Street will remain a mixed-use zone.
The proposed change would not affect existing home and shop owners, but the new zoning rule would kick in upon redevelopment.
Planning officials said mixed usage had allowed greater flexibility in the use of land. But it had created many problems such as difficulties in infrastructure planning, and made the environment unpleasant for people living in buildings full of shops.
'A wide range of commercial uses intermixing randomly among flats in the same building creates a nuisance for residents, possibly infringing on their privacy, and creating noise, air pollution, security and fire safety problems,' a department spokesman said.
Alison Chong, who runs a cafe on the second floor of Po Foo Building in Lee Garden Road, which lies in one of the proposed new zones, said she feared the new rules would make the neighbourhood too commercial.
The 47-year-old building is a typical composite block, with the first four floors occupied by cafes, boutiques, a wool shop, a tailor, a hair salon, dance studios and small company offices. There are mostly homes on the higher floors.
'If the area is redeveloped just for offices and malls, small businesses like us cannot afford the rent,' Chong said. The rent on her 700 sq ft cafe is HK$20,000 a month.
'You don't have such leisurely ambience in a commercial building. I don't want to see Causeway Bay become Mong Kok, where cafes concentrate in a few tall narrow blocks and people are crammed in the lift lobby waiting to go upstairs. It is hectic and crowded.'
Another resident, Leung King-fu, who lives with his family upstairs, said more businesses had come into the building in recent years.
'It is rather disturbing because you have more unfamiliar faces around. But I do not want to leave because the shops in the streets around are all old friends,' he said.
Hundreds of public submissions have been sent to the Town Planning Board since the amendments were released in September. In the next few months the board will hold a hearing to consider the comments.
The proposed zoning changes also come with various height restrictions on buildings. This also worries residents because they say it will affect the value of their properties.
Many urban design advocates and developers say the new proposal is a mistake.
'Everywhere else in the world, people are talking about the beauty of mixed-use zoning, how it creates interesting streetscapes,' said Kenneth To Lap-kee, an urban planner and consultant.
Paul Zimmerman, chief executive of Designing Hong Kong, said the rezoning would be 'an absolute disaster'.
He said the current system cut traffic by reducing distances between services, jobs and homes. It also provides demand for transport services outside peak hours, making public transport more sustainable.
The Real Estate Developers Association has submitted objections to the rezoning plan. Secretary general Louis Loong Hon-biu said mixed use provided flexibility for the market to decide on the use of land.
'Cities around the world are moving towards mixed use. If officials say mixed use will make it difficult to plan for transport, they should plan for the worst-case scenario,' he said.
Architect Ng cited Paterson Street as strong proof that the traditional mixed use worked well, saying there were ways to solve transport planning problems, such as better traffic control and restricting streets for pedestrians only.