Government should develop comprehensive plan for Central

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2011, 12:00am


Hats off to Oren Tatcher for offering the boldest and smartest proposal for the redevelopment of Central Market: replace it with needed office space - while halting plans to tear up Government Hill ('You can't turn a concrete block into an urban oasis', April 12).

The government should take some lessons from his proposal.

As he noted, it should develop a comprehensive plan for Central.

That might have allowed officials to spot the trade-off he has proposed.

Next, the administration should be more thoughtful in framing development problems.

The notion of an 'oasis' pops up routinely in its plans.

This leads to photoshopped images of people enjoying public spaces they would most likely avoid.

The urban oasis is a design clich?. William Whyte, a leading urbanist, wrote that while city dwellers speak of 'getting away from it all', and use words like 'escape', 'oasis', and 'retreat', they invariably head to busy places.

If Chater Garden and the roof of IFC Mall are any indication, people in Hong Kong want something other than a quiet oasis.

Most important, our government needs to fix its planning process - specifically, to develop a clear understanding of a project's function and key components before soliciting design concepts.

Instead of asking architects for designs for Central Market, the Urban Renewal Authority should have asked developers and others to propose concepts.

That could have led to a serious discussion of such alternatives as a [Singaporean] Lau Pa Sat-style food and dai pai dong market, a lifestyle centre featuring major stores like Apple and Eslite, non-commercial uses and an office building.

In the end, what transpires at Central Market may be more significant for the warning it sends about the infinitely more important Central waterfront.

While West Kowloon monopolises its attention, our government seems content to let Central waterfront drift behind a collection of unimaginative plans and renderings that illustrate the sorts of lifeless spaces people avoid.

Hoardings put up by the Civil Engineering and Development Department - the obvious choice to author a world-class waterfront - promise 'An attractive and green waterfront' and 'A waterfront for public enjoyment' along 'A harbour of life'. Even its slogans are boring.

Had our government run an effective planning process, the centrepiece of Central waterfront would be the inner harbour common to most of the world's leading waterfronts.

Ironically, our engineers could have played a crucial role in executing that vision.

Dick Groves, Wan Chai