Out of date

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 April, 2012, 12:00am


I am in agony. So are the thousands of others who live or work in the vicinity of the old Victoria Prison/Central Police Station complex. What was once a serene oasis of historic low-rise buildings where birds nestled on tiled roofs is now an ugly construction site.

A piledriver hulks like a sullen soldier awaiting orders to pound away. Demolition machines have already done their dirty work, leaving mountains of rubble where some of the old prison buildings once stood. The piercing rat-a-tat of jackhammers and the vanished rooftops have driven away many of the birds.

Who asked for all this? Not the people, and certainly not the thousands who live and work in the area. Only the pompous policymakers of the Hong Kong Jockey Club wanted it. The government gave them the heritage site to preserve for the people. But just like the government bureaucrats, these Jockey Club know-alls felt they knew better than the people what the people wanted. They decided the best way to preserve a heritage site is to destroy part of it.

First, they came up with the insanity of demolishing a large chunk of the complex for a soaring glass building with a viewing deck. A viewing deck to view what? Central's high-rise jungle has already created a concrete wall around the site. Critics shot down the glass-tower folly.

Fierce opposition from area residents, preservationists and the general public finally forced them to limit their destruction of the site to three buildings of the least heritage value. New buildings of similar height will replace them.

But why destroy at all? So what if some of the buildings are less historical? They are still part of a historic complex of buildings. What other city destroys part of a heritage site, even entire buildings except for the fa?ade, in the name of preservation? Our bureaucrats do it all the time.

Where else do you find a historical building so ludicrously altered in the name of preservation that it looks like a new building? That's what has happened to the former Marine Police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui, which is now a ritzy hotel with an upscale shopping mall.

People who live and work near the old Central Police Station complex face many months of excruciating construction noise and dust for no reason other than to satisfy the egos of Jockey Club officials. There is little we can do about property tycoons demolishing perfectly good buildings for new, taller ones to feed their greed. But there was no sane reason for the Jockey Club to make our already maddeningly noisy city even noisier by destroying part of our heritage.

Incoming chief executive Leung Chun-ying likes to talk about change. He sees a lot wrong with our society. We have lopsided wealth distribution, stagnant wages in the lower income groups, unaffordable housing, a handful of tycoons wielding disproportionate power, and more. We have a ruling class which thinks it knows better than the people what the people want. I await Leung's promised changes. But to change the way our bureaucrats think, we need a total reboot.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com