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  • Dec 25, 2014
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CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong needs review of historic building heritage policy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 April, 2013, 3:00am

What is more sad than for a great city to lose its heritage bit by bit? Historic buildings and monuments, once demolished, are gone forever. That is why world cities steeped in history and culture have long embraced heritage conservation. A city that turns its back on its past loses its soul and character.

Thankfully, Hong Kong joined the heritage conservation movement following a belated wake-up call a few years ago. Although most of the majestic colonial buildings that once lined the shore of Victoria Harbour have long gone, experts say some 1,444 buildings are still worthy of protection to some extent. The figures may sound impressive for a tiny city with just a brief colonial history. But against a backdrop of tens of thousands of buildings around the city, the numbers are indeed woefully small. They warrant better efforts at preservation for our future generations.

Regrettably, the present regime does not necessarily save our historic buildings from the wrecking ball. Unless they deserve the top status as a declared monument, the 1,444 buildings can still be flattened even if they are graded as having some sort of heritage value. Members of the Antiquities Advisory Board were told that 26 of the graded buildings have actually been knocked down or substantially altered. The news is a sad reminder that the fate of our heritage buildings is still left to the whims of their owners. The lack of protection makes an effective conservation mechanism all the more important. A policy review is needed.

The city's lack of space and strong appetite for development means old buildings are constantly under the threat of demolition. While there are no qualms about the need to pursue development, conservation is no less important. Whether our future generations can still possess anything they proudly call heritage depends on how well we strike the balance between the two today.


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Anyone who was bought up even in the 60s of last century knows how much Hong Kong has demolished its buildings of the earlier period. They were residences or commercials. They all reflected a style that accommodated the subtropical climate of Hong Kong with deep covered sidewalks and verandas. Sp****ly a few left in Sheung Wan. The old general post office once stood on Pedder Street long disappeared too. That even includes the old Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank which was a symbol even made into children’s plastic piggybank. Not only we have lost part of history that embedded in those stones and mortar to satisfy our nostalgic impulse, we too have lost a mirror to remind us the new replacements are so much lacking in quality and intelligence. It is not a critic on architecture; it is a critic on our arrogance in wrecking our past that has so much to do about our ignorance of our old buildings. It is shameful too when we act so ignorantly because of greed: a taller building with cheaper material can lower cost but increase profits. If people also stands with these greedy developers than Hong Kong deserves to be known as a land of cultural desert. CY Leung as a leaqder must side with the people.
There is a major difference between "old" and "historically signifiant". The rush in preservation circles in HK seems to classify the former as being equivalent to the latter. Govt House is historically significant; the old Legco Chambers likewise; even the West Wing could fall into this classification. Structures like the old Central Market are not and putting prime sites like this up for auction should be a priority. The vast majority of Hong Kong's old buildings should be razed and the sites redeveloped.
In most countries, when a building is considered historic and worth saving, then it is declared a historic monument. The owner may use, live in, lease, rent or even restore the proprty...they just cannot demolish it and the government does not get into the business of buying it. Why can we not settle for this normal practice when historic buildings are concerned. The obsession with property speculation and tranding means that given a chance, every square inch of Hong Kong woudl be demolished and rebuilt, only to be resold and traded.


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