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  • Dec 29, 2014
  • Updated: 3:30pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong's heritage still vanishing

Ken Borthwick says the destruction of Hong Kong's heritage continues, with the government seemingly unwilling to save historic sites

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 September, 2013, 8:17am

Last month, the government further advanced its accomplishments, in keeping with its abysmal track record of destroying Hong Kong's heritage and environment, by opposing the community proposal of making an important part of historic Government Hill into a heritage area. This proposal was turned down by the Town Planning Board.

This would have been an opportunity to make a significant gesture to safeguard a historic area from the dangers of development, at virtually no cost or risk, as all the land concerned - the former Central Government Office ensemble, former French Mission Building, now Court of Final Appeal and Battery Path - was in government ownership already.

Government action seems directed to aiding and abetting the destruction of Hong Kong's heritage and environment, where the laws for the protection of heritage buildings are outdated and protection of heritage areas is non-existent. In this respect, we are woefully out of date compared with Singapore.

Last month, the Post featured an inspired article on the revitalisation of tong lau, or low-rise shop houses, in the Sheung Wan/Tai Ping Shan areas for residential use. The article described how in Hong Kong few tong lau remain, "unlike in Macau and Singapore which have preserved entire streets, even neighbourhoods", featuring this period architecture.

Tai Ping Shan and adjoining areas represent one of urban Hong Kong's few remaining gems, with its still relatively low-rise feel; the beautiful Blake Garden in the centre, which occupies the site of unsanitary houses that were cleared at the time of the plague at the beginning of the 20th century.

The area also features handsome masonry walls, a historic granite stairway on Pound Lane flanked by the boundary retaining wall and balustrade of Blake Garden, the historic Kwong Fook I Tsz temple on Tai Ping Shan Street and a number of historic sites connected with the medical history of Hong Kong. It represents a green and tranquil oasis in contrast to the soulless towers elsewhere in Mid-Levels.

In the article, Professor Lee Ho-yin, of the University of Hong Kong, describes how in his native Singapore they introduced a conservation master plan about 30 years ago to preserve historic districts such as Chinatown, which was prompted in part by falling tourism numbers attributed to the loss of local character in the drive to build the modern metropolis. He described how Singapore used the power of planning to designate certain areas as conservation areas to restrict how much can be built.

The Tai Ping Shan/Hollywood Road area is crying out for conservation area protection status. However, it is under threat from a Highways Department proposal to build an unnecessary escalator up Pound Lane which, besides destroying historic features including the Pound Lane steps and parts of Blake Garden, would almost certainly act as a catalyst for the destruction by developers of this historic area and displacement of its community.

Only recently, a Ralph Lauren store has opened up on Hollywood Road, representing an unwelcome intrusion into the historic street.

Isn't it ironic that the government, with its highly paid heritage supremos and advisers, appears to be incapable of safeguarding anything that makes Hong Kong special.

Ken Borthwick is a conservation architect in Hong Kong


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Our heritage and environment are being destroyed by evil property developers with the collusion of Government and Town Planning Boards.
Yes, pass effective laws, but in the meantime where is the ICAC?
Thank you for this article. Keep raising the profile of Hong Kong's heritage and hopefully something will be done to maintain it... or what's left of it..
This depresses me so much; our Government has no sense of the value of heritage and the need to respect HK's past. I think I will go and stay at the new boutique hotel on Lugard Road to cheer up while I am waiting for the rest of the harbour to be concreted over.
mercedes2233, what are homes? The point is, destroying even more relics won't make you homes. You are actually giving up your homes in allowing others to take away your space, whether it is heritage site or not.
One day all cities in world will look alike HK, with skycrapers, dazzling glasses and steel monuments... may be more modern. Its these heritage establishment makes the city unique like a diamond on the crown, they are priceless, it's the root of HK, please stop killing HK!!!
To merce.....
Hong Kong is not looking for housing for its citizens. Hong Kong is looking for bodies rich and the related outside of Hong Kong in order to sustain its property sector. It’s a business including employing the most pragmatic policies by the government to support it. For an individual unless who is in the property sector who would defend the right to destroy heritage to make room for housing is jarringly alarming otherwise – totally brainwashed by the property culture. It took mere 15 years to undo century of doing. Alarmed and disturbed.
If your comment is meant to be sarcastic, please accept my apology for my misinterpretation.
Surely we need homes at this time, not relics. Ask the people who live in the appalling subdivided flats whether they ever look at the so-called heritage sites, and which they prefer.
1. We shouldn’t be fooled in believing that the destruction of colonial architecture including those of more recent vintage is out of political correctness directed by any of the Chief Executive since the hangover. I for one don’t believe they were pushed by the central government. There are plenty buildings even built by KMT survived in mainland. Our local government is being pushed by local developers to tear down the colonial architecture which naturally situated in good locations for lucrative property development. The property developers are the invisible hands. They love money more than history. After all, these property developers are old enough now one can conclude that they were refugees who have a poor beginning that those colonial buildings were located far away from their lives. They can’t apply sentiment to things foreign to them. But the lack of money as a refugee sure makes money most precious even in creating opportunities to possess them by tearing down buildings of historical value.
2. I will advise we should focus on our local property developers for their mischief using LDC years ago and now Urban Renewal Authority as front man to axe down buildings of historical value. The Planning Board and the Heritage Board (?) only exist to sidetrack what real planning and heritage saving that must be done. I will suggest when appealing to the public and government fail, try the Central Government. I believe Central Government has better sense for history and would love those buildings remain in Hong Kong even beyond after some 30 years from now.
3D Laser Scanning Technology exists to digitally preserve heritage sites. City University's Applied Laboratory for Interactive Visualization and Embodiment (ALiVE) has the expertise to do so. What's stopping HK for minimally digitally preserving those sites that, for whatever reason, must be torn down?



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