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CommentInsight & Opinion

Parks not just for nature-loving bullies

Balakrishnan Narayanan says future policy must favour poor, not a self-entitled chattering class

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 11:39pm

While following the debate about whether Hong Kong should build homes in country parks, I am reminded of one of the most touching films I have ever seen, The Tree of the Wooden Clogs, by Italian director Ermanno Olmi, which tells the story of a peasant family in 19th-century Lombardy.

The peasants lead a precarious existence on the fringe of a huge country estate and, one severe winter, the father dares to cut down a tree to make clogs for his barefoot son. For this crime, the family is thrown out of the estate while the lord of the manor continues to enjoy all his trappings.

Hong Kong owes its country park policy to rule by the British, whose "feudal lords" at home made sure large sections of land were cordoned off for their hunting activities. In fact, many were originally known as "deer parks" and were surrounded by hedges to keep the deer in and people out. England remains an overcrowded island where the aristocracy still makes a living as renters of real estate. Walking and picnicking in the park make sense in temperate climates but I am not sure about parks in hot, humid climates.

Not all British policies are bad but Hong Kong has to follow its own priorities. The worship of nature has become the new superstition among the chattering classes of the world, who use their "natural, organic" beliefs as a tool for distinguishing themselves from the "great unwashed". I dare say that Hong Kong's country parks are used mostly by the well-heeled, while the poor people of Sham Shui Po drown their sorrows in the mahjong parlours or the "new country parks" - shopping malls.

If some of the space in the country parks were used for housing, poor people would be vastly better off and Hong Kong need not become any uglier, provided planning is carried out well and the homes are designed to please. Sticking a tree in a podium of glass and chrome does not make it "sustainable" or beautiful. Those who have seen the beauty of St Mark's Square in Venice know that you can build beautiful public squares without a blade of grass.

Nature worship is not morally superior per se. It was practised by German Romantics and a section of Japanese Shinto people, who in turn passed it on to the fascists of Japan and Germany. Hitler liked to holiday amid "nature" in his Eagle's Nest and was a vegetarian. It did not prevent him from sending people to death camps.

Hong Kong's policymakers should take a clear look at how they are going to use the limited land supply for the benefit of the poor, instead of being bullied into a position that if they do not reserve a large section of country parks and golf clubs for the pleasure of the elite, then somehow they are committing an environmental crime.

Balakrishnan Narayanan is a company director who has lived in Hong Kong for more than 20 years

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johnyuan
Expand Hong Kong border north as I have proposed previously. Central government should seriously consider it.
Byebye
Once a part of the Country Park is cut down for use, say for a building, even a resting place for country park users, that part of the vegetation will be gone forever!
honkiepanky
I like this article, but I think the author fails to grasp that many members of the "chattering classes" vehemently opposed to development in country parks actually don't give a damn about the environment. These are the people who bought properties for a relative pittance a decade or two ago, and now will fight tooth and nail against any proposal that might undermine their (totally undeserved and unearned) gains.
wwong888
chip on your shoulder? what do you know about the chattering classes? another moron.
XYZ
A key goal of any housing policy should be to increase the size and quality of the typical Hong Kong abode rather than the current trend of ever-smaller and ever-flimsier quality.
johnyuan
Until the current crop of refugees turned property developers all wither away would there be a change of heart and mind for better housing. Even that, I am not that sure of the generation to come even though one is an architect. But such profession is irrelevant with good architecture in Hong Kong. So disappointed.
johnyuan
Let this article stands after the waste land in the NT is cleared for the needed housing. But more importantly, let this article be questioned of its simplicity in its solution to housing and land shortage – open up the country parks. We must look at the problems from the demand side and ask why there is a continuous demand when the natural local population is not growing? It is simple arithmetic that by importing migrants from mainland unchecked not a single country park can be preserved. Your articulation is at fault both in the short and long range in solving housing and land shortage in Hong Kong.
.....
I hope you will change your mind unless you are a property investor or a property developer which I can’t depend on you to preserve our country parks even you have lived in Hong Kong more than twenty years.
honkiepanky
Even if there is no population growth going forward, HK needs much more housing. Why should we suffer in such small and expensive homes compared to the rest of the developed world?
johnyuan
Developing country parks will be just of the same -- we would suffer in small and expansive homes. You can't beat the system I am afraid in artificially creating demand to no end.
honkiepanky
John, there is enough green space in HK to provide 10x as much housing as we have currently. There is absolutely no reason we are doomed to suffer small and expensive homes. I don't understand your defeatist attitude.

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