Historic Pok Fu Lam village named alongside Venice in World Monuments Watch list

One of the last villages on Hong Kong Island makes global list of places under threat, raising hopes that it could become a world heritage site

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 6:12pm

Pok Fu Lam village has been named in an international list that seeks to preserve threatened monuments around the world.

The World Monuments Watch list features 67 cultural heritage sites under threat in 41 countries, including Venice city in Italy and Yangon historic city centre in Myanmar.

And being included in the list means that the 150-year-old Pok Fu Lam village has the potential to become a world heritage site, one expert says.

The village, which for years has been threatened with development, is one of the last villages on Hong Kong Island. Some 2,000 people live in the village in what is classified as "squatter housing", in spaces constructed from metal sheets. Its history dates back to at least 1868.

The village also features historic structures that were part of the city's largest dairy farm, including an octagonal cowshed, main office building and a two-storey Western-style house used as staff quarters. The cowshed and office building have a grade-two status under the city's heritage classification, while the house is classified grade one.

The New York-based non-profit World Monuments Fund described Pok Fu Lam village as "a unique collection of modest traditional buildings on narrow lanes and alleys in the heart of Hong Kong". "The modest appearance of the village belies its importance to the history of Hong Kong," it said.

Villager Siu Kwan-lun, who was among a group which nominated the site for the list, said they wanted to bring attention to the village's unique history. "We want to let the whole of Hong Kong know about Pok Fu Lam village and get to know the place," he said. The village, located next to housing complex Chi Fu Fa Yuen, has for years been under development pressure. In his policy address this year, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying added further pressure with his proposal to lift development restrictions in Pok Fu Lam.

University of Hong Kong architectural conservation expert Dr Lee Ho-yin said the World Monuments Watch list was internationally acclaimed. If the government could draw up detailed proposals on how to preserve and manage Pok Fu Lam village, it could become a world heritage site, he said.

Antiquities Advisory Board chairman Andrew Lam Siu-lo said the existing system allowed the board to grade only individual buildings, so it did not have the basis to preserve the whole village. Many private ownerships in the village also added to preservation difficulties, he said.

The Development Bureau acknowledged the village's "long history and cultural value" and said it would review its heritage conservation policy.

An 80-year-old third-generation villager, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Fung, said the village's environment had been deteriorating over the years. "The houses have become nicer, but the population and the shops have dwindled," she said. Fung said that in the dairy farm's heyday, workers living in the company's dormitories nearby often mingled with the villagers.

Fung, who was unaware of her village's new-found recognition, said much had changed as the younger residents had moved out to the city. "All that's left is us old people now," she said.

Video: Pok Fu Lam Village: Treasure in the city