There was a time when the street named after explorer Fernao Mendes was the centre of industry in Taipa - when firecrackers, not casinos, were Macau's claim to fame. But a shifting economy led to the closure of the Yick Loong firecracker factory in the 1980s, and the 3.6-hectare site has sat undeveloped since. The city said it would develop the site into an urban park, complete with an art gallery, amphitheatre and green areas that incorporated existing structures - but those promises were made 10 years ago and although designs have been drawn up by local architects, construction has yet to break ground. Public works officials would not comment on the status of the site, but sources say someone claiming a right to use the land may have raised a dispute. And since the factory site was recently removed from city guidelines that would have limited the height and characteristics of development, residents fear the delay could mean that profit in the form of massive development will supersede the quality of life a park could bring to the community, or even worse, lead to more development in Taipa Village, a stone's throw from the factory doors. Their fears are not unwarranted. Land is scarce in Macau, and Taipa Island is a prime location for new development - the latest of which will be Stanley Ho Hung-sun's one-million-sq-ft Nova Taipa Gardens phase-two residential project. He also has plans for an exclusive hotel and entertainment complex on Taipa. In 2002, bulldozers had already broken ground and laid a foundation for a 30-floor apartment complex across from the factory, before angry residents took to the radio airwaves to protest. The height of the complex was legal, since the land it was to be on was also one of the areas removed from city guidelines. Residents said that such a building would dwarf the Our Lady of Carmel Church nearby, and their concerns were so strong that Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah reportedly stepped in at the last minute and arranged a land swap with the developer, thereby ending the project. 'It was a nightmare. Residents in Macau are very quiet unless there is something very important to speak up against,' said William Wong, a lecturer at the Institute of Tourism Studies in Macau, who lives in Taipa Village. 'The residents consider that area very valuable, so they voiced their opinions. I don't think the government will dare to give the site to another developer proposing a 30-storey building. If they do, the same will happen again.' But others are doubtful the administration has learned its lesson. In 2002, the city unveiled its new plan for Taipa Village, which actually removed 60 per cent of the area that had, since 1987, been shielded by guidelines protecting the height and characteristics of the village. Conceivably anything could be built on the former factory site, said architect and researcher Francisco Pinheiro, who is working on his PhD in architecture in Macau. 'The factory site serves as a buffer to Taipa Village. Once that area is lost, the village could potentially be surrounded by concrete monsters,' Mr Pinheiro said. The parameters the city gave to architects for the urban park reduced the original factory site by 47 per cent to about 20,000 sq m, he said. The area originally used by the factory extended about 250 metres to Avenida Olimpico to the northwest, yet models for the urban park were only half that size and excluded nine existing structures on the site. 'When the urban park was proposed, Chinese heritage was not a big concern,' Mr Pinheiro said. 'Nowadays, because of Unesco, people are more concerned about the memories of China's past and this is an opportunity to recover 100 per cent of the site.' At the heart of the debate is what value Macau places on cultural preservation versus economic interests. Much has been publicised about the 12 historic sites in Macau that were submitted to Unesco for consideration on the World Heritage list. The popularity of cultural preservation also led to developers using the term simply to give their projects more momentum, said Mario Duarte Duque, one of the architects who won a public competition to design the urban park at the Yick Loong site. Sometimes an interest in culture was just to differentiate it from other projects, Mr Duque said, and developers would even manipulate, or fabricate, a cultural aspect to get positive feedback from the community. Mr Duque said that the public sector was therefore in the best position to monitor social and cultural sustainability. But if the public sector was less than vigilant, controversies such as the one over the proposed 30-floor complex could escalate. A public record search shows that Macau SAR owns the Yick Loong factory site, so the decision is wholly in the hands of the government. Residents are hoping they will be included in the process and that, beyond lip service, preservation of this historical part of Macau actually takes place. Glenn McCartney, a lecturer at the Institute for Tourism Studies, researches resident attitudes towards gaming and development. He said economic benefits should always be weighed against social costs. Residents were aware of the negative effects of gaming, but only recently had listening to their opinions come to a head in Macau. 'We're at a milestone of development, so it's ever more pressing to have all these results [of resident surveys], but it's up to the government as to whether they will use them or not,' Mr McCartney said. 'It's up to those in positions of power, but the local population should have a say.' Nearly everyone has an idea for what could be built on the site. Mr Wong said he hoped it would include preservation of the site, but also opportunities for local people to generate money. Recently, architecture students of University of Hong Kong professor Naonori Matsuda explored ideas for the site, including a skate park, a public maze, a park containing historical memories with interactive elements, and even a bathroom on the site that explores themes of solitude and escapism. Their projects are now on display in the Centre for Creative Industries at the Macau Cultural Centre. Others hope that the firecracker element is the main draw. 'We could show people how firecrackers were made, let them make their own and have a space where children can set them off,' said Chan Su-weng of the Historical Society of Macau. 'We could display the firecracker labels, even clean up the canal on the site and allow people to row out to see how the goods were transported to boats. There are so many ways to make it work. Fireworks are a very important part of Chinese culture, the industry is so closely linked to China.' Above all, residents say their hope is that while Macau speeds into the future to become the Las Vegas of the east, its Chinese past is remembered. 'Too much construction will make Taipa look like Yohan [the shopping area across from the Sand's Casino],' Mr Pinheiro said. 'Yick Loong is a time capsule of Macau 100 years ago. Macau used to look like this, but not any more.'