Why a place to swim and relax along Hong Kong’s iconic harbour isn’t such a bad idea
Peter Kammerer sees merit in a downtown beach or swimming platform on Victoria Harbour – following the successful examples in cities like Paris and Berlin
It’s verging on criminal to allow a public asset as glorious as Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour to be used for little more than water traffic. Harbourside plans have been much talked about and an authority to oversee development has been proposed, but it could yet be years before any of its ideas come to fruition. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has pre-empted the decision-making by suggesting that there is no better place to go for a lunchtime swim or to fish. He’s not entirely wrong, though the thought that an hour is all that’s needed to get from the office to the lapping waves to take a dip or cast a line and grab a bite to eat before returning is nothing short of demented.
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In a blog posting last week, Leung envisaged a swimming platform near the IFC from which office workers could take a 20-minute dip during their lunch hour as an alternative to going to the gym. Praising fishing as a good way to relax, he also suggested a 45-minute break to sit by the shore and cast a line. Understandably, he has been ridiculed for a host of reasons, among them the time constraints faced by workers, the low quality of harbour water, heavy ferry and pleasure-boat traffic and the impracticality of going fishing for such a short time during the hottest and busiest part of the day. Put that down to someone out of touch with everyday people.
The chief executive was actually expanding on a proposal put forward in his annual policy address in January for the creation of fishing zones in Central, Tai Po and Tsing Yi. Among the facilities provided would be shelters and chairs. It all seems sensible until it’s realised that this is another bureaucratic plot aimed at keeping our city orderly and manageable for civil servants; think of the hair-brained scheme that stripped our streets of vibrancy by pushing dai pai dong from footpaths to indoor markets. When dedicated angling areas have been deemed a success, bans will surely be implemented on throwing a line into the harbour whenever and wherever one likes.
Leung’s heart is nonetheless in the right place: those of us in hectic jobs in a busy city need to drag ourselves away from our desks more often than we do to exercise and relax. Swimming and fishing are perfect pastimes and what better place than the harbour to partake of them? The biggest drawback is that the right environment does not yet exist, either in terms of facilities or basics such as clean water, safety and good-sized fish. But if Leung is serious about making lives healthier and more tranquil, as his blog posting appeared to indicate, he should also mandate that swimming and fishing areas be accompanied by a two or three-hour afternoon siesta period, as is widely practised in Spain, the Middle East and Latin America.
I’m not a fish eater and find catching fish for the sake of it and then throwing them back wasteful and cruel. The swimming idea has its merits, though. Several cities have beaches close to business districts: Berlin, London, Paris, Dubai and Brisbane among them. Berlin’s Badeschiff on the Spree River and Paris’ plages beside the River Seine are among those that are artificial, but offer much-needed places for relaxation in the summer. Downtown city beaches are about sunbathing, drinking and eating, people-watching, activities like canoeing and, if the water quality is right, swimming.
Making our harbour something for all to enjoy should be a government priority. Getting the right facilities and activities in place will improve Hong Kong’s livability and boost tourism. We can do better than mere swimming platforms and fishing zones; we have enough creative minds among us to make the harbourside a place truly worth going to for a few hours, an afternoon, perhaps a whole day.
Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post