Tuesday, October 9, 2007

West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD). Another white elephant?

Before the current proposals, the site had been earmarked for a WATERFRONT PARK. In 1998, then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa announced a "state-of- the-art performance venue" for the site. The government admits that this project was not "demand-led" but "supply-led". That is, HK people don't need another white elephant (we already have Cyberport!)
Concept plans were submitted in 2001 followed by invitations to developers for preliminary plans in 2003.

A couple of years later, the government buckled under pressure and announced a scaled-down proposal for the development of the 40-hectare harborfront site at the southern tip of the West Kowloon reclamation into what it calls a "world- class cultural district."

The new proposal sought to allay fears that the government colluded with big developers by limiting the land open to a single developer to 20 hectares and opening up the other half to multiple developers.

Under the revised proposal, one of the three short-listed bidders will win sole-development rights to at least half of the residential and commercial land, with the remaining land put up for open tender.

The large Waterfront Park this city misses so much is traded for a mix of residential towers, shopping malls, and cultural facilities. The collusion between the unelected government and big business means that yet another huge plot of land is stolen from the people and handed over to developers who will capitalise on it.

An opinion poll conducted by HK alternatives revealed that:

1. 81% prefer cultural plus leisure facilities including a large green park;
2. When given full information on the cost and visual impact, 77% oppose a canopy;
3. 90% of the respondents support planning and development by an Authority or quasi-Government agencies – only 6% opted for management by private developers;
4. 65% believe that harbour reclamation was excessive;
5. 72% objected to commercial and residential development on the west Kowloon Cultural District ;
6. 62% believe Hong Kong does not have sufficient open space and green parks;
7. 64% believe Hong Kong lags behind international cities in terms of open space and parks;
8. 90% liked the idea of developing Hong Kong into an environmentally friendly city.

The results are very different from what government surveys claim. In the consultation process, the public was invited to choose one of three different proposals submitted by developers, the alternative option of having a park dotted with some small cultural venues was never included in the government surveys.

As a long-term resident, educator and cultural critic i firmly oppose rushing through the WKCD against the real needs
of the community.
If a lesson is to be learned from Cyberport - a huge white elephant, with very low occupancy that totally failed to become the regional hub for high-tech research we were promised by its supporters - the government should consider investing on education before planning any expansion of existing cultural facilities.

Hong Kong has a large number of empty industrial buildings and a few heritage buildings that can be converted into
cultural facilities. Private galleries and artists have already rented space in districts such as Kwun Tong, Fo Tan etc. to meet their needs. The art sector here is so small, that supply far exceeds demand.
On the other hand, in such a polluted and congested city, everybody needs green open space. Hong Kong people still work ridiculous long hours, and can't even find the time to play with their children, let alone visit museum exhibitions. HK schools don't put enough resources and emphasis on art education, a pre-condition for art appreciation and production.

Furthermore, why should art be exhibited in purposedly-built museums? Art installations can be placed anywhere! And, after killing all cultural life in old districts, removing street markets (and street life) by making room for yet more shopping malls, they are trying to make us pay a museum ticket to enjoy a bad copy, a sanitised version of it in a white cube.
It's a bit like killing the remaining wildlife and building a zoo!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If people working in the creative field were really creative, they would find a more creative solution to the alleged lack of space for the arts than pouring concrete on the waterfront. We don't need more buildings, just green open space. Parks are very versatile. You can have open air concerts, both rock and classical music, open air amphitheatres, artists could exhibit sculptures and installations in the park, while other people could walk their dogs, go for a run, do Tai Chi, sit on a bench to read the paper, play in the grass with their kids. A park is far more inclusive and multifunctional than any cluster of "iconic" buildings can ever be. And of course, it's a lot more environmentally friendly. We need clean air!