A Heritage Day Without Heritage Advocates
by 約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 5:26pm on 22nd September 2017
1. Hollywood Road closed for Heritage Day celebrations
2. Central Police Station/Tai Kwun heritage display
3. Heritage Day information on heritage preservation projects
Barring Lan Kwai Fong at New Year’s Eve and Halloween, the closure of any Central street is a rare event. So, when Hollywood Road was closed on July 2nd during Hong Kong’s 20th Anniversary celebrations of its return to China, the closure must have been for something special. Rather, it was for someone special. Arranged in mid-2016, well before Leung Chun-ying announced he wouldn’t be standing for re-election as Chief Executive, the road closure was organized by the Heritage Commissioner’s Office as a ‘swansong’ celebratory Heritage Day honouring Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor, who would have - if Leung had stood for re-election - retired.
But, politics can be fickle and planning for the Heritage Day continued and Leung has gone. Lam visited a closed Hollywood Road, not as a new retiree, but as Hong Kong’s newly installed Chief Executive. The Heritage Day comprised individual street booths displaying various heritage and revitalisation projects initiated by Lam after public outrage to the insensitive demolition of the ‘Star’ Ferry pier in 2006. ‘Conserving Central’ was one of the heritage conservation policy initiatives of Lam and then-Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. However, most of these projects involved publicly-owned buildings, so their conversion to other uses, managed by other organisations was relatively straight-forward.
The Heritage Day also held great irony. Community pressure groups were not invited to participate despite their instrumental role in pressurizing government and their oversight of controversial heritage conservation issues. So, the protesters who occupied Queen’s Pier and such heritage activists as the Central & Western Concern Group were not invited to participate in the Heritage Day. Under the Leung administration, heritage conservation and better urban planning policy initiatives were side-lined by a generalist “we need more housing” mantra that did not actually tackle Hong Kong’s housing’s systemic housing problems (such as the small house policy). I am hopeful that Lam will re-focus government attention in these areas.
Also not sighted at the Heritage Day were any of the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) attempts at heritage preservation. That was probably wise: how could the demolition of Lee Tung Street, the former Wedding Card Street, be highlighted when it was now merely a tacky shopping mall and a huge residential development managed for profit by the URA?
And, what about the long-delayed preservation of the Central Market, tasked to the URA? This heritage preservation initiative should be given to another organization to undertake. Or, will it be another URA heritage project reduced to be a shopping centre with demeaned architectural features? That is untenable; the proper preservation and use of the historic Central Market should be added to Mrs Carrie Lam’s long list of neglected issues to be tackled.
Originally published in Perspective, September 2017.
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