Goodbye Gutzlaff

Gutzlaff Street

Whenever you come across a particularly charming and surprising corner of Hong Kong, you can almost be sure that the Urban Renewal Authority has plans to do away with it. Although its official vision is “to create quality and vibrant urban living in Hong Kong,” most of its developments obliterate tight-knit communities and organic urban growth in favour of shopping malls, office developments and housing estates. Cynical Hong Kongers see the URA as a proxy for the big land developers that control this town; its projects are usually little more than land grabs for Hong Kong’s economic elite. Aside from displacing well-established neighbourhood social networks, they replace small-scale, independent businesses with corporate chain stores, which degrades the entrepreneurial spirit on which this city was built.

“Choking off the ways that people from the grassroots can independently make a living is one of the strategies of late-stage capitalism,” wrote Daisann McLane last month in a post about the redevelopment of a housing estate in Kowloon Bay. “The big boys want Mr. Wong slaving away for them. They don’t want Ah Wong out there selling his cuttlefish sticks from a cart in the lane when they can make big rent money by having a branch of the Daai Ga Lok chain [instead].”

Lately, the URA has set its sights on the Central street market, a 140-year-old cluster of lowrise buildings, grocery stores and streetside hawkers. True to form, it plans to replace the lively neighbourhood with a few office towers, a hotel and luxury apartments, all of them mounted on podiums and connected by second-storey footbridges. Gutzlaff Street, the laneway pictured above, will disappear altogether. Some shophouse façades on nearby Graham Street will be preserved as window-dressing, but the area will otherwise cease to exist as it has since Hong Kong was first established as a British colony. Several campaigns rallied to oppose the development, going so far as to submit alternative plans to the city’s planning board, but they seem to have failed. Once the URA bulldozer gets started, it’s nearly impossible to stop.

Gutzlaff Street

Gutzlaff Street

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Sunday June 28 2009at 08:06 am , filed under Asia Pacific, Heritage and Preservation, Politics, Public Space and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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