Category Archives: News

Creative Tourism- can Wanchai culture be manufactured? A letter to District Councillor Clarisse Yeung

Dear Clarisse,

I read this article in the SCMP with great intrigue. The Tourism commission wants to promote Wan Chai as a creative community by installing instagram-able art walls.

Ignore the directional landmarks indicated, it’s incorrect!

Thank you Tourism Commission. I do like the idea of having beautiful walls to look at. I’ve admired the art work on the sidewalk of Stone Nullah Lane, the mural that suddenly appeared beside Tang Shiu Kin Hospital and the flowers that now decorate the overhead bridge to immigration tower from the mtr does make the walk seem less concrete and more relaxing (you can spot the animals in the changing landscape).

Images of flowers replace on bare concrete

But is that really it?

In the article our Wanchai District Councillor Clarissa Yeung opined that the walls may go unnoticed by the residents and some residents don’t even like the art they see (despite the specific local cultural significance attributed to the motif). Can you please tell us what alternative proposals you have suggested to the Tourism Commission? Anything utilitarian? Residents want what they can use… for example well maintained, covered walkways and pavements (to protect us from being poked by umbrellas and having to maneuver around trees or potholes), smoke free zones so we don’t have to keep waving as we walk, barrier free access to all buildings (and bigger lifts or ramps for the existing public infrastructure), lower streetside pollution.

How about these suggestions Clarisse? You can say you heard it from a Wan Chai resident.

1) Pedestrian Car-free Day on Sundays on Johnston and Lockhart Road. To allow us residents to properly admire the art and enjoy the neighbourhood. If the authorities doubt how useful pedestrianized areas are, please look at the crowd on Lee Tung Avenue admiring the art there. Open up the streets for everyone to come to Wan Chai to enjoy. This would allow residents from all walks of life to meet and build connections. Trams can still operate and bring a bike or scooter? (Mostly, kids have scooters). A Sunday morning once a month from 6-11am would be very well received, other top world cities have done this.

2) How about Pop-up playgrounds? If you want the tourists and locals to bring families into the city to spend and stay, this would be an awesome project for the district. Instead of exhibits that cannot be touched (again, see Lee Tung Avenue which rarely allows anyone to touch anything…yawn *boring*…or high class Art Basel), how about getting an experiential artist who can design an installation and play spaces that will bring real lasting and fun memories to the next generation. Who brings the next generation? Well, this generation and very often, the one before. You’d be getting 3 generations which would be much more meaningful than the current exhibits. There’ll be a ton of social media sharing.

3) Force landlords who have commercial property sitting empty for more than 3 months to rent it to a cha chaan teng or convert into an indoor playroom. Ok, I admit this is a huge challenge but looking at empty “for rent” spaces while landlords wait for asset inflation creates just as much of a visual and featureless hole as art installations decorate one. (This would be a follow-on of the residential vacancy tax). The property next to the temple on Queens Road East facing Tai Wong East Street has been empty for almost a year and what a waste of space. There are many more to be seen as you walk down the street.

Wan Chai has a dearth of facilities for young children or moms and grandmas to get together. (Please do not suggest that the sitting out areas are appropriate or sufficient because they are not. Some are by busy polluted streets, others have benches at linear intervals that do not promote conversation and almost none are good in hot humid rainy weather).

The Stone Nullah art installation should remind the authorities to preserve more al fresco style casual restaurants or eateries. I’ve heard that St Francis Street is losing its only cha chaan teng very soon due to redevelopment. Locals and regular visitors to this 60-year old establishment will feel its loss, both for its nostalgic link to the past and its current popular menu. The red light district and its supporting establishments have their own means of advertising, public money need not go towards promoting it further.

Please share any other ideas you have with me in the comments section.

P.s. I’ve had to give advice and directions to tourists with families asking for the nearest playground and family friendly eating cafes. If you could get the Tourism Commission to put these into that fancy app, that may make it a lot more useful.

With reference to: Why Wan Chai is unlike any other place in Hong Kong – and it’s not just because of its sleazy red light district

https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/society/article/3006972/why-wan-chai-unlike-any-other-place-hong-kong-and-its-not

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Updates around Wan Chai

I’m still wary walking around this week as there are still lots of broken off tree branches, loose signage and chips of granite and glass on the pavement. It’s already a whole lot better, salute to the cleaning crew who work with such clinical efficiency.

I am feeling sad today for a particular tree that has been uprooted in Wan Chai. The massive and shady tree that stood as tall as the Hennessy Primary School looks to have a similar fate to the one in the news in TST. It has provided shelter to taxi drivers on their mid day break, pedestrians who just need that cover for the crossover and a green canopy (for those looking over that crazy intersection that cars need to manoeuvre) to get on to Wan Chai road from Fleming road.

Bye bye tree 😢. Corner of Takan Lodge[[[[[[
On Lee Tung Avenue, all the smaller trees that fell over are back upright and the lanterns have made their reappearance. Nothing’s gonna stop the commercial celebration of lantern festival this weekend.

The dog mascot stands sentry over the lanterns at Lee Tung Avenue

At the Blue House this Saturday evening, there’s a gathering for the mid autumn aka lantern festival. The promo leaflet is all in chinese. Essentially there’s a lantern competition for the best handmade one, a dumpling making activity and lots of general hanging around with the residents of the Blue House. I rang the organizer and was a little disappointed that you can show up but none of the listed items were actual “activities”. She postured that if you lived in the neighborhood and had “nothing else to do that evening…” you could drop by. 🤔

She also said that everyone had to bring their own food to share with others as no snacks are provided…

I attended a mid autumn festival village party in Shek O last year and it was a marvellous effort by the community to putting on a fun event for families and a whole spectrum of society, with sitting areas for eating Tong yun for the duration of the evening (made and shared for a small donation of $10-50 per person). And kids got to help out too. There were games areas with an array of prizes, a beautiful area where everyone displayed the lanterns they made. Unfortunately this year the devastation inflicted by the typhoon is so severe that the residents will probably not be in the mood to celebrate.

I’m curious to see how the Blue House organizes this and whether they can make it really nice or if it turns out to be a sloppy sort of event confined to pavements with no fun or colour to it. Let’s see.

Typhoon 10 Mangkhut huffed and puffed and…

The biggest storm so far of 2018 and the last two decades was fascinating to witness.

This was a great test of urban infrastructure, a lesson for architects and engineers, a real way for the community to bond through helping each other or simply keeping in touch.

Yesterday evening, I spent it at Shek O beach. The swells were increasing in size, reaching almost 2 meters in the short time we were there at low tide.

It had been an idyllic day, hot but sunny and somehow, knowing that a massive storm was soon to strike, most people were out making the most of it. Wanchai on a Saturday afternoon had an almost carnival like atmosphere.

Here are a few sights of the aftermath in Wan Chai last night.

Some dangers still lurking above and beneath your feet. Anyone heading out should wear only sturdy shoes and be highly alert for possible loose items that could cause injury.

Broken glass from windows and chunks of granite

Broken, broken, broken.

Fallen signboards and ripped lanterns
Many trees affected along Gloucester Road

Tree down on Lockhart, Firemen surveying scene

Overall things weren’t too bad in Wan Chai. The trees were the most affected, and a few buildings will need to sort their windows out. Shui On Center needs to work on their lifts and air con.

From The SCMP

All closed up at the MTR station

Tree leaning against a bench at Lee Tung Avenue.

And I’ve now figured out why the bins in Wan Chai are still in the same place. Someone thought of tethering them to the nearest railing. Such a simple and clearly effective idea. 👍😀Good thinking.

Another construction site banging near you soon

If you live anywhere along Queens Road East, you may be suffering from the development of Hopewell Center 2. The constant jack hammering (they hit a big rock and it has to go, somehow) has forced tenants who are affected by noise and vibration to locate their business elsewhere.

The dusty and dirty business of construction drives out all but the most persistent of shops and stores as foot traffic drops. The rent had better be damn good to make them stay.

I noticed the vacancies on Anton Street for a long time and I should have guessed that it was the long awaited extension of the Swire empire in Wanchai. 28 Hennessy, that white swanky building next to the Ozo hotel is going to become a massive commercial property with another larger tower beside it. Thanks to the Designing Hong Kong blog, I was able to see what the plans are.

The extension is for two basement underground car park floors (only 32 cars so not even 1 car park lot per floor of each building), a few pop up shops on the ground level (1 basement retail-what could this be?!), presumably swanky chain coffee shops from the Swire group, two levels (in pink) for some varied purpose and a green space that doubles up as a refuge zone in the event of an emergency.

This is all very well from an architectural viewpoint. But Designing Hong Kong makes the case that it is destroying the vibrant street life that existed there before.

I’m not against redevelopment, in fact I think careful redevelopment brings certain advantages to the neighbourhood. For example bigger sidewalks due to mandatory setbacks, more shade from the sun or rain for pedestrians, the renewal of pipes and electrical wires that pose a hazard in old buildings attempting to support the demands of new technology. It could also bring about a better selection of goods and services….

So I took a closer inspection of what the redevelopment plans are all about.

You can see that the plot for redevelopment is about 60% of the block, affecting three streets, Anton, Landale and Queens Road East. Anton street has no street life anymore since Swire acquired the buildings, and Ozo dominates the opposite block. Landale Street is the F&B heart of the area with ever changing local food choices serving lunch to office workers.

Check out the ground floor. There’s some allocation for retail or pop-up stores, an interactive art wall, a bit of green here and there for visual impact (ie nothing that you can picnic on).

What really bothers me is the lack of public accessible seating or areas to rest. I think that the authority granting redevelopment licenses should demand more of this from every developer. You’ve deprived the area of convenient and accessible street-level amenities like restaurants, laundry, printing shops at street level (not to mention other businesses that used to operate above) and replacing it with an office tower full of financial firms and big name institutions. You could at least make some demands on catering to public interest.

Is this all part of the payback for the connection between Admiralty and Wanchai…. the bridge and tunnel domination of the Swire group as an extension of Pacific Place and PP3.

This plan shows the 2nd floor. Okay nice podium garden, landscape garden… is it open to the public? I’ve walked past 28 Hennessy many times and it’s cold and stark lobby area does not encourage anyone to ascend the escalator to the lobby. That pink area designated for office/Exhibition/education.. what is that? Will it be a tuition center or a Wework type office?

Here’s the side view. You can see that the gardens are inaccessible, they are all above the first floor.

The picture above from Designing Hong Kong shows the “entrance” to 28 Hennessy, all concrete, no seating areas, just a stark flat area (albeit with a few token sculptures) beside the escalator. It’s sayonara to the pink building with the curved exterior that (among other things) had a yoga studio, a local shirt tailor, a little snack shop selling the traditional Hong Kong egg waffles and fruit juice. Now we have large cement trucks, cranes and piling machines to look forward to.

As developers go, Swire sets one of the highest standards in the industry. Swire, please find a way to include many more redeeming factors in this particular development. I’d like to see a great connector between Johnston and Queens Road East where people can pass through, take a break, people-watch, shade from the sun and rain.

It used to be that office staff from Central would head over one or two stops on the tram to a bustling local neighbourhood to get a cheap and filling lunch quickly and all sorts of office or personal errands done.

Now, it seems those 2 stops aren’t far enough.

…………………

Make your comment* about this development to the Town Planning Board here. It closes tomorrow (7Aug) so do it quickly.

Thanks to Designing Hong Kong for letting us know about this!