West Kowloon, Hong Kong
West Kowloon Cultural District
The other evening I had aspirations of heading down to the waterfront in West Kowloon to take/make some images of Hong Kong’s fabulous/famous night time skyline.
Yes, I had aspirations. They were frustrated. Frustrated in the sense that I couldn’t find a suitable vantage point let alone, get anywhere near the waterfront – this from the Kowloon side, more specifically, the West Kowloon side.
Yes, I could have gone to Tsim Sha Tsui and the area around the Cultural Centre there or got on to the roof parking area over at Harbour City. But I, like so many others before me, have been there and done that. I was hoping to get out to the water front area down on the reclamation area and find and do something new from there.
No such luck. That whole vast expanse of space is now totally inaccessible. Its been this way for a long, long while now – this as a totally inhospitable expanse of land peppered with temporary parking lots, part time dumps for construction materials and waste from nearby building and infrastructure projects, diggings and trenches and, not to mention that the whole place is now fenced off with link fencing and topped with barbed wire. A nice place for culture – not that any could ever be discerned from any this mayhem and mess.
As for the history of this place – it would be hard to call this area a district – goes to way back when, back to a time around the hand over of Hong Kong, as in 1997. At about this time a huge tranche of land was being reclaimed out of the waters off Yau Ma Tei – all in all 40 hectares.
When I first arrived in Hong Kong – circa 1994 – none of this was here. At that time you could still take a car ferry from the Jordan Road Ferry Terminal to Central. As part of the reclamation project, the Western Harbour Tunnel was built to replace that ferry service.
While all this reclamation was going on, the property developers – the local administration’s defacto tax collectors – were all rubbing their hands in glee and, like vultures gyrating over carrion, were already sizing up opportunities and all hoping to get a slice of this pie.
Others of a more liberal and sociably responsible persuasion both in the community and in the new and fledgling administration, thought otherwise and put the breaks on this “land grab”.
In many ways, this is where things has more or less stagnated – in something of a stalemate – between those who have the means and those who don’t, between those who have a social and civic conscious and those who don’t really give a damn. As they say, money talks. In Hong Kong this could mean one of two things – things either get done or they don’t. The West Kowloon Cultural District seems be subject to the latter.
The development of the West Kowloon Cultural District is something that’s been peppered with decent and derision and much hyperbole.
In the intervening years two international competitions have been held to further the site’s or district’s development. In the process, lead times for the completion of anything proposed have been drawn out and made long. 2015 for one project and 2026 before any sort of vision is made clear, let alone finalised. Would be interesting to compare developments here with Singapore’s Marina Bay project, something that’s just about complete for the most part.
In the meantime and in terms of development, about the only real thing going ahead there is the station for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Link. And, for all the merit given to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s railway and construction projects or to the Moscow metro for that matter then, I’m guessing, much the same could be accorded to such a development here, this in that a railway station has as much to do with cultural as any other creative exploit. After all, a populace filled railway station seems to be a far better paying proposition than a populace filled concert hall or some kind of hulk of a modern and quite probably empty art gallery.
I guess the question that begs here is this, is Hong Kong or will Hong Kong ever be ready for anything that may smacks of or bounds on being described as “creative”?
Culture in Hong Kong seems to be best found in its open-air street markets, dai-pai-dongs, those open spaces cradled between high rise buildings and its myriad airconditioned shopping malls. The kind of culture proposed by this sort of development is perhaps too remote from the everyday lives of most Hong Hong people.
In the meantime and as may be found in many other populated conurbations, such a space would have been turned into a public park and an open space for all to use – as temporary as some thing like this may ever be.
But then, this is Hong Kong and a place where lying – let alone picnicking – out on open grassed spaces is typically frowned upon. And besides, better to keep the domestic helpers on the streets during their usual day off than to have them using up and occupying such a prestigious space.
As a postscript, could have called this image “My Cordoned Heart”. Here, what could have been “pretty” picture – as in Hong Kong’s significant and magnificent night time skyline – is now subsumed by another kind of reality. In many ways this is how I have come to see and view Hong Kong.
Enjoy – comments and queries are welcome.
PS – as a postscript to my sentiments expressed above, this article was written and first published in 2012. 10 years on and, things across the district have changed quite significantly and, for the most part, for the better. More on this anon…
TECHNICAL NOTES: This image was taken with a Canon 5D MkII data capture device using a Canon TS 24 f/4 L lens.
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originally written and posted on 120709 – reposted on 190119 – revised on 230323.