The “Instagram Pier” — the Western District Cargo Working Area located in Kennedy Town — has been closed to the public since March 1st, as issued by the Marine Department on February 28 due to “COVID-19 concerns”. Relevant dock workers and truck drivers must hold Marine Department Services authorized permit card and scan a QR code on LeaveHomeSafe in order to enter the pier.
The Instagram Pier was highly popular with photographers and social media users for the beautiful views at this fenceless waterfront. Many joggers, fishermen, and dog owners also blended into the busy scene, leading the pier voted as Hong Kong’s most outstanding people space in a 2013 contest, organized by the Hong Kong Public Space Initiative and Designing Hong Kong. That is why the loss of the pier was so astounding — “We woke up, only to find that we have lost the backyard of our community,” said the Central and Western district councilor Cheung Kai-yin. Designing Hong Kong also commented, “Inability of government departments to work together forces dog walkers and kids on scooters onto the street.”
Central and Western district councilor Sam Yip Kam-lung was also disappointed as the government did not consult the Hong Kong public before making the decision. But he did receive some complaints about conflicts between citizens and dock workers on damaged construction materials and overcrowding issues.
Kenji Wong, a Sai Wan resident, posted on social media about people’s misbehaves he observed at the pier. “Many people brought barbecue materials and had picnics at the pier, yet leaving the rubbish behind,” Wong said, “many others would also climb onto the cargo facilities for a photo, hindering the ordinary operation at the working area.” As a dog-lover, Wong felt astonished to hear drunks abused the guard dogs and the dock worker’s dog to death. “So I really understand why the government has closed the Instagram Pier,” Wong said.
While the Instagram Pier has long been regarded as a public space, it is still an operating cargo working area. And the seemingly abrupt closure is also not the first attempt to regulate the Western District Cargo Working Area. Back in 2015, the Marine Department has posted a notice at the pier entrance, warning the public not to enter the cargo area due to safety concerns, in response to an accident where a citizen was injured by a working crane. In 2017, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced plans to convert 80 percent of the cargo area into a community garden regulated by non-profitable organizations. But she had to put down the plan due to massive dissensions from the public, for fear that further development would infringe the public’s free use of the pier.
The most recent announcement was in May 2020, when the Marine Department again posted a notice warning the public not to enter the Western District Cargo Working Area. Anyone who enters would risk a fine of HK$10,000 and six months jail. However, the punishment have never ever executed.
The closure also brings in concerns about the use of Hong Kong’s public spaces. In fact, the public green spaces in Hong Kong actually account for 40% of the total land, but a closer look reveals that the residential areas only account for around a quarter of the total land. To put it more directly, on average it takes up to an hour for a citizen to reach a large country park, according to a senior researcher at a Hong Kong think tank civic Exchange Carine Lai. And the public spaces – defined as the outdoor recreational space where the public has free access to – takes up only 2.7 square meters per person in Hong Kong, according to a report published by the Civic Exchange in 2017.
Even though a few increases in public spaces have been met across the years, including an increase in the number of pet gardens from 19 in 2010 to 45 in 2019 at the effort of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, the insufficiency still appears to be a serious problem. While tackling the third wave of COVID-19, the Hong Kong government banned dining in at all restaurants on July 29, 2020, leaving residents had no choice but to dine on sidewalks streets, and even on heavy trains. Though the decision was reversed within 48 hours due to its inconvenience, it again presses the development of more public spaces in Hong Kong.
Now that the pier is closed, residents living around the Central and Western District can alternatively access Central and Western District Promenade to jog, fish, and walk with their pets. While there might be more public spaces in Hong Kong in the future, another fenceless pier might not exist anymore.