Kowloon City, one of the historical places in Hong Kong, is now facing challenges with its urban renewal plan. Looking back at the history of Kowloon City, during the colonial period, it was a place with crowded buildings and poor sanitary conditions. It used to be a completely abandoned area named Kowloon Walled City. Slums, darkness, triads, and violence….. you name it. These were the keywords used to describe that place.
After its demolition in 1993-1994, part of the old history was kept in the Kowloon Walled City Park, and a new Kowloon City was born. After some years, the new Kowloon City needed to be renewed to fit into the modern standards and needs. According to the Secretary for Development, Mr. Michael Wong, he mentioned that until 2019, there were 2050 buildings aged 41 years or above. Thus, the Kowloon City District Urban Renewal Forum (DURF) was established in 2011 to help the government with renewal issues. Ten years passed, since the establishment of DURF and some changes have been made.
What has changed? What do the residents think about the renewal plan?
In the Urban Renewal Plan for Kowloon City submitted by the DURF in 2014, Nga Tsin Wai Road (Lung Tong) was part of the plan. The improvements needed are stated below: (from Urban Renewal Plan for Kowloon City)
- Preserve the shop-lined street character (including car parking requirements)
- Enhance the pedestrian environment
- Strengthen the connection to Kai Tak Development Area
- Optimize the use of sites for government facilities in the area so as to increase the provision of community and public parking facilities
“I can see nothing happened,” said Grace Lau, a resident who has been living in Kowloon City for more than 25 years, “they mention the car parking twice but I’m still struggling to find a parking spot.”
Since Kowloon City is a place full of well-known restaurants, diners are the major group of people who use the parking spaces. It is often seen that cars are parked on the streets instead of in the fully-booked parking spaces. Traffic chaos happens on many roads, and it is normal to see police dealing deal with illegal parking and traffic obstruction.
In an experiment conducted at 19:23 on 25th September, it took more than three minutes to drive from No. 110 Lion Rock Rd to No. 48 Lion Rock Rd, which should normally only take one minute for this 200-meter drive (excluding the impact of traffic light).
Up until now, there is only one project, the Kai Tak Road / Sa Po Road Development Scheme (KC-015) which is taking place as shown on the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) website. This project aims to fulfill improvements no. 3 and 4 as stated above, and hope to achieve improvement no. 1 too. In 2020, URA released the acquisition offers to eligible shop owner-occupiers, with the price of $17,698 per square foot of saleable area. The project is planned to be completed by 2030/2031.
Apart from the renewal plan, residents are concerned about other issues too. Water dripping is one that is frequently brought up as it raises safety concerns. Over time, slippery water stains have been appearing on the street. Sometimes, there are even more than two water stains on a several-step walk.
“I almost fell over once. It would not cause so much annoyance if the stains are on the sides of the street, but since the street is narrow, it affects us a lot.” Ms. Lau, who is over 70 years ago, shares.
Mr. Roger Tang, a qualified and experienced professional town planner, explained that the appearance of water stains is mainly due to the improper installments of the pipes. For the new buildings, pipes will be installed which lead the water out. But for the aged buildings, the outdoor units are hanging on the walls and the water drips directly onto the street. The only way to solve this problem is by renewing the buildings and installing the outdoor units and pipes properly.
There are conflicts of interest and struggles regarding the KC-015 renewal plan. One of the major conflicts arises from the store owners and the tenants.
“Are we able to come back after the renewal? Nobody knows. The renewal takes about 10 years…10 years, and that is already long enough to lose all of our customers here, ” a waiter said.
After the renewal, it is expected that the rents will increase since the environment will become better. But that creates a problem for the tenants who have rented the shops as they are those ones operating and maintaining the brands. Mr. Roger Tang shared his suggestion on this issue, “Different departments need to coordinate on this topic, maybe cover some of the costs, for example, the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) could retain the ownership of those shops and then give it back to the time-honored brands to let them continue their businesses. This way, the ground floor shops could be kept. But they still have to be responsible for the cost during the construction period.”
To boost the economy of Kowloon City in the future, tourism is one of the ways to achieve a better economy. A shopkeeper, Mr. Chan mentioned, “We have a lot of great restaurants — from Thai to Western to local, street stores and newly built MTR lane. Once the pandemic passes, I believe we could attract more tourists.”
Right now, Kowloon City is not ready for its visitors yet. Patrick shares, “This is my first visit to Kowloon City, thanks to the new MTR lane. But I found myself a bit lost in here so I relied on my phone a lot. I know that Jackie Chan shot Crime Story here, and I wanted to visit the shoot location but I don’t know where it is specifically. It is somehow unfriendly and inconvenient for first-time visitors.”
Mr. Roger Tang mentioned other possible ways to improve the economy through tourism, “more recommendations on authentic restaurants and foods could be promoted to the tourists as they need some insight on what different restaurants offer. Also, street shops are the main characters that represent Kowloon City, and it is important to emphasise them when doing tourist promotion”.