大學門常開，商場拒客來 ∣ Open Universities and Closed Shopping Malls
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 11:54am on 27th September 2016
Kitsch 'Wedding/Love' display at The Avenue/Lee Tung Street, Wan Chai
(Please scroll down for English version)
市建局的利東街發展投標，最終由合和實業有限公司和信和地產贏得。項目現在已建成，包括多幢住宅大樓和以「利東街」為名的商場，商場的英文名字為「Lee Tung Avenue」，為什麼是「Avenue」（大道）而不是「Street」（街）呢？這樣會高貴的點嗎？名字一改，利東街的歷史便被矮化了。當然，不會出人意表的，是項目承諾的喜帖主題已無蹤無影。商場地庫確有幾間喜帖店，但沒有其他喜帖店和相關業務的協同效應，生意前景暗淡。
Translated from English by Aulina Chan
Open Universities and Closed Shopping Malls
This week, I consider two places. Our universities offer an optimistic chance for inclusive community summer activities. Whereas, the Urban Renewal Authority’s development of historic Lee Tung Street is a failure of planning.
I visited the Master’s of Fine Arts graduation exhibition at The Chinese University of Hong Kong a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful summer day and perfect for a walk in the gardens and around the lake directly next to University MTR Station. This is public space, open to everyone – and perfect for young and older children. The nearby sports fields are good to exercise on, or, just to sit and read, enjoy the open sky, the clouds, the setting sun and the first glimpse of the moon.
Summer courses are currently run at the university, but all are academic (business administration, languages, engineering) for Secondary 5 and university students. But, has there been any discussion to open up the campus to the wider community – to have a community summer festival running during the school holidays? Organised activities, for school-children during the summer holidays, to enjoy for a few hours, an entire day or a week – to experience: theatre, outdoor camping, sky- and star-gazing, games, football matches, dancing for fitness, yoga, assertiveness training for girls, cooking classes for boys, gardening, outdoor painting, discussions about the environment and then an activity, public-speaking and acting, singing, music, heritage walks, reading groups, sewing and knitting, bird-watching, and in-between these sessions scattered chairs to sit on and chatting with friends.
Our universities have the best facilities for their students, but are they well utilized? Do universities do enough in our communities? Universities are places of academic learning and research and that should be their focus for most of the year. But, in summer, let’s open the empty classrooms and use their beautiful surroundings for other uses and for other young people. It would need good organization and a budget and personnel. But, Hong Kong has that – it just needs a shift in vision, starting with government interest: giving the idea “policy support” as the public servants would say and then a funding request to the Legislative Council.
Do you remember the anger in 2007 about the destruction of Lee Tung Street, better known as Wedding Card Street in Wan Chai? The street was an Urban Renewal Authority (URA) development that compulsorily acquired the tong lau buildings that lined the street. Lee Tung Street was particularly unique: a community of printers, designers and shops devoted to producing and selling wedding cards – with many who worked in the shops also living nearby. At night, it was surprisingly - as it was located in the middle of bustling Wan Chai - completely quiet.
There was outrage at the street’s destruction and the loss of its cultural heritage and memories. Protests to save the street were spearheaded by the H15 Concern Group whose members included activists and many who lived and worked on Lee Tung Street. News headlines focused on the hunger strike of shop owner Yip Mei-yung. Do you remember Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor, the then Secretary for Development, visiting the site? She appealed for the hunger strike to end and promised that the completed development would retain a wedding card theme.
The URA awarded the tender to develop Lee Tung Street to property developers Hopewell Holdings and Sino Land. The development is now complete with apartment towers and a shopping centre branded as “Lee Tung Avenue.” Why ‘Avenue,’ does it sounds more classy? So, just in a simple name change, the history of Lee Tung Street is demeaned. And, no surprise, the development’s promised wedding card theme is nowhere to be seen. There are some wedding card shops in the shopping basement, but prospects are bleak without the synergy of other wedding card and related businesses.
On the fifth floor with access from an unmarked elevator, there is a podium of “public open space.” The public can visit this large area, but apart from reading and sitting all other activities are banned. It has a kitsch ‘love’ theme, but I doubt if even commercial wedding photography would be allowed! There are over 1,000 apartments being marketed for sale – who is buying them? And, despite being located directly next to the MTR, the development has car parking - in an already traffic congested area.
To add insult to injury, the developers recently applied to the Town Planning Board to use three narrow areas of the ground floor public open space for restaurant seating. The walkway passages are already narrow, and provision for outdoor eating should have been properly planned in the development’s design, not now. This planning application should be rejected by the Town Planning Board as there are no benefits to the public for the loss of public space!
This development is a sad sight: if you are not a shopper or eating in a restaurant, the place is ostensibly closed to you. There are few urban planning benefits and there is not even a photograph of the old Lee Tung Street showing its previous commercial buzz and genuine happy couples choosing a beautifully printed red wedding card.
This article was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly on 3 September 2016.