不要另一個元創方 ∣ Not Another PMQ
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 2:43pm on 23rd August 2016
Images: GP Battery promotion during Mid-Autumn Festival 2015.
(Please scroll down for English version.)
報章最近有不少元創方的報導。它的營運者是非牟利組織同心教育文化慈善基金會，在香港設計中心、香港理工大學和職業訓練局轄下的香港知專設計學院的協辦下，獲政府批准以「標誌性的創意中心」營運。新聞聚焦在上市公司金山工業主席羅仲榮身上，還涉及他的家人和其他在元創方經營的商號。2016年4月前，羅仲榮任香港設計中心主席多年，也是西九文化區管理局董事局成員和前行政會議成員。他的媳婦是Aberdeen Street Social的合夥人，那是其中一家在元創方經營的食肆。
在同心基金經營，以及其支援夥伴的影響下，很多人感慨元創方已演變成一個售賣設計師產品、品牌與精品食肆匯聚的商場，有點像尖沙咀的海港城！這種經營模式可以為誰帶來利益可堪爭議，政府或可於租約在2023年完結時作檢討。但大家已得到教訓，在中區警署成為「大館」的規劃而言，願景是「不要成為另一個元創方」 – 那裡應該是黃大仙陳生陳太一家都同樣歡迎的地方！
原文刊於《明報周刊》，2016年7月30日。中文翻譯: Aulina Chan。
'Not Another PMQ'
by John Batten
PMQ has been in the news recently. Its operator, the non-profit organization, the Musketeers Foundation - supported by the Hong Kong Design Centre, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Hong Kong Design Institute of the Vocational Training Council - was chosen by the government to operate the site as a “creative industries landmark.” News reports focused on links that businessman Victor Lo, Chairman of Hong Kong Stock Exchange listed Gold Peak Industries, and his family and other business entities had businesses operating at PMQ. Until April 2016, Victor Lo was the long-time Chairman of the Hong Kong Design Centre; he is on the Board of the West Kowloon Cultural District and a former Executive Councillor. His daughter-in-law is a partner in Aberdeen Social, one of the restaurants operating in PMQ.
PMQ is sited on the Former Police Married Quarters in Central. It is a publicly owned property and in 2005, the government listed it for sale. This site was the first heritage conservation and urban planning campaign that the Central & Western Concern Group mounted. Our aim was to halt another inappropriate high-rise development in an area severely affected by traffic congestion, roadside pollution, and a lack of community facilities. However, as our campaign progressed we began to understand the site’s significant history, of which nothing had been mentioned by any government department or discussed in relation to the sale of the property.
The site is one of the oldest occupied pieces of land in the Central district. It was the site of Hong Kong’s pre-colonial city temple, and after the 1840s there were shops on the site: the area was colloquially known as the ‘30 Shops’ area and even today, this reference is still alive. The local kaifong group that organizes the annual, elaborate Hungry Ghost Festival on the corner of Aberdeen Street and Staunton Street still uses the ’30 Shops’ nomenclature in its organisation’s name. But most significantly, the entire area is the revolutionary cradle for modern China – Sun Yat-sen and leaders of the Republican movement planned the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty from this very area.
Central School was Hong Kong’s first public school and was attended by Sun Yat-sen between 1884-1886. Needing more space, Central School moved across the road to the current PMQ site in 1889. In 1894, the school was renamed Queen’s College and its beautiful Victorian building was the school’s home until used by Japanese forces in 1941. The site suffered heavy bombing when Hong Kong was re-occupied by the British in 1945 and Queen’s College relocated, with a short period on Kennedy Road, to its current location in Tin Hau. The site was cleared and in 1951 two new residential blocks were completed using a functional modernist design built on the foundations of the school and retaining the original Queen’s College stone fence. Named the ‘Asiatic Police Quarters,’ its original use was to provide dormitory accommodation with shared toilet and washing facilities at the ends of each floor for Indian policeman, who were employed at the time by the colonial police force.
One of the architectural merits of this modernist design was its simplicity: easily constructed with long, open corridors allowing free passage and good airflow to the (unconditioned) living units with public recreation areas in the open space between the two blocks. This design was an important precursor and model for Hong Kong’s public housing and the design similarities of PMQ can be seen in the surviving Mei Ho House in Shek Kip Mei, the only surviving example of the original public housing built after the 1953 Shek Kip Mei fire. Hong Kong’s housing shortage was exacerbated with the influx of refugees from China into Hong Kong after 1948, and this also affected the police. In the early 1950s, non-commissioned married police officers and their families were housed in the two blocks, with balconies remodeled to provide individual toilet and washing facilities. Police use of the site as staff quarters ended in 2000. Little of this rich history is adequately explained to visitors walking around PMQ.
From 2005 to 2008 the Central & Western Concern Group ran a spirited preservation campaign that included making two applications with the Town Planning Board, lobbying the Legislative Council and government officials, supplying information to the media and rallying the public to retain the site and its buildings for community use. The government eventually agreed to preserve the site in its new ‘Conserving Central’ policy – an inspired decision responding to community concerns for better protection of Hong Kong’s limited built heritage.
Our suggestion for the saved site: basically, one block would be a youth hostel and the other block would house a multidisciplinary artists’ residency programme, with the former Police Call Centre becoming a chan cha teng and the site’s open spaces providing outdoor community sitting areas, grass, trees and a safe, enclosed children’s playground. This plan would require little capital investment as the two blocks would require only minimal renovation – there was to be no costly construction, paid for by government, of a ‘multi-function hall’ and adding another floor for a restaurant - as later transpired with the Musketeers Foundation proposal. We argued that nearby SOHO had enough food and beverage outlets to complement the site’s new uses.
Under the Musketeers Foundation, and the influence of its supporting partners, PMQ has - as many people, including designers, lament - evolved into a shopping mall for designer products, brand names and signature restaurants. It is similar to shopping at Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui! It is arguable who benefits from the current operation model – which will be reviewed by government after the tenancy agreement expires in 2023. But, lessons have been learned: in the planning of Tai Kwun at the Central Police Station, the idea is “To not be another PMQ – Mr and Mrs Chan and family from Wong Tai Sin will be very welcome!”
Originally published in Ming Pao Weekly on 30 July 2016. Chinese translation by Aulina Chan.