The post-West Kowloon miracle cure

In October 2009, Hong Kong’s leadership underwent a wrenching petit mal during which it briefly ceased to think like a real estate company and acted more like a government, resulting in the decision to turn the old Central Market building into an ‘urban oasis’. Soon after, officialdom renovated one side of the faded structure’s shabby but busy walkway linking the Mid-Levels Escalator with IFC Mall and the world. Stripped pine flooring, potted plants and the piped sound of birdsong regaled the once-utilitarian thoroughfare with an otherworldly ambience that hinted at things to come from creative bureaucrats determined to show their green credentials and powers of imagination.

Inevitably, this transformation from simple concrete corridor to sauna-cum-hanging-gardens has not come without a price to pay for the thousands of residents who stroll through the area every day. The newly luxurious space is too precious for people to use without supervision, so it is cordoned off with barrier tape at night. Displays of kids’ mildly bad artwork and design students’ incomprehensible output require further restrictions to access. And then they are still tinkering with the décor.

Click to hear ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’ by the Fairport Convention!

Over the last few days, passers-by have been blocked from part of the area as workmen with ladders, brushes and cans of white emulsion paint turned up. The outcome is that the stripped pine along the wall accommodating the greenery (all real, by the way) is now being painted over. Some might argue that it is an aesthetic improvement, but most of us would – if we thought about it at all – wonder what the purpose is.

One possibility is that the Department of Painting Things had some money left over in its 2010-11 budget and had to blow it fast to avoid being given less to spend next financial year. Another is that the area is being used as a testbed for the whole Central Market Urban Oasis, and the officials will try out various colour schemes (the white could be an undercoat in preparation for something more, shall we say, vivid). Or perhaps the bureaucrats found the expanses of wooden surface too creepy and uncivilized, redolent of dirty, slimy trees found in malodorous forests, and thus damaging the Big Lychee’s image as a modern world-class city made entirely of nice clean concrete and glass.

Now multiply this application of civil-service mentality over a 100-yard stretch a few thousandfold, and you have the 100-acre West Kowloon Cultural District. When Graham Sheffield became the second person to give up trying to run the ill-fated vanity project after five months on the job, we were almost deafened by all the muttering, innuendo and rumour suggesting that overweening bureaucracy played a part in driving the arts administrator back to the UK. Our local officials adamantly insisted that Sheffield had resigned for health reasons.

But now we find the man has suddenly reappeared as top arts guy for the British Council. Cultural Hub Czar and Chief Secretary Henry Tsang, fresh from penning an article on how fab and groovy the West Kowloon thing will be, is now swearing he will be checking the fine print in Sheffield’s contract to see if he broke any terms (shades of blaming Mike Rowse for the Harbourfest controversy?) Pro-government/pro-tourism landlord Allan Zeman says he understands why Hong Kong people might feel cheated. The subliminal message is that our infrastructure/tourism-obsessed establishment and the public are on the same side here, victims of the devious brown-shirted scoundrel with his horrid taste in ties.

Nice try, but some of us will beg to differ. Taxpayers and citizens owe Sheffield a debt of gratitude for revealing that running the West Kowloon Wonderland is more trouble than it’s worth, thanks to the meddling, arrogant, empire-building public-sector overlords.

That’s assuming the scurrilous rumours were broadly right, of course. And Sheffield’s medical fitness to take on a new job so soon suggests that we can rule out the official explanation. Unless it was his mental, rather than physical, health that was at stake.

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15 Responses to The post-West Kowloon miracle cure

  1. Sir Crispin says:

    Painting over beautiful, natural wood…do we need anymore evidence of how utterly unimaginative and creatively stifled our civil servants are?

  2. Hunny Chail says:

    But who trained da civil servants, honey? China it weren’t. Seem like another Limeball mothafucka payback.

    Keep smilin’


  3. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    I was surprised by the HK bureaucracy’s magnanimity* in allowing Filippina maids still use the space on Sundays. I had expected them to pay for a security guard to lurk around and order the ladies to move on.

    * Magnanimity for them; basic respect and humanity for anyone else.

  4. Stephen says:

    Isn’t it about time that Henry the Horse, in his role as Cultural Hub Czar, remove his head from his arse and have a long hard think about continuing with this ludicrious vanity project?

    Knock it on the head, build a green park and who knows your popularity may just rise a notch.

    Fat chance of that happening.

  5. Mike Rouse says:

    for all of you who are knocking the Great Cultural Thingy Project, have you forgotten how everyone and his sister used to complain -ad nauseum- for so so many years that “Hong Kong was a cultural wasteland” ?

  6. FB3 says:

    Mike, it will still be a cultural wasteland just with some new buildings & lots of trees.

    The best plan was submitted by Swires years ago but was scrapped as it involved the use of the Tamar plot to bring Art into the centre of town but the Govt wanted this prime land for a new Ivory Tower.

  7. Jack Russell says:

    The stripped pine is pretty shabby, but nowhere near as shabby as what’s on the opposite side – closed shopfronts with the signage of businesses that opened and closed before the Handover.

  8. Mike Rouse says:

    nag nag nag…..

    at least they are going to build some sort of infrastructure that will provide for a variety of cultural activities to flower. It is up to the people to make it work.

  9. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Perhaps they will build the infrastructure, but then they’ll surround it with “No unauthorised culture” signs like the no eating/drinking/ball games/dogs/relaxing signs that you at every piece of park land or pink bathroom tiled sitting out area in Hong Kong.

  10. Stephen says:

    And what sort of infrastructure will they build Mike? The recent track record is not good – cruise ship berths that developers won’t touch, road bridges to Macao / Zhuhai and massive railway stations in Kowloon. So the trust in Government that they know what’s best for us is wearing pretty thin.

    Back when your mate Chris Patten was in charge and the western reclamation was completed I believe a park was envisaged. It was a good idea then and still is.

  11. Dr Anita Dick says:

    HK is too hot, wet and humid for the “park experience”.

  12. L'chaim says:

    If Hong Kong is “too hot, wet and humid” for parks, why are the parks here full of people every day?

    I guess when expats get up there in age they don’t leave the house anymore…

  13. Klaxon says:

    Somehow the 1970’s revival knotty pine ski chalet look seems slightly out of place in that location.

  14. Vile Traveller says:

    “Hot, wet and humid” … “knotty pine” … public outdoor sauna!

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