Hong Kong govt and tycoons little concerned with environment

Here's a letter I sent the South China Morning Post; an edited version appeared today.

It was pleasing to read (SCMP, 29 September 2008) that Hongkongers' concern for heritage and the environment could soon become a 'core value' in the promotion of the Hong Kong brand. Yet, there is surely some irony here, as leading politicians and various tycoons seem little concerned with such matters, but instead apparently love projects with plenty of concrete - whether these be mega towers, mega bridges, harbour reclamations, new border crossings and new towns, or even a wetland park dominated by a grandiose building.

Perhaps the irony is intentional: visitors can come to Hong Kong, and see the disconnect between what people want, and what they get. Here, people concerned about the environment breathe some of the dirtiest air of any major city; have few parks, typically with signs warning visitors to keep off the grass; are mostly restricted from entering various "public spaces"; have become used to several beaches being closed due to severe pollution; and find even the shorelines of our feted harbour are largely off limits. Kids grow up with lungs infused with fine soot, and may have so little contact with nature they are scared of creatures like butterflies.

True, Hong Kong does have a natural environment that few other cities can match. But this results largely from Hong Kong being in a superb natural setting. It helped, too, that a country parks system was established when the government was relatively enlightened, at a time when local people were yet to become so concerned for the environment. The recent cancellation of the liquified natural gas terminal plan for the Soko Islands was a positive step, but hardly outweighs progress with one mega bridge, and plans for another.

Perhaps there will be a suitable slogan for the new brand; something akin to: "Hong Kong - where the people desire fresh air, but the government loves concrete".

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