HK Love It Trash It

Right, let’s pretend I’m Steve Ballmer, barmy sales chief of Microsoft (Steve Who? ... Steve Batty Ballmer goes iPod). Excuse me while I leap and dance around and whoop and scream for a few minutes.

WOO! YEAH! WOOOO-OOOH! YEAH! YEEEEEEEE! OOOOHHH YEAH! HONG KONG! YEAH! WOOOH! I LOVE THIS TERRITORY!

Phew! – time to pause for breath, wipe off some of the sweat, and give some reasons why I love Hong Kong. Let me count the ways.
Where else can I hike over imposing hills to a beach washed by the South China Sea, and enjoy a lunch in an open air restaurant by an almost abandoned hamlet, then ride a speedboat and a bus to tour bouncing big-city bars and discos? Or take a train and taxi from bustling downtown streets and malls to see great flocks of waterbirds, some of them globally endangered. Or walk trails above cliffs and steep hillsides, with views dominated by harbour and city one side, wooded hills and bays the other.

I’m not alone in loving Hong Kong – I see people wearing t-shirts saying I [heart] HK; the Tourism Board has the Live It, Love It! Campaign.

So, why are we doing so much to trash Hong Kong? What is it with natural and cultural parts of Hong Kong – have they become like diseases, which we must stamp on, and concrete over, as quickly as possible?

Hong Kong bureaucrats besotted by Big Silly Projects

By “we” I especially mean many – but not all – bureaucrats, property developers, construction companies, factory owners, and even a smattering of villagers and ex-villagers. We see developers who seem intent on squeezing every dollar they can from Hong Kong – yes, it’s arguably fair as they’re in business, but isn’t there scope to also help our wildlife and heritage, and enhance Hong Kong and not just bank accounts. Factory owners are being fingered for contributing to the smog that blights our scenery. Villagers and ex-villagers too often seem to not care about the countryside, instead clamouring to profit however they can.

And bureaucrats; did I mention bureaucrats? Maybe some of our bureaucrats really do love Hong Kong, see this place as a home to be nurtured and improved. But somehow, our bumbling bureaucracy seems determined to stifle such good intentions, and to spawn a succession of hideous schemes.

Just look at the harbour, to see what our bureaucracy can do. Have you been convinced by the supposed justifications for filling in so much of the harbour from Central to Wanchai? Doesn’t it seem bizarre to achieve the goal of “bringing the harbour to the people” by, err, filling in even more harbour.

Our bureaucracy gave us the plans for the super-prison at Hei Ling Chau: a prison built on a large reclamation complete with long bridge in one of the lovelier parts of Hong Kong. There were no good justifications given for this; there were only flimsy arguments suggesting another possible site wasn’t viable. Yes, these plans were eventually shelved, after strong opposition. But only weeks later, what happened? – we learned there were plans for a garden-cum-park at Stanley, which would involve chopping down 500 trees.

Maybe the Stanley park plan has already been laughed off the drawing board, but the Hong Kong trashers have more ideas up their sleeves. Lantau is now the focus of scheming, thanks partly to the seemingly secretive Lantau Development Taskforce. Maybe the thinking behind this is: We’ve done a pretty good job of trashing northwest Hong Kong, we have tentative ideas for the northeast, so now it’s Lantau’s turn.

One idea for Lantau was a residential area at Tai Ho, in the northeast. But Tai Ho is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, thanks largely to boasting one of few local streams that actually reaches the sea intact, so this was given the thumbs-down. No problem! – now, Tai Ho is earmarked for a logistics centre. Not far away, a proposed fun park will complement the great Mickey Mouse project on Lantau’s east coast. And the Zhuhai to Hong Kong bridge is planned to land on Lantau, surely bringing more pollution, more development to come, and never mind the environment.

Just yesterday (15 Nov), I heard of notions for one or more casinos on Lantau Island; today came news that a motor racing circuit is being considered, again maybe for Lantau. Aaarghh!

We hear the words “sustainable development”. They fall easily from people’s lips, they’re readily trotted out in print. Yet, what is “sustainable development”? Think about it even a little, and not much development here is even remotely sustainable.

Something close to sustainable development might involve making use of what we’ve got. This includes a host of potential small operators, hostel and restaurant owners and so forth, who could become involved in a local eco-tourism industry, targeting locals and overseas visitors, and making some money that helps make our natural and cultural assets more obviously beneficial. Individual projects would be small, but could add up across the territory.

Admittedly, eco-tourism happens to be a strong interest of mine. But many more schemes are surely possible, and could help Hong Kong. Yet too often it seems, small schemes are more likely to be stymied bumbling bureaucracy and red tape than given real support.

Here in Hong Kong, we’re more intent on flagship schemes, and never mind the wisdom behind them – Cyberport (have you seen the balance sheets?); Disneyland (will it really reap money compared to the costs?); the cable car to Ngong Ping (any idea what’ll happen if and when several thousand visitors an hour arrive – including when it starts raining?); the super-prison (shelved, due to belated glimmer of sense) and so on and on. Big Silly Projects are what we need. And, by god, Big Silly Projects are what we’ll get.

DocMartin

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