As someone who makes a living partly from writing guidebooks, I was a natural choice to show a friend of a friend around on their brief stopover in Hong Kong recently. She was only in town for a few hours, so I met her at her hotel on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront and planned to take her on a brief tour of the district before going for lunch.
We had barely stepped out of the hotel before we got lost in an underground shopping mall which was the only way of crossing Salisbury Road. Narrow escalators, piles of merchandise, unmarked doorways, anti-intuitive routes out and a lack of exit signs made me suspect that a quick passage from one side of the road to the other was not the main purpose of this underpass.
We spent 15 minutes searching for the right exit from this subterranean maze. I could see my guest wondering whether I had ever been to TST before, let alone lived there and written articles about it. I made some explanation about it being part of a new network of subways. But really, removing zebra crossings is just an easy way for the government to hand street space over to cars while funnelling pedestrians — sorry, consumers — through a series of commercial malls owned by their developer chums. The same plans are in store for other districts.
Tsim Sha Tsui has been wrecked over the past decade by bad planning and endless roadworks. This is bad enough for local residents, some of whom complain frequently through the SCMP letters page, but it’s an added shame that it’s the part of Hong Kong most tourists see. As an example of poor planning, the old railway station next to the Star Ferry pier was demolished in 1975 and moved to Hung Hom. Then, less than 30 years later, it was found necessary to extend the line back again, requiring years of disruptive construction work with all the attendant noise and air pollution. Who are the fools who make these decisions? They can’t all be taking kickbacks from construction firms or lining up jobs after retirement with developers.
An interview with local WWF chief Markus Shaw in last week’s HK Magazine matches my thoughts:
… frankly, we are making a mess of our city. We’re not planning our city for people, we’re planning it for the big property companies. We’re not trying to make it pleasant for ordinary Hong Kong people.
The feelings toward our heritage are stronger among young people because they are the ones inheriting this city. For people growing up in the 1960s, their life’s ambition was to move into a high rise. Today, this is the only life most people have. It’s all big estates and people are starting to think that maybe they don’t want to spend the rest of their lives in shopping malls.
We have huge projects such as Kai Tak and West Kowloon right now. They will determine the future of Hong Kong, so we have to get them right. Government ministers have begun to speak the right language—but they don’t necessarily understand what people want. They don’t use public transport, so they have no idea how hard it is to cross Salisbury Road.
Hong Kong needs political reform. Not only to give voice to a broader range of people, but also to make our government work more efficiently.
Amen to that. My vote goes to the pro-democratic camp here, if only because without elections, we have no way of voting out the idiots who are ruining Hong Kong.
Excellent post Pete, I agree 100%
maybe that should be your next book?
“The Frustrated Hikers Guide to crossing Salisbury Road”
Thanks lads. Good idea Phil! I could include recommendations about the best spanners to use for dismantling railings.
Quite agree about TST – it should be a wonderful area for tourists to wander around ‘finding’ interesting streets and shops (e.g. Korean food and shops around Kimberley) but apparently it’s more important to the govt. to have bigger roads for cars and as you’ve said tunnels to guide people to brand shops in malls.
That new ghetto of fancy watch shops that used to be the Marine Police HQ is now 1881 Bullshite and whilst quite attractive has very little grass and is given over to the same shops available in large malls on streets either side. It would have been a jewel for locals and tourists with a bit more thought – it could have been greener, offered great views of the harbour and showcased HK crafts & art.
Wow, this is really sad. Part of the fun of walking down Nathan Road was to approach the harbourfront and view the skyline (through the museum buildings) as one got closer. Now it all sounds so unappealing. I bet businesses in lower TST will suffer in the long run. I know I’d think twice about staying in TST!
Nothing is permanent, Susan, so I hope common sense will prevail at some point in the near future and street-level access will be restored.
TST shouldn’t have so much road traffic anyway — Nathan Road seems a natural corridor for a tram system. Why not link TST to the future West Kowloon Cultural District by tram?
Tram linking TST & west kowloon, good idea Pete! But guess that’d need another century to do that… The mentality of HK people’s never the same when tram first introduced, though :(
so did HK Mag rip you off then Pete?
I wondered that, Phil, but it was such a good headline I guess someone else was bound to think of it as well :)
I couldn’t agree more. I was there on Sunday amidst a horde of tourists looking like the lost tribes of babylon.