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Urban Renewal Strategy Ruining Communities

Updated on Mar 21, 2008 – SCMP

It is widely accepted that the Urban Renewal Authority, through its development projects, has done a lot of damage in Hong Kong, destroying streets which had a unique local character and cohesive community network. Sometimes its policies have led to social unrest.

It demolished “Wedding Card Street” and is now turning its attention on Graham Street, the most historic street market in Hong Kong and a top tourist attraction.

If it had any sense, the URA would not pull down the majority of the 40 buildings in the area to make way for a podium development with four high-rise towers on top.

It should make conservation of the historic street market a starting point by regenerating the existing buildings. Its officials should understand that having four more skyscrapers on that small site is just too much for residents in Central – too much pollution caused by the wall effect, too much traffic, and too little respect for the needs of the community (there is no other market in Central).

Even more problematic is the fact that once the URA declares an area to be a redevelopment site, property owners have no choice but to sell to this single buyer.

The whole process is an infringement of private property rights. Many owners have not been able to buy back properties in the same area with the URA’s compensation.

With such a bad track record, it is clear the role of the URA must be reviewed.

In terms of trying to preserve Hong Kong’s urban fabric, its broad-brush approach of clearing sites for comprehensive development areas is doing more harm than good, increasing development intensity in some already congested areas.

The fundamentals of the urban renewal strategy must be overhauled.

I agree that a district-based approach is needed for urban planning and heritage conservation but the lead should be taken by the government, with the community fully engaged, to impose sensible planning restrictions or to declare historic areas conservation zones (for example, parts of Central), which are protected. Property owners should be encouraged to maintain and renovate their old buildings.

The URA has done a good job in the past in helping owners renovate dilapidated buildings and its future role should focus on this aspect of its work.

Katty Law, Central

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