ultramarinus – beyond the sea

GRAHAM STREET MARKET – Swansong of the Old Central, Hong Kong

On the sloped Graham Street between Queen’s Road Central and Hollywood Road, there is a narrow street market hidden at the back of Central, the old downtown of Hong Kong. The Graham Street Market has been around since 1841 and is the oldest street market in Hong Kong. Personally, this is also the first street market I have ever set foot on when I was a child living in the neighborhood. Today, I re-visited the market with vivid memories of the past. With my camera, I wanted to capture the present moment of the market as it will soon be demolished to make way for new development.

As downtown Hong Kong expands east and west from Central, and the waterfront being pushed continuously out into the harbour, the hidden Graham Street Market could well be off the radar for most people if the Mid-Level Escalator and SOHO entertainment district had never been built. In fact, the covered Mid-Level Escalator that links the affluent Mid-Level to Old Central has been very successful as an efficient pedestrian infrastructure linking different neighbourhoods. It is influential for transforming the urban fabric of the Old Central area in the past two decades to becoming one of the most architecturally eventful areas in the city.

As part of the revitalizing project in Old Central, the Graham Street Market has come into spotlight in recent years. In 2007, The Urban Renewal Authority (URA) announced the three phases of redevelopment in Peel Street and Graham Street that would pretty much put an end to the street market’s century-old story. Because of rising land value and the emergence of SOHO, many parts of the old residential neighborhoods in Central have been transformed into entertainment retails or high-end condominiums. To many, the traditional Graham Street Market remains as the last symbolic stronghold of an authentic, original Central neighborhood. The loss of the Graham Street Market will certainly be bad news for the market merchants. While some are promised with new stores once the project is completed, the majority of the merchants will need to seek relocation. Even with offers for staying do come up, the foreseeable high rents will not allow most of the merchants to continue their traditional businesses that have been around for decades. On the other hand, to some local residents of the 37 buildings affected by the project, whose deteriorating apartments are in almost crumbling conditions, redeveloping the area is inevitable and perhaps not so bad after all.

According to the new master plan published by the URA, the new Graham Street will be made up of “more public open spaces” with a section of street retails, one hotel and two condominium developments. Jane Jacobs, an influential urban critic of the 20th century, may have something to say about such static urban design strategy, especially when a diverse  neighborhood that has gone through over a century of evolution, is suddenly wiped out. The more chaotic, diverse, dynamic and to a certain extent, human and warmhearted Central may live long in the collective memory for many locals, but will soon only exist as nostalgic cinema sets for the generations to come.

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Construction hoardings have been put up in some area on Graham Street. Many vendors continue their businesses selling  different dry goods and fresh food like  meats and vegetable across from the construction site.
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Unlike supermarket, grocery shopping at open street market is a completely different experience. It gives a sense of community and provides opportunities for human interaction. Instead of reading labels on packaging or scanning barcode for information,  Shoppers have to interact and start a conversation with the vendors to inquire about the source of the food or to bargain for a better price. Shoppers also have to put trust on the vendors for picking them to best and freshest of all. It is the kind of casual human interaction that is slowly disappearing in today’s urban society when people all found themselves too busy to talk to each other.
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Many shops, stalls, and buildings have been vacant out awaiting for demolition.
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Street vendors closing down their stalls at sunset.
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