ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “gentrification

URBAN METAMORPHOSIS THAT WOULD NEVER LOOKED BACK, Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), Hong Kong

The first 130 or so small units of Kennedy 38, a new residential development in Kennedy Town, went on sell in November 2021 during the pandemic. Ranging from 229 to 332 sq.ft with an average price of HK$27,522 per sq.ft, 1400 interested parties registered as potential buyers, translating to about 10 bids for each available flat. A few days later, prices went up even higher for the upper floor units. A 287 sq.ft unit was selling for HK$10.24m (US$1.31m). While this may not match the most pricey developments in Hong Kong, US$1.31m for 287 sq.ft is not a friendly price tag either, especially for Kennedy Town, a neighbourhood that not long ago was still considered as Hong Kong’s de facto back-of-house. Today, things have obviously changed. Kennedy Town is now marketed as the up and coming neighbourhood on Hong Kong Island accessible by the mass transit railway (MTR), and a destination where the Harbour, Mount Davis and HKU are just minutes of walk away.

Gentrification has been happening in many parts of the city, but not that many places can match the 180 degree makeover of Kennedy Town, not only for its appearance, but also its identity. The westernmost settlement on Hong Kong Island was named after Arthur Edward Kennedy, the 7th governor of colonial Hong Kong in 1870’s who was responsible for substantial land reclamation and developments in Kennedy Town. Due to its considerable distance (3.5km, not that far in today’s standards) from Central, the city’s central business district, Kennedy Town was seen as an outpost in the early days. From late 19th century to the hundred years that followed, Kennedy Town was home to all sorts of the city’s undesirable but necessary supporting facilities: infectious disease hospital, mortuary, cemeteries, mental health hospital, poultry houses, depots for cattle, pigs and sheep, massive slaughterhouses, battery factories, waste incinerator, etc. From 1894 when the first slaughterhouse began operations, to 2007 when the demolition of Kennedy Town Abattoir and Incinerator finally took place, the impression that combines foul smell, animal whimpers, polluted air, and streets of blood and feathers on Kennedy Town have deeply imprinted in the collective psyche of many Hongkongers.


Then everything changed almost overnight on 28th of December 2014, when the MTR finally opened the Kennedy Town Station, bringing flocks of outsiders into the westernmost neighbourhood on Hong Kong Island. Then suddenly everyone realized that at only four stops west of Central, Kennedy Town is in fact a tranquil neighborhood where a less crowded waterfront and friendly old shops await for visitors to explore. Unsurprisingly, real estate developers were the first to arrive, tapping in the neighbourhood’s potentials by erecting blocks after blocks of luxury sea-facing apartments. Then came fancy restaurants, pubs, cafes, bakeries, cinema, lifestyle shops, etc. To maximize development potentials for the area, buildings in Kennedy Town associated with its dark past were all but wiped out. Shadows of the past have quietly faded away under collective oblivion. Yet if one looks careful enough, traces of the past are still visible in hidden corners and fenced off brown sites. Under the warm afternoon sun, the air is full of distant laughter from cafes, sport bars and waterfront promenade. Even a ruined slaughterhouse or a roadside tombstone of a 19th-century plague victim may not seem that spooky anymore.

The Skyline of Shek Tong Tsui (石塘咀) to the left and Kennedy Town (堅尼地城) to the right, with Kennedy Town Swimming Pool complex standing at the middle foreground. [Photo taken from the Harbour, 2020]
After series of land reclamation, the latest coastline is located at New Praya Kennedy Town. [Photo taken at New Praya Kennedy Town, 2020]
Situated at the western end of Hong Kong Island’s north shore , the Kennedy Town waterfront offers some fantastic views of the container ports at Stonecutters (昂船洲) and Tsing Yi (青衣) across Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken at New Praya Kennedy Town, 2020]
Leisure fishing is very common along the waterfront of Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken at New Praya Kennedy Town, 2022]
Southwest from the intersection of Cadogan Street and New Praya once stood the massive compound of Kennedy Town Abattoir and Incinerator. The structures were demolished in 2009. [Photo taken at New Praya Kennedy Town, 2022]
The incinerator is no longer standing behind the corrugated metal hoarding, yet a refuse and recycling station continues to occupy a part of the former incinerator’s site. Today, the mortuary at far left in the photo continues to serve the public as one of the three public mortuaries in Hong Kong. [Photo taken on a slope over Victoria Road, 2022]
The imposing chimneys of the incinerator and adjacent abattoir compound were once the most prominent features in the skyline of Kennedy Town. [Photo courtesy: Wiki Commons by ken93110, taken in 1968, (CC BY-SA 3.0)]
Hidden from Victoria Road on a slope full of wild plants and fig trees lie the ruins of a former shanty town, where tombstones of the 1894 plague victims from a largely forgotten cemetery nearby were taken as construction materials (stairs or wall cladding) decades ago. [Photo taken near intersection of Victoria Road and Sai Ning Street, 2022]
Caption from University of Bristol – Historical Photographs of China reference number: Bk09-03. “Photograph taken from the recreation ground of Hong Kong University of the western entrance to Victoria Harbour. In the foreground is Kennedy Town (堅尼地城). The large buildings in the far centre are the infectious diseases hospital. On the left is an abattoir, and sheep, pig and cattle depots. Towards the right, between Forbes Street and Victoria Road, are rope and glass factories.” [Photograph by Denis H. Hazell. Image courtesy of ‘Picturesque Hong Kong’ (Ye Olde Printerie Ltd., Hong Kong), c.1925., University of Bristol Library (www.hpcbristol.net)]
The original infectious diseases hospital was long gone. Only a memorial arch from the former building survives to the present. [Photo taken at intersection of Victoria Road and Sai Ning Street, 2020]
200m inwards from the waterfront, the impressive stone wall trees on a century-old retaining wall is perhaps one of the most iconic attractions in Kennedy Town. The tree wall is briefly featured in David Attenborough’s The Green Planet. [Photo taken at Forbes Street, 2022]
Above the stone wall trees stand the remnants of the old slaughterhouse and pig/sheep depots. An account from 1922 suggested that there were 292,184 pigs and 30,732 sheep at the depot, at a time when the human population in Hong Kong was around 725,000. [Photo taken at Forbes Street, 2022]
The intersection of Rockhill Street and Smithfield Road was once occupied by a large cattle depot. An old account mentions that there were 46,347 heads of cattle (87% of the city’s cattle population) at the facility in 1922. Today, the site is home to the multi storey municipal block, housing a public library and a wide range of sporting facilities. [Photo taken at intersection of Rockhill Street and Smithfield Road, 2022]
While all abattoirs have been moved out of Kennedy Town, legacies from the former slaughterhouses remain in the neighbourhood, such as the odd opening hours (03:00 – 16:00) of Sun Hing (新興食家), who used to serve the slaughterhouse workers in the wee hours. [Photo taken in Sun Hing Restaurant at Smithfield Road, 2020]
The 59-year old Tung Fat Building (同發大樓) has been refurbished in recent years from a rundown apartment into an upscale loft apartment. Designed by Australian architect Kerry Phelan Design Office, the project is a rarity in Hong Kong since most landlords would prefer to knock down the old building and erect a new residential skyscraper in order to maximize the financial reward. [Photo taken at New Praya Kennedy Town, 2022]
A 1,300 sq.ft unit at Tung Fat Building (同發大樓) was asking for HK$88k (approx. US$11,300) per month for rent. [Photo taken at New Praya Kennedy Town, 2022]
Just down the street from the stone wall trees, fancy restaurants and pubs have found their feet across the street from Sai Wan Estate, a public housing complex that has been around since 1958. [Photo taken at intersection of Davis and Forbes Street, 2022]
Of course, retail spaces with sea views are perfect for restaurants, cafes, and bars. [Photo taken at New Praya Kennedy Town, 2022]
Many restaurants make use of their waterfront location to create a marine ambience. [Photo taken at New Praya Kennedy Town, 2020]
With an influx of expats entering the neighbourhood, Australian craft beer Little Creatures has joined the F&B scene of Kennedy Town in 2015. Everything was on the up side until the pandemic hit, forcing the beer hall to close its doors in 2020 after 4.5 years of operations. [Photo taken at Little Creatures, New Praya Kennedy Town, 2020]
Golden Scene, a local film distributor is brave enough to open their first ever neighbourhood cinema in Kennedy Town in February 2021 during the pandemic. [Photo taken intersection of Catchick Street and North Street, 2021]
Fully opened in 2017, the fluid form of the second generation of Kennedy Town Swimming Pool signifies a new era for the neighbourhood. [Photo taken at Shing Sai Road, 2022]
Apartments in Kennedy Town seem to be getting taller and taller in the past decade. [Photo taken in Belcher Bay Harbourfront at Shing Sai Road, 2022]
Opened in 2020, the Belcher Bay Harbourfront has immediately become a popular spot for the community. [Photo taken in Belcher Bay Harbourfront at Shing Sai Road, 2022]
The Belcher Bay Harbourfront offers great views of the sea, and decent outdoor spaces for a wide range of leisure activities. [Photo taken in Belcher Bay Harbourfront at Shing Sai Road, 2022]
It is so chill to skateboard right next to the Harbour. [Photo taken in Belcher Bay Harbourfront at Shing Sai Road, 2022]

NoHo & SoHo, Central – Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

Linking a number of tourist attractions like Tai Kwun, PMQ and Man Mo Temple, Hollywood Road is always popular for tourists in Hong Kong. While tourists come for the historical attractions, many locals, on the other hand, come to Hollywood Road for food and drinks. South of Hollywood Road, the narrow Staunton Street (士丹頓街) was once home to wet market vendors, trading offices, family-run stores and small Buddhist convents (庵堂). In fact, Staunton Street was once nicknamed the Street of Buddhist Nuns (師姑街). After the Central – Mid Levels Escalators opened to the public in 1993 and brought an influx of pedestrians from the business district downhill, Staunton Street and the adjacent Elgin Street(伊利近街) have quietly undergone a dramatic transformation. Expatriates started to move into the area. Old shops and Buddhist convents were gradually replaced by bars, pubs, restaurants, comedy clubs, cafes, and wine shops. In 1996, Thomas Goetz, a restaurant owner from Elgin Street, came up with the acronym “SoHo” (蘇豪) for this new entertainment and dining area of Central, referring to the location “South of Hollywood Road”. From then on, the Staunton Street that I used to go as a child to get fresh grocery and pay ritualistic respect to my grandfather at a small Buddhist convent has silently disappeared. Today, SoHo would remain sleepy most of the day, and then bursts into life after sunset. The yell of market vendors and pungent incense smoke have been replaced by causal giggles and laughter, and the smell of beer.

Further away from the Central – Mid Levels Escalators and less than 150m northwest of the buzzing SoHo, Gough Street (歌賦街), Kau U Fong (九如坊) and Aberdeen Street (鴨巴甸街) offer a much more laid-back and tranquil ambience. Once home to family run shops and small printing presses, these sleepy back streets have become a hipper cousin of the nearby SoHo. Known as NoHo for “North of Hollywood Road”, this area is particular attractive to locals who come for the foodie scene: Chinese cuisine, dai pai dong dishes, beef brisket noodles, Japanese ramen, sushi, Western fine dining, unadon, Vietnamese pho, hand-drip cafes, bubble tea, chocolate, etc. Despite its abundance of dining options, the shops here remain small and peaceful. Compared to its noisier neighbour, NoHo is much more low key, as if deliberately staying away from the public limelight. Here visitors would enjoy a sense of discovery and intimacy that is hard to find anywhere else in Central.

Looking down from PMQ, the stepped Shin Hing Street (善慶街) marks one of the entrances into Gough Street from Hollywood Road. [Junction of Hollywood Road and Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
An old furniture store still occupies the corner of Hollywood Road and Shin Hing Street. [Top of Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Many love the tranquil and “European” feel of NoHo, which is a rarity in urban Hong Kong. [Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Art installation related to the history of Sun Yatsen, the Father of Modern China, has become a playground for children. [Junction of Shin Hing Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Before the pandemic, the steps of Shin Hing Street was often turned into a stepped seating and drinking area in the evening and during weekends. [Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
At Mee Lun Street (美輪街), a small ladder street just a few shops away from Shin Hing Street, a simple dai pai dong street eatery has been a pedestrian magnet for years. Opened in 1959, Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) dai pai dong is a big attraction in NoHo. Before the pandemic, there would always a long queue (mainly tourists and young couples) whenever the eatery is opened. [Junction of Mee Lun Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
One of the most famous dishes at Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) is tomato beef and egg noodles. [Junction of Mun Lun Street and Gough Street, NoHo,Sheung Wan, 2020]
Sasa the cat of Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) is a popular member of the Mun Lun Street neighbourhood. Without tourists during the pandemic, Sasa got a little more freedom to linger around. When the eatery is busy and all seats are taken, the owner would take Sasa back to their apartment nearby. [Junction of Mun Lun Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Kau Kee Beef Briskets(九記牛腩) is another tourist favourite in NoHo. Kau Kee’s business during the pandemic is greatly affected. [Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Apart from food, design shops such as Homeless offers another crucial aspect of urban living in Hong Kong. [Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
One street downhill from Gough Street, Kau U Fong (九如坊) offers another clusters of tranquil options for foodies. [Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
As chill as SoHo but with smaller crowds, that is the real beauty of NoHo. [Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In recent years, one of the most well known establishments in Kau U Fong is The Chairman (大班樓), a Michelin 1-star Chinese restaurant that uses mostly organic ingredients from small local suppliers and fishermen. [Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The most famous fish at The Chairman is undoubtedly steamed crab in aged Xiaoxing wine with Chan Village rice noodles. [The Chairman, Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Perpendicular to Gough Street and Kau U Fong is the sloped Aberdeen Street. Despite its slope, the street is also filled with new restaurants and cafes, including Tenkai, a Japanese fine dining restaurant specialized in tempura omakase. [Aberdeen Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Further downhill, the more causal Ode has also attracted a constant queue outside. The restaurant is specialized in ramen in sea bream fish broth. [Aberdeen Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The relatively new and sleek looking Aesop store at Gough / Aberdeen Street is a neat addition to the NoHo neighbourhood. [Junction of Aberdeen Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan,2020]

***

Near Hollywood Road, the vivid wall paintings at Graham Street remind visitors that we are now about to enter an interesting and fun neighbourhood. [Junction of Graham Street and Hollywood Road, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Since 1993, the world’s longest covered escalator system has brought tens of thousands of pedestrians up and down the slope of Central, from 34,000 daily usage in 1996 to about 85,000 in 2010. This influx of energy has directly contributed to the development of the SoHo District. [Junction of Shelley and Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
The Central – Mid Level Escalators was the unexpected driving force behind the creation of the entertainment district of SoHo in Central. [Junction of Shelley and Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Restaurants and bars cascade up along the escalator system of Shelley Street. [Shelley Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
Staunton has become the central axis of SoHo entertainment district. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Staunton Street ends at Old Bailey Street where Tai Kwun, the former Central Police Headquarters is situated. [Junction of Staunton and Shelley Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
A simple restaurant serving British food marks the eastern entrance of SoHo at Old Bailey Street. [Junction of Old Bailey and Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
From crafted beer to high end whiskey, sake, and wines, Staunton Street offers plenty of options to anyone looking for fun after work. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
A constant queue from morning till dusk, Bakehouse is the clear winner of SoHo during the Covid 19 pandemic. Operated by Grégoire Michaud, a renowned baker who has an impressive resume of work experiences in high end hotels and restaurants, the famous bakery has become an urban sensation in the past few years in Hong Kong. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
The former shops and Buddhist convents below old apartment blocks have been converted into restaurants and bars. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2021]
The ambience of Staunton Street would dramatically transformed as evening approaches. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2021]
One street further uphill from Staunton Street, Elgin Street is also at the heart of the bar hopping circuit of SoHo. [Elgin Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Like other old neighborhoods in Hong Kong, there is a deity shrine in SoHo that protects all in the community. [Junction of Staunton and Peel Street, Soho, Central, 2021]
Across from the shrine, a bar specialized in shesha water pipes has an interesting wall painting at its door. [Peel Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
During the Covid 19 pandemic, many bars and pubs were asked to temporarily close their doors. The restaurants remain opened have to follow strict regulations for number of customers per table, distance between seats, shorter opening times, stringent mechanical requirements for air changes, regular disinfection of spaces, etc. [Peel Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
SoHo is not all about fine dining and bar hopping. Other businesses such as custom tailor and second hand bookstore have also left their marks. [Flow Books, Hollywood Road, SoHo, Central, 2014]
The true beauty of SoHo is about how people with different backgrounds may come and mingle in a few small streets uphill from the business district of Central. [Flow Books, Hollywood Road, SoHo, Central, 2014]