ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Praya

THE GOLDEN GOOSE OF VICTORIA HARBOUR: Central Harbourfront (中環海濱), Central (中環), Hong Kong

Between April 2021 and March 2022, land sales have generated an HK$91.6 billion (US$11.7 billion) income for the Hong Kong government, out of which HK$50.8 billion (US$6.5 billion) came from a 47,967 sq.m lot at Central Harbourfront, the prestige waterfront in the city’s financial district. Like many business areas in the city, this land is created from a massive land reclamation project. Every time a massive reclamation project along Victoria Harbour is completed, the government would increase its land supplies and potential sources of income. The city’s iconic skyline would undergo another phase of transformation, and the harbour would once again get narrower. This new piece of land comes from Phase 3 (2003 – 2018) of the Central and Wan Chai Reclamation project, the last major plan (first initiated in 1985) that altered the waterfront between Central and Wan Chai. Land sale has always been a major revenue source for Hong Kong ever since early colonial times. Due to the limited land supply and continuous growth of the population and economy, reclaiming land from the sea was a cost effective way for urban expansion given the city’s rocky and mountainous terrains. Since 1840’s, about 7000 hectares (70 sq.km) of land has been reclaimed. Compared to 59.1 sq.km of Manhattan Island, 70 sq.km is a decent piece of land housing 27% of Hong Kong’s population and 70% of its businesses. While the search of flat land has always been a challenge, voices against land reclamation among the public has gained momentum in recent decades. Given the negative impact to the environment and Victoria Harbour, many now consider land reclamation as an unsustainable solution that would likely do more harm than good.

Victoria Harbour is a vital component for the economic success of Hong Kong since the founding of city. It is a safe, all-weather and deep harbour, a perfect place to establish an international port as history has proven. Yet, 180 years of land reclamation has narrowed the water to such a great extent (distance between Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui has been halved) that the natural potentials of Victoria Harbour has been diminished. On the other hand, many began to recognize the significance of waterfront planning and its impact on shaping the city’s identity. Up until 1980’s, the harbour was developed mostly for the purposes of infrastructure, with wharfs, piers, godowns, warehouses, and dockyards occupied most of the harbourfront, leaving only pockets in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui for public and commercial uses. Under such context, the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance was passed in 1997 to recognize that Victoria Harbour is more than just a safe port. The law acknowledges that “the harbour is to be protected and preserved as a special public asset and a natural heritage of Hong Kong people, and for that purpose there shall be a presumption against reclamation in the harbour.” First covering only the waters around Central, then expanding to the entire harbour in 1999, the law basically put a stop to land reclamation in Victoria Harbour. If the law is here to stay, then the HK$50.8 billion land at Central Harbourfront would be one of the last available plots of waterfront land in Central. Meanwhile, plans for creating a more accessible harbourfront for all to enjoy have begun to realize, with the completion of various waterfront promenades on the Island’s north coast in recent years. Also from the Phase 3 of Central and Wan Chai Reclamation, the lot east of the HK$50.8 billion lot remains unoccupied in the past decade. Designated as Central Harbourfront Event Space, this land has been a vital public space at the heart of the city, hosting events from music festivals and sporting events, to large scale art installations. After this lot is developed, would the 180 year transformation of Central Harbourfront can finally call it a day, or would the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance be reverted one day due to economic and political pressure? The future is anyone’s guess.

Stretched from the General Post Office to the Ferris Wheel at Central Pier, the HK$50.8 billion (US$6.5 billion) lot is one of the last pieces of reclaimed land in Central. [Photo taken from footbridge connection of Central Piers, 2019]
Included in the HK$50.8 billion (US$6.5 billion) lot, the current General Post Office (4th generation) will likely be demolished in the near future. [Photo taken from footbridge connection of Central Piers, 2020]
The same piece of land seemed like a large construction site about a decade ago. [Photo taken from footbridge connection of Central Piers, 2012]
The HK$50.8 billion (US$6.5 billion) land has been idled as an empty lawn for almost a decade already. [Photo taken from footbridge connection of Central Piers, 2020]

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The year 1873 saw the completion of Praya Reclamation Scheme phase 1, extend the waterfront from Queen’s Road Central to Des Vouex Road Central. [Photo by John Thompson, 1873, Illustrations of China and Its People, public domain]
After completing the second phase of Praya Reclamation Scheme, the Central waterfront was extended to Statue Square and Connaught Road Central. [Hong Kong skyline in 1920’s. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain]
In the subsequent decades, land reclamation in Central pushed the waterfront to the current City Hall and General Post Office. [Skyline of Central in 1970’s. Image courtesy: ken93110, wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA 3.0]
Central and Wan Chai Reclamation began in 1993 and ended in 2019, adding the Terminal of Airport Express, the International Finance Centre (IFC) complex and Central Piers in 1996, the government headquarters in 1999, a series of commercial buildings and waterfront promenade in 2008, and the submerged Central-Wanchai Bypass in 2019. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Most of the business district of Central is located on reclaimed land created from the Praya Reclamation Scheme in the 19th century, several smaller projects in mid 20th century, and the Central and Wan Chai Reclamation Scheme between 1993 and 2018. [Photo taken from The Cenotaph, 2020]
In late 19th century, Paul Chater (Hongkong Land) and James Johnstone Keswick (Jardine Matheson) carried out the Praya Reclamation Scheme that dramatically transformed the north coast of Hong Kong Island, while their companies remain as the largest landlords in Central today, owning a large amount of commercial buildings including Jardine House, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Prince’s Building, Chater House, Alexander House, etc. [Photo taken from Statue Square, 2020]
Owned by Hongkong Land, the luxurious Landmark Atrium is another icon in Central. [2020]
Illustrated on the ground floor pavement of the HSBC headquarters, the shoreline of Central has undergone multiple transformations throughout the past 180 years. [2020]
Commonly known as the original northern shoreline on Hong Kong Island, Queen’s Road now lies somewhere between 500m to over 1km (in Wan Chai) inland from Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken at Intersection of Queen’s Road Central and Ice House Street, 2020]
Des Voeux Road Central was constructed after phase 1 of the Praya Reclamation Scheme. [Photo taken outside of Central Market at Des Voeux Road Central, 2021]
Named after Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, Connaught Road was completed in 1890 as a waterfront thoroughfare. Today the road is completely landlocked after a series of land reclamation. [Photo taken outside of Exchange Square at Connaught Road Central, 2020]
The towers and shopping mall of International Finance Centre (IFC) are resulted from the Phase 1 of Central and Wan Chai Reclamation project (1993 – 2019). [2020]
Phase 3 of Central and Wan Chai Reclamation project includes the Central-Wanchai Bypass, which starting from 2019 connects Central to Causeway Bay via a tunnel under the harbour. [2020]

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Much of the reclaimed Central Harbourfront is designated as an open space for public events such as the Hong Kong Marathon. [2017]
Hong Kong ePrix, an international Formula E race, is also held at the Central Harbourfront Event Space. [2019]
Between 2016 to 2018, Clockenflap Music and Arts Festival, the city’s biggest annual music festival, was held at Central Harbourfront Event Space three years in a row. [2017]
In 2017, British trip hop and electronic band Massive Attack was the final guest of the three day Clockenflap festival. [2017]
Before the pandemic, the Clockenflap events were some of our most memorable nights we spent at the Central Harbourfront. [2017]
During the pandemic, the Central Harbourfront Event Space was used occasionally for fairs and large scale art installations. [2021]
Inspired by Victoria Harbour, American Artist Patrick Shearn from Poetic Kinetics covered a large strip of the event space with a colourful kinetic sculpture that waved in the wind. [2021]

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]