At midnight 12th of November 2006, Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier (also known as Star Ferry Pier 天星碼頭) Clock Tower played its last chimes of its 48-years service, before being decommissioned and demolished along with the third generation Star Ferry Pier. Manufactured by Dent (London clock maker who was responsible for the clock of the Big Ben), the clock had told the time and chimed every 15 minutes since 1958. Although the timepiece mechanism was eventually preserved, the clock tower was discreetly toppled in early morning on 16th December 2006 amid public outcries and activist protests. Then four months later, just a stone throw from the toppled clock tower, Queen’s Pier (皇后碼頭) became the next harbourfront icon to fall victim for the Central and Wan Chai Reclamation project. Named after Queen Victoria, Queen’s Pier was the main arrival and departure point for all colonial governors since 1925, and the landing spot for British royal visits (Queen Elizabeth II in 1975, and Prince and Princess of Wales in 1989). After their failed attempt to save the Star Ferry Pier, local conservationists reunited at Queen’s Pier to held rallies, hunger strikes and candlelight vigils to fight against the demolition. While winning support from the public and even some celebrities, the activists once again failed to convince the government to consider preservation the colonial pier. Despite their fruitless attempts, the incidents of Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier have significantly raised public awareness on heritage preservation in Hong Kong, and triggered widespread support for later conservation projects such as Central Market, Police Married Quarter (PMQ) and Tai Kwun Police Headquarters.
As a port city, pier structures have always been essentials to Hong Kong. Based on an university study of photos from 1863, there were once 56 piers and jetties between Western District and Causeway Bay in mid 19th century. Excluding the restricted zones, that works out to be 56 piers in 5.5km of shoreline, or roughly a pier every 98m. As port facilities were moved away from the heart of Victoria Harbour and the opening of Cross Harbour Tunnel in 1970’s, pier activities along the north coast of Hong Kong Island have significantly declined, except for the pleasant Star Ferry and the other boat services to the outlying islands. I still remember the excitement as a kid in 1980’s when arriving at the Outlying Islands Ferry Pier (港外線碼頭) boarding a boat for day trips to Lantau or Yamma Island, or rubbing shoulders with foreign tourists taking photos of traditional rickshaws at Star Ferry Pier (天星碼頭), or watching couples taking wedding photos at Queen’s Pier (皇后碼頭) after tying the knot at the adjacent City Hall. Each pier had its own ambience and scenery. Each pier has become a unique piece of memory. Since the completion of Central and Wan Chai Reclamation project, the old Central piers are all but gone. About 300m north of the former piers, a cluster of ten new piers were established between 1990’s and 2000’s as the new Central Piers. Assigned with Pier No. 7 and 8, the current Star Ferry Pier was erected in Edwardian style mimicking its second generation predecessor from 1910’s. The “fake antique” and “theme park” approach of the architecture have drawn heavy criticism from the public. Between Pier No. 9 and 10, Hong Kong Observation Wheel, a 60m Ferris wheel, was erected in 2014 as a new tourist attraction. Despite being skeptical about the necessity of a new attraction, many do see the Ferris wheel as a delightful focus for the harbourfront, and a welcoming feature upon arriving at the Central Piers by ferry.
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.
Before the pandemic, Hong Kong was a highly popular tourist destination in Asia, ranked among the top cities in the world for the number of international visitors. Just like many tourist cities around the globe, tourism in Hong Kong has suffered enormously during the pandemic. The numbers of foreign visitors have plummeted, and the once crowded sights across the city have been largely tourist free. Despite the loss of tourist activities, this situation is prompting the return of Hongkongers to places they would normally avoid before the pandemic. Apart from popular museums, beaches, amusement parks, and shopping centres, waterfront promenades along Victoria Harbour, especially in Tsim Sha Tsui at the tip of Kowloon Peninsula, has always been packed with tourists before the Covid. Just like our childhood years, today we can once again wander freely on the Avenue of Stars or linger in the shadow of the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower without bumping into aggressive tourist groups. At night, the undulating reflections of neon lights, LED billboards, and glittering building facades in the water provides the perfect foreground for the skyline of Central, backed upon the silhouette of Victoria Peak. For decades, this postcard perfect Harbour panorama has served as the impeccable visual representation of Hong Kong’s prosperity and vibrancy, illuminating the legend of a city that never sleeps. Beyond the charming skyline on both sides of the water, the busy Victoria Harbour has much more to offer than just its visual glamour.
In Feng Shui, the traditional Chinese practice that harnesses the energy of surrounding environment, the element “water” is often associated with wealth and fortune. For Hong Kong, this water element can be definitely identified as the Victoria Harbour. From founding of the trading port, to the establishment of Far East’s finance and servicing hub, Victoria Harbour, the 41.88 km2 stretch of sea between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula, has always played a vital role. The Harbour is indeed where the story of Hong Kong begins. Known for its deep and sheltered water, the natural landform of the Harbour was one of the main reasons why Hong Kong was chosen by the British in 1841. Since the mid-19th century, the British put a great deal of effort to establish Hong Kong as their subtropical metropolis in the Far East and commercial gateway into China. The Harbour and its waterfront developments have been at the centre stage of Hong Kong’s evolution every since. To sustain population and economic growth, major land reclamation projects have never ceased to transform the urban extent of the city ever since 1840’s. More office towers, residential complexes, hotels, shopping centres, government buildings, museums, convention centre, stadiums, cruise terminals, promenades, piers, etc. would be erected after each reclamation scheme, redrawing the urban coastline at least once in every generation.
For many neighborhoods in the city, Victoria Harbour is always just a few blocks away. Exploring the everchanging waterfront areas is an interesting way to understand the past, present and future of Hong Kong. Our next series of posts will do exactly that.
East of Huangpu River across from the historic city centre of the Bund, Pudong (literally means the east bank of Huangpu) has been Shanghai’s new ground for contemporary developments in recent two decades, including the city’s international airport Pudong International Airport (opened in 1999) and Shanghai’s financial district Lujiazui. Many of Shanghai’s iconic skyscrapers from the past two decades, which include Oriental Pearl Tower, Jin Mao Building, Shanghai World Financial Center, Shanghai IFC, and the tallest of them all – Shanghai Tower, stand proudly at Lujiazui, directly across Huangpu River from the Bund, its historic predecessor. One tower after another tested the vertical limit of modern architecture. The development of Lujiazui reflects the ambition and pace of the contemporary development of the Chinese society.
Before heading to the airport, we dropped by Lujiazui of Pudong District one last time. At Lujiazui, we intended to visit the Aurora Art Museum, a gallery designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Unfortunately not until we reached the door, we realized that the museum was closed on Monday. We ended up spending time wandering around the financial area to check out the latest skyscrapers. The main focus in the area was undoubtedly Shanghai Tower (上海中心大厦). Construction was completed but Shanghai Tower had not opened its doors to the public yet. We could only walk around the 632m tower, the tallest in China, from outside. While admiring the twisting gesture and double skin facade system of Shanghai Tower, we could not ignore the two other super highrise towers of Lujiazui: Jin Mao Tower (金茂大廈) and Shanghai World Financial Center (上海環球金融中心). Before leaving Lujiazui for the airport, we had a quick tea break at a chain restaurant for a last taste of Shanghaiese food. We then took the metro to Longyang Road station and switched to the maglev airport express. Reaching a speed of about 430km/h, the magnetic levitation train ride to the airport took less than ten minutes. Our 4-day experience was coming to an end as we sped through the suburbs of Shanghai before our evening flight back to Hong Kong.
The three super-tall skyscrapers of Shanghai: (left) Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai World Financial Centre (centre), and Shanghai Tower (right).
The central atrium of Grand Hyatt Hotel at the 54th floor of Jin Mao Tower.
View of Putong and the Bund from the 54th floor of Jin Mao Tower.
Shanghai Tower as viewed from Jin Mao Tower.
Shanghai Tower as viewed from Jin Mao Tower.
Shanghai Tower, Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai World Financial Tower viewed from a footbridge near Lujiazui metro station.
The three super tall skyscrapers of Shanghai are all designed by American architects: Shanghai World Financial Tower by KPF, Jin Mao Tower by SOM, and Shanghai Tower by Gensler.
Oriental Pearl Tower (東方明珠塔) viewed from a footbridge near Lujiazui metro station.
The twin towers of Shanghai IFC with the Shanghai Tower in the middle.
Shanghai Tower, Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai World Financial Tower viewed from a footbridge near Lujiazui metro station.
The rest of the commercial buildings at Lujiazui were dwarfed by the three tallest towers.
Extensive footbridges connect a number of commercial developments in Lujiazui.
One last look at the three towers before we headed for the airport.
Read other posts on Shanghai 2016:
0.0 SHANGHAI, 2016
1.0 SUZHOU MUSEUM, Suzhou, China
2.0 HUMBLE ADMINISTRATOR’S GARDEN, Suzhou, China
3.0 LION GROVE GARDEN, Suzhou, China
4.0 SOUP DUMPLINGS AND MORNING STROLL, Shanghai, China
5.0 ROCKBUND, Shanghai, China
6.0 M50, Shanghai, China
7.0 1933 SHANGHAI (老場坊) , Shanghai, China
8.0 POLY GRAND THEATRE (上海保利大劇院), Shanghai, China
9.0 FORMER FRENCH CONCESSION, Shanghai, China
10.0 POWER STATION OF ART, Shanghai, China
11.0 LONG MUSEUM (龍美術館), West Bund, Shanghai, China
12.0 THE BUND (外灘) AT NIGHT, Shanghai, China
13.0 TIANZIFANG (田子坊), Shanghai, China
14.0 CHINESE HAND PRINTED BLUE NANKEEN GALLERY (藍印花布博物館), Shanghai, China
15.0 LUJIAZUI (陸家嘴) OF PUDONG (浦東), Shanghai, China
Walking along the paved ring path of Lugard Road and Harlech Road at the Victoria Peak is probably the most popular short trail for viewing the magnificent skyline and natural setting of the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula. It is accessible from the city either by a short ride on bus, microbus, taxi, car or tram, or on foot with a one-hour uphill hike. Well signed and shaded, the hour-long stroll on the ring path is pleasantly suitable for all.
Since September last year, Lugard Road came under spotlight for a controversial development project that could see the century-old Edwardian mansion of 27 Lugard Road converted into a luxurious hotel. The new acquirer of the property had already gained approval from the government despite public outcry in objection to the proposal. Apart from the major renovation and additions to the historical building, the proposal also introduces some form of shuttle service for future guests staying in one of the 17 hotel rooms. There is pubic concern for the now pedestrian-friendly road to be taken over by cars. Some parts of the road are already too narrow for small cars. How to manage regular traffic on the narrow Lugard Road without compromising pedestrian safety is one of the biggest concerns from the public.
In the past few months, Alliance for a Beautiful Hong Kong has been gathering support for a petition to revoke the project. This organization raised concern about waste management and pollution generated from both the construction and operation of the business. Surrounded mostly by Pok Fu Lam Country Park, the immediate area of Lugard Road belongs to a crucial green network at the centre of the Hong Kong Island which acts like a backyard of the downtown core. The recent approval to the hotel project seems to signal and welcome future development near the greenbelt. Grounded on these worries, any negative environmental impact resulted from the project may represent a hefty loss for the public.
Completed in 1919, Lugard Road was originally built as a scenic promenade. With the narrow width, the road can hardly serve as a proper road for vehicles.
Subtropical vegetation, including this famous Indian Banyan tree, provide shading for most of the ring path.The lookouts along Lugard Road offer some of the most iconic views of Hong Kong.
The path that leads up to No. 27 of Lugard Road.
Alliance for a Beautiful Hong Kong is gathering support for a petition to revoke the project.