Monday, May 21, 2007

Your friendly unwanted makeover specialists

An alarming headline on the South China Morning Post website today:
Mong Kok gets a makeover
The Planning Department will map out measures to reorganise the chaotic streetscape of Mong Kok in a bid to make the area more shopper-friendly, writes Anita Lam.

Not being willing to pay the Post's exorbitant subscription fees when I can read The Standard online for free, I haven't seen the rest of the article, but this is probably bad news for shoppers. It is exactly Mong Kok's "chaotic streetscape" that makes it so vibrant and interesting.

The government's idea of "shopper-friendly" is usually to smarten everything up and then double the rents. The result: bye-bye to all the cramped CD and DVD shops and tiny boutiques and labyrinthine computer malls and second hand bookshops and exotic petshops and untidy street markets and cosy little cafes that really attract shoppers, and hello to all the same big boring overpriced retail chains we can find everywhere else.

Already they have done away with all the colourful dai pai dongs that used to liven up Hong Kong's streets in favour of no doubt more hygienic but characterless cooked food stalls herded into concrete bunkers above markets. Then the markets in public housing estates were privatized in the face of fierce opposition. Stanley Market has been "tidied up", again drawing complaints. And in Kwun Tong, there is much discontent among the residents (most of them in the lower income group) over government plans to "improve" the area, which it is feared will drive out the cheap shops that residents depend on for their daily needs.

When will we have a government in Hong Kong that actually asks people what they want instead of deciding for them? (Yeah, I know, when we get democracy... I guess I'll just have to hold my breath a bit longer.)

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