Market Expectations

With the revitalisation of Central Market underway, the question becomes whether or not it will live up to its promise in a property-first city.本港一向以地產掛帥,施工中的中環街市活化工程,能否兌現保育承諾?


With the revitalisation of Central Market underway, the question becomes whether or not it will live up to its promise in a property-first city. 本港一向以地產掛帥,施工中的中環街市活化工程,能否兌現保育承諾?

What little remains of Hong Kong's architectural heritage has been in the spotlight in recent years. While the buildings may have been unremarkable, the grumbling over the demolition of Wedding Card Street, the Star Ferry pier, and Graham Street Market has thrust heritage into the spotlight and ignited a push for more conservation. To that end, the city has welcomed 1881 Heritage in Tsim Sha Tsui—the old Marine Police headquarters and first private sector adaptive re-use project (by CK Asset Holdings)—the PMQ design hub (Musketeers Education and Culture Charitable Foundation) and in May, the high profile Tai Kwun (by the Hong Kong Jockey Club) at the former Central Police Station and prison. Scaffolding had finally gone up around the long gestating Central Market regeneration, which raises the question: How exactly is the SAR faring with its history?

Falling Behind

Look around the globe and urban centres aiming to attract business and talent are putting time, effort and money into heritage redevelopment as a way to boost personality: London is perhaps the global leader but New York, Paris, Melbourne, Toronto, Phnom Penh, Jakarta, Yangon, and Colombo are just a few locations tapping into their pasts for the future. But Hong Kong has, to put it mildly, a thorny relationship with its heritage property, which stems directly from its relationship to real estate in general. Real or imagined limited land supply has forced the government to consider more revitalisation and regeneration (case in point, the industrial building revitalisation scheme) than in the past, with some public pressure encouraging conservation; Murray House, Flagstaff House and Western Market are among the city's earliest adaptive re-use heritage projects (from 1982, '84, and '91, respectively), so it's not unheard of.

However, unlike Singapore, the government has very weak guidelines for protection that apply only to monuments, and by law private property proclaimed a monument must be compensated, sometimes astronomically, as that figure is based on potential revenue generation, not value. Further, the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) doesn't wield the legislative power Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority has to declare heritage precincts.




“There's no structure within the planning and zoning systems that protects, or even guides, particularly valuable conservation areas,” Heritage Hong Kong Foundation chair Maggie Brooke said at June's 2018 ULI Asia Pacific Summit in Hong Kong. “We still haven't worked out how the government could bring in broader policies on maintaining and protecting privately owned heritage buildings, because the Basic Law says you don't interfere with property rights.” Khoo Teng Chye, executive director of Centre for Liveable Cities, agreed that Singapore also faces ownership conflicts. “The issue from a policy point of view is how to strike a balance between conservation and giving enough incentive to developers and owners to conserve.”

Last Chance?

Developer incentives go a long way to explaining why 1881 is a massive shopping mall, and how the likes of Vivienne Tam and G.O.D. are occupying space in PMQ, which was supposed to be a platform for young and emerging designers. Now with Central Market's regeneration under way—part of the “Conserving Central” initiative launched in 2009—heritage redevelopment is news again. A lot of the buzz pivots on how the re-imagined market will slot into the concrete jungle around it. Despite what may dominate public perception, a lot of debate has gone into whether or not the 1939 Bauhaus structure should be preserved at all. Paul Zimmerman, co-founder of Designing Hong Kong, which advocates for better city planning, is a believer in urban diversity, but argues “heritage regeneration is very focused on architecture. There is little understanding of preservation of culture and uses.”

The URA has offered little in the way of hard details about its plans for the market, only that it would honour the surveys that suggested the market “mainly serve the general public, have plenty of space with landscape, and less commercial elements such as high-end, brand name retailers,” and proceed with a simplified, less costly conservation design (now estimated at $750 million) of the old Bauhaus building (read limited details at The new plan retains 13 of 200 of the old market 有別於新加坡,香港政府對保育古蹟的指引流於表面,而且法例規定,若私人物業成為法定古蹟,政府要向業主作出補償,金額往往是天文數字,因為計算方式是物業可創造收入的潛力,而非當時的價值。再者,香港市區重建局(市建局)不似新加坡市區重建局,沒有法定權力判定哪些是歷史古蹟。

香港文化遺產基金會主席Maggie Brooke於6月份在2018 ULI Asia Pacific Summit峰會上表示:「規劃和分區系統中缺乏架構來保護或界定特別有價值的保育區。我們還沒弄清楚政府如何制定更廣泛的政策來維護和保護私人歷史建築物,基本法規定不可干涉私人財產權益。」Centre for Liveable Cities行政總裁Khoo Teng Chye認同新加坡亦面對擁有權的紛爭:「政策上的焦點,是如何平衡保育和向發展商和業主提供足夠誘因,促成他們決心參與保育計劃。」


為發展商提供足夠誘因,正好解釋了為何1881是個大型商場,又為何為新晉設計師提供展示平台的元創坊內會有Vivienne TAM及GOD等名店。現時,中環街市活化計劃已動工,那是於2009年啟動的「保育中環」計劃的其中一部分,重建歷史建築再次成為熱話,不少人猜想重塑後的街市如何跟周邊的石屎森林融合,儘管公眾有自己一套看法,但對於應否保留1939年的包浩斯建築,仍存在許多爭論。司馬文是創建香港的創辦人之一,致力推動優質的城市計劃,相信城市需要多元化。他認為:「活化只集中於建築層面,鮮有項目了解文化保育及用途。」

市建局只提供中環街市重建項目的有限細節,唯一肯定的是他們會美化項目形象,高舉「為公眾服務,創造更多綠色空間,減少商業元素如高級零售品牌」的旗幟,同時對舊式包浩斯建築採用較簡單及較便宜的保育設計(目前估計約為7.5億港元)。若想知有限的詳情,可瀏覽。街市原本有200間店舖,新計劃只保留13間,還有位於正中央的樓梯、石柱的間格和中庭。本地建築事務所AGC Design於2011年贏得中環街市項目的設計工程招標,但到最後,該公司的設計原貌能有多少部分得以保留,卻不得而知(AGC未有及時回應查詢)。


stalls, the central staircases, the column grid and atrium. Local architecture studio AGC Design won the tender to design the market in 2011, but how much of the studio's original design, or what it even was, remains to be seen (AGC did not respond to requests for a comment in time).

Will it work? Will the new Central Market be free of “luxury brand shops [and] bland, homogenised retail shops” and focus on “cultural and affordable retail shops that incorporate multipurpose use such as greenery and public open space”? Based on what's been revealed Zimmerman thinks the development nonetheless “looks more like a shopping mall with a food court. The market stalls are almost all, except a few, removed. It's a pity that the market is not preserved as a market.” The open layout will make it difficult to operate as a market the way it was. The URA did not specifically respond to questions about ensuring the honouring of the public's wishes, only stating by email that the Town Planning Board approved all preservation plans in 2016, and construction is complying with any mandated requirements. The URA stated: “Regarding the operation model, the mainstream public view suggested that the uses of the Central Market should be diversified and not too commercialised, offering a variety of affordable goods and services. To this end, the URA is conducting a study on the operational arrangements and the procurement of the future operator to ensure the public aspirations will be upheld.” Gucci pop-up or food truck-type snack vendors? We'll have to wait until 2021 to find out. 司馬文根據所得的資料認為這個發展計劃:「好像一個有包含美食廣場的購物商場,幾乎所有商店都沒有了,只有少量留下,可惜的是這不再是個街市保育計劃。」因為開放式設計已令中環街市難以再續街市用途。市建局未有特別回應如何達成公眾意願,只以電郵回覆所有保育計劃早於2016年獲城規會批准,建築工程將會符合所有規定要求。市建局表示:「關於項目的運作模式,公眾主流意見認為活化後的中環街市需要多元化,不可太商業化,及提供一系列相宜貨品及服務。為此,市建局已就未來營運商的選擇及營運安排進行研究,確保可照顧到公眾意願。」那麼,Gucci快閃店或美食車之類的商舖會否再來?2021年自有分曉。

The issue... is how to strike a balance between conservation and giving enough incentive to developers and owners.


中環街市活化概念圖 A rendering of the Central Market revitalisation

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