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Demolition of Hong Kong Landmark Sparks Calls for Heritage Preservation


The demolition of a famous Hong Kong landmark, the Star Ferry pier, has sparked a furor in the city. Residents are angry at what they say is the government's destruction of heritage sites in favor of urban renewal and highway projects. From Hong Kong, VOA's Heda Bayron has this report written by Lindsay Cui and Juliet Ye.

Long a Hong Kong icon, the Star Ferry Pier clock tower rang out for the last time on November 11.

The pier is now gone, razed to make way for a controversial harbor-front highway and shopping center.

Since 1898, the Star Ferry has been a much-loved mode of transportation across Victoria Harbor, which separates Hong Kong Island from the rest of the territory.

The terminal's demolition sparked anger.

Protesters clashed with police in a last minute attempt to save the pier.

Conservationists say the government should halt the destruction of old buildings and preserve Hong Kong's heritage.

In the past several months, several old neighborhoods and buildings have been torn down to make way for property developments that earn the government millions of dollars.

Last year the government padlocked buildings on Lee Tung Street (Wedding Card Street), a favorite destination for couples wanting to print wedding cards.

The fate of several colonial buildings such as the Central Police Station and Victoria Prison, built in 1864, is uncertain. In addition, a planned highway threatens Jade Street, the location of a jade market popular with tourists.

Ada Wong, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture, campaigned to save Wedding Card Street and the Star Ferry pier. She says the government is out of touch with public sentiment.

"The government thinks that the old pier would be quite useless," she said. "They don't see the pier as a heritage, because it is only 49 years old. They don't see the aesthetic merits in preservation and they don't see it as collective memory of the people."

Hong Kong has always been a city on the go, and as it rapidly developed, old buildings were torn down to build skyscrapers.

For years, most Hong Kong residents were indifferent to the loss of old neighborhoods.

But Wong says the attitude of people has changed. They are growing more attached to the city.

"Hong Kong people look at Hong Kong as a very transient community, you know people come and go," she added. "They don't see their roots here, but I think this sentiment has changed. I can see that a new generation of people in Hong Kong see Hong Kong as a home and they start to be concerned about our heritage."

Architect Patrick Lau, a member of the government's Antiquities Advisory Board, says part of the problem is a lack of public involvement in the development plans.

"What I think the government should have done is you should have an urban design to show people what it would be like," he noted. "Then people can participate. All the public can go and see it, and they can also see what kind of new development you're going to put in the city."

Hong Kong's leader Donald Tsang says sufficient consultations have been carried out.

Officials argue the government is trying to preserve Hong Kong's heritage. One such effort is the $11 million refurbishment of an early 20th century mansion, turning it into a museum dedicated to the Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen.

The government says the Star Ferry clock tower will be rebuilt and incorporated in the harbor front development. But activists say Hong Kong deserves more than just a replica of its past.

Others critics, such as Patrick Lau, call on the government to be creative, for example by transforming old buildings into museums or art galleries.

"For any historical building, you have to look for new use," he added. "You cannot imagine a police station can function anymore. Then the historic building can have a new life of its own. They need be used and seen, not be taken as an antique."

The battle to preserve Hong Kong's heritage now centers on saving Queen's Pier, situated next to the old Star Ferry pier.

Queen's Pier, the landing point of British royals and governors, will be demolished soon and relocated, just like the Star Ferry, a few dozen meters away on reclaimed land.

Recently more than 1,000 people held a candlelight protest at Queen's Pier. They listened to speeches and sang songs.

A group of girls played the Star Ferry clock tower's chime on recorders. The organizers say they are naming the campaign "people rising from a fallen star."