Urban Renewal Authority

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"市區重建局" redirects here. For the agency in Singapore with the same Chinese name, see Urban Redevelopment Authority.
Urban Renewal Authority
市區重建局
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Urban Renewal Authority (Hong Kong) logo.png
Urban Renewal Authority logo
Agency overview
Formed 2001
Preceding agency
  • Land Development Corporation (土地發展公司)
Jurisdiction  Hong Kong
Headquarters COSCO Tower, Sheung Wan
Agency executives
  • Victor So Hing-woh, Chairman
  • Iris Tam Siu-ying, Managing director (resigned 30 Mar 2015)
Website www.ura.org.hk/

The Urban Renewal Authority (Chinese: 市區重建局; URA) is a quasi-governmental, profit-making[1] statutory body in Hong Kong responsible for accelerating urban redevelopment.

History[edit]

The authority's predecessor, the Land Development Corporation (土地發展公司, or 土發 for short), was founded in 1988. The new Urban Renewal Authority was founded in 1999 with the aim of speeding up urban renewal. Difficulties reaching agreement on compensation packages for people affected by planned redevelopments delayed the actual commencement of the URA.[2] The agency was finally established on 1 May 2001 and the LDC was dissolved the same day.[3]

Urban decay in Hong Kong[edit]

The "Blue House" in Stone Nullah Lane.
A printing shop with an Urban Renewal Authority closure notice.

At present, there are about 16,000 private buildings that are 30 or more years old within the metro area of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Tsuen Wan District and Kwai Tsing District. By 2030, the number of buildings over 30 years old will increase fourfold. The problem of ageing buildings is more serious in older urban areas.

With the stated aim to address the problem of urban decay and improve the living conditions of residents in dilapidated areas, the Urban Renewal Authority Ordinance (Chapter 563) was enacted in July 2000. The Ordinance provides a new institutional framework for carrying out urban renewal in locations that the private market finds unprofitable. The Hong Kong Government conducted a comprehensive review of "Urban Renewal Strategy" in 2008. After two years' 'community engagement', the new strategy was promulgated on 24 Feb 2011.

The Urban Renewal Proposals[edit]

Introduction[edit]

The stated strategy of the URA is that Hong Kong's urban renewal should follow three major principles: "Putting People first"; "District-Based"; and "Community Participation". Their adherence to these tenets has been questioned by some, including legislator Kenneth Chan, who stated that "the URA always puts its interests first" in reference to the controversy surrounding the Graham Street market eviction,[1] and in reference to the "undemocratic" approach undertaken by the URA in demolishing Lee Tung Street.

Aims[edit]

Urban renewal typically involves relatively large-scale redevelopment of urban areas, rather than piecemeal rebuilding of individual buildings or the provision of specific facilities. Its objectives include:

  • improvements to living condition to residents living in old urban areas;
  • improvements to the urban environment and infrastructure by the provision of more open space, community and other facilities;
  • enhancements to urban layouts, road networks and other infrastructure;
  • the substitution or overhaul of archaic buildings;
  • better exploitation of land;
  • thinning out of development and population densities to reduce the strain on over-burdened transport and other infrastructure;
  • making accessible land to meet various uses such as housing, and
  • redeveloping a particular area to act as a catalyst for the redevelopment of neighbouring areas by private developers, as enhanced property values make this more viable.

Examples[edit]

Two townscape enhancement schemes, Stone Nullah Lane in Wan Chai and the area around Lan Kwai Fong and adjoining the Central District Central-Mid-Levels escalator (the Soho area), are (currently) proposed. The stated aim is to preserve their local character and to enhance their attractiveness to tourists. It is proposed that the Stone Nullah Lane area will form part of an adjoining redevelopment priority project area, designed to integrate with the preservation of a group of the adjoining buildings of heritage value.

Criticism[edit]

URA projects have been criticised for lacking human scale. The Island Crest development replaced a block of shophouses.

Redevelopment projects by the Urban Renewal Authority typically involve the wholesale demolition of urban districts and the consolidation of numerous city blocks to accommodate large-scale commercial development. This approach is frequently criticised for destroying cultural heritage, unique local character, and touchstones of collective memory.[4][5] Community and economic networks are also dismantled as the compensation the URA offers to displaced residents and merchants is rarely sufficient to permit them to return to the affected district.[4][5][6] Such grievances are leveled against most URA redevelopment projects, and have escalated to community uprising and hunger strikes by those unwilling to be evicted.[5][7][8] The authority has been said to view all older, low-rise districts as merely "vacant airspace with great development potential" rather than functioning communities, thus putting vast older areas of the city under threat of destruction.[9]

In addition to economic exclusivity and disregard for existing local communities, URA redevelopments have also been criticised for poor urban design, such as long stretches of blank wall at ground level which effectively kills the vibrant street life for which older districts are known.[6][9][10][11][12][13]

Demolition of Lee Tung Street[edit]

Lee Tung Street prior to demolition.

Lee Tung Street (Chinese: 利東街), better known by its local nickname "Wedding Card Street" (Chinese: 喜帖街), was famous for its printing shops that sell custom-made wedding cards, coloured bright red for good luck. Tens of thousands purchased their wedding cards in the area in the preceding decades, and the district was also the birthplace of the publishing business in Hong Kong.[5] The URA announced in 2003 its intention to redevelop an area of 8,900 square metres centred on Lee Tung and McGregor streets.[5] Fifty-four buildings housing 930 households were planned to be torn down to accommodate four residential towers and four shopping malls.[14]

The redevelopment was subject to a heavy backlash in the community. The decision to demolish was called "undemocratic" and contrary to the stated "people-centred" mandate of the URA.[14] The wedding card printers and publishers were concerned about the loss of invaluable economic and social networks, having to leave the district due to high real estate prices, and the loss of accessibility to suppliers and customers alike.[14] Even though the redevelopment includes a "Wedding City"-themed shopping mall, merchants complained they could not return to the area because most could not afford the increased rents.[8] Under the Land Resumption Ordinance, the URA was able to expropriate tenants and landowners regardless of their will, leading to accusations that URA activities run contrary to public interest and represent an infringement on property rights.[4][14]

Banners posted all over Lee Tung Street protesting the demolition.

The H15 Concern Group (Chinese: H15關注組) was formed to save the wedding card shops and produced an alternative plan called the "dumbbell proposal" which retained the signature tong lau (Chinese walk-up buildings).[15] This plan later received a Silver Award from the Institute of Planners.[14] The URA faced criticism when demolition of the area began three weeks before the Town Planning Board was set to consider the concern group's alternative proposal, with URA chairman Barry Cheung Chun-yuen being driven out of the area by upset locals.[7] One resident, a former shopowner, staged a hunger strike after the bulldozers moved in earlier than anticipated and was hospitalised after four days.[8][16][17]

Development chief Carrie Lam defended the project, stating that the buildings of Lee Tung Street were "not worth keeping and had little historic value" and that "stopping the plan would jeopardise the city's future planning".[17] The H15 Concern Group proposal to save the street was rejected by the Planning Department in January 2008 for failing to include a structural assessment, which the concern group said was outside their financial capability.[18] The URA and the government went on to demolish the street as planned, and redevelopment is well underway.

Expropriation of commercial tenants[edit]

Commercial tenants sometimes have a different view towards urban renewal as low-cost premises are getting hard to find. Affordable commercial space is not always available in newly developed commercial buildings. Even owner-operators of commercial premises are unable to relocate in the same district because the compensation they get from the Urban Renewal Authority does not always match the purchase price of similar-sized properties in the same district.[4] It was proposed, therefore, that options should be made available to owners or tenants so that they can choose between physical relocation by developers, cash compensation to allow them buy or rent elsewhere, or wind up their businesses altogether.

Suppression of internal dissent[edit]

At the end of April 2007 Alan Leong Kah-kit was dropped from the board of directors of the URA after two years of service. Leong said he was not angry or surprised, and expressed doubt on whether the authority works in the public interest: "The government expects those who are appointed to statutory bodies to shut up and not express any opposing view to the public [...] It doesn't really matter that I have not been reappointed to the authority. After all, if I really want to work for the people, then there is no point in staying there."[19] Another Civic Party member and Legislative Councillor Tanya Chan was appointed to the URA board.

On 30 March 2015, URA Managing Director Iris Tam Siu-ying suddenly resigned after what she called (in a letter to staff) "fundamental differences" with chairman Victor So Hing-woh over the body's philosophy and mission. Tam objected to So's placing profit considerations ahead of the agency's social mission. So, a former Link REIT chief executive, joined the URA in 2013. Tam, a two-time president of the Hong Kong Institute of Planners, had been with the URA since 2006, and served as Managing Director since 2013. As of 2015 she remained a member of the Hong Kong Housing Authority.[20][21]

Tam had objected to various proposals by So, including to outsource URA's acquisition department, and for the organisation to partner with Richfield Realty, a commercial developer.[20] The URA board unanimously asked Tam to stay, but she quit anyway, stating, "I find it totally unacceptable to position URA as a developer or a land assembly agent to supply land for developers."[22]

Graham and Peel Street demolitions[edit]

Graham Street market.

In 2007 the URA announced a plan to demolish several city blocks of old tong lau on Graham Street (Chinese: 嘉咸街) and Peel Street (Chinese: 卑利街), replacing them with a $3.8 billion scheme comprising four high-rises: two residential blocks, one office tower, and a hotel. Some 360 property owners and 1,120 residents in 37 existing buildings, built from the pre-war years to the 1960s, have been affected.[23][24] In the process the URA plans to also evict the oldest wet market in the city, founded 1841.[1] The plan was submitted to and approved by the Town Planning Board in early 2007. The market is considered culturally significant by many Hong Kong people for its vibrancy, "unique cultural landscape",[25] and its preservation of "a very traditional Chinese way of life".[26]

The Central and Western Concern Group, a coalition of ten community groups, pointed out that the destruction of the market, a tourist attraction, would "bring its rich and dynamic history to an end" and that many of the vendors did not want to be evicted.[27] The shop owners lamented the high rent levels elsewhere, the cost of relocation, the emotional attachment they held to the longstanding marketplace and the loss of their customer base.[24] In opposition to the redevelopment, a Graham Street Market Festival was organised in November 2007 to showcase the "cultural treasures and unique features" of the market with the aim of encouraging the government to "rethink its town planning policy". Support was lent by TVB celebrity chef Chow Chung, who offered cooking classes with ingredients purchased from the market.[26] A second such festival was held in November 2008.[28]

The URA responded to this backlash through several proposals. They promised the redevelopment would incorporate an "old shops street" which would, according to managing director Billy Lam Chung-lun, "bring back the old charm and streetscapes".[24] The Central and Western Concern Group called the plan "artificial" given that such an environment already exists, and that the so-called "decorated stage" would take too long to build.[29] Secondly, the URA also promised to build a two-storey wet market complex on a lot labelled "site B" to house the displaced vendors. This plan was criticised as the proposed building would accommodate fewer than half the vendors currently operating in the area. By 2013 the wet market had not been constructed, yet vendors had been served eviction notices regardless.[1]

List of projects[edit]

This list is not exhaustive. It also includes projects by the former Land Development Corporation.

Completed projects[edit]

Current projects[edit]

Proposed projects[edit]

  • Revitalization/Preservation Project of 72-74A Stone Nullah Lane, 2–8 Hing Wan Street and 8 King Sing Street.
  • Mallory Street/Burrows Street Project

Chairmen[edit]

Land Development Corporation[edit]

Urban Renewal Authority[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Chan, Yannie (31 October 2013). "The Future of Graham Street Market". HK Magazine. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "The Land Development Corporation’s submission on the compensation package for land resumption to the Legislative Council Panel on Planning, Lands and Works" (PDF). Land Development Corporation. 28 February 2001. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  3. ^ "Report provided by the Administration on the allegations against the Chairman of the Land Development Corporation [CB(1) 1758/00-01]" (PDF). Planning and Lands Bureau. July 2001. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d Law, Katty (21 March 2008). "Urban renewal strategy ruining communities". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Yung, Chester (11 July 2005). "A community fights for its soul". The Standard. 
  6. ^ a b Ho, Edmond C.M. (2012). "Renewing the Urban Regeneration Approach in Hong Kong" (PDF). Discovery – SS Student E-Journal 1: 110–139. Retrieved 28 November 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Wong, Olga (25 December 2007). "Urban renewal chief chased by 'Wedding Card Street' protesters". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c Chiang, Scarlett (24 December 2007). "Residents reject 'Wedding City', partial preservation of market". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Batten, John. "Destroying Memory Lane" (PDF). The Correspondent. Foreign Correspondents Club. Retrieved 28 November 2013. 
  10. ^ Cookson Smith, Peter (2006). The Urban Design of Impermanence. Hong Kong: MCCM Creations. p. 14. ISBN 988-98653-7-8. 
  11. ^ "Wing Hing (Shiu Kee) Seafood". Sai Ying Pun Business - The Story of Shops and Community. Hong Kong: The Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage. 2012. Street ecology and demographic of the community have drastically changed after urban renewal. Upon the completion of Island Crest, old shops at the adjacent part nearby were moved out or closed down. The street becomes deserted, and local small scale business plummeted. 
  12. ^ Shelton, Karakiewicz & Kvan 2011, p. 105.
  13. ^ Shelton, Karakiewicz & Kvan 2011, p. 130: "As we have observed, even Langham Place [...] is more defensive than porous about its street-level edges. As a strategy, therefore, a podium needs to be engaged with the city, not treated as a self-contained entity."
  14. ^ a b c d e Huang, Shu-Mei. "A Sustainable City renewed by "People"-Centered Approach? Resistance and Identity in Lee Tung Street Renewal Project in Hong Kong". 6th Annual Graduate Student Conference, University of British Columbia. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  15. ^ Chau, Winnie (9 October 2008). "Our Town: Meet four warriors who have helped shape the face of Wan Chai.". HK Magazine. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  16. ^ "Lee Tung protesters to step up action". The Standard. 27 December 2007. 
  17. ^ a b "Hunger strike fails to save street". The Standard. 28 December 2007. 
  18. ^ "Bid to save tenement buildings rejected". South China Morning Post. 10 January 2008. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  19. ^ Ng, Michael (2 May 2007). "Last effort to keep pier close to its current site". The Standard. Retrieved 11 May 2014. 
  20. ^ a b Wong, Imogene; Xu, Adam (31 March 2015). "URA gulf widens as Tam hands in resignation". The Standard. 
  21. ^ Wong, Olga; Fung, Fanny W.Y. (31 March 2015). "Hong Kong Urban Renewal Authority head reveals split with chairman in letter to staff". South China Morning Post. 
  22. ^ Wong, Olga; Fung, Fanny W.Y. (1 April 2015). "Email lifts lid on discord at top of Hong Kong urban renewal body". South China Morning Post. 
  23. ^ "URA commences Peel Street/Graham Street project". Press releases. Urban Redevelopment Authority. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  24. ^ a b c "URA looks to past for shops scheme". The Standard. 27 February 2007. 
  25. ^ Law, Katty (27 August 2008). "Opinion : Do our old streets need more protection?". South China Morning Post. 
  26. ^ a b "Wet market strikes back with fest". The Standard. 31 October 2007. 
  27. ^ "URA begins resuming Central plots: Authority moves on redevelopment despite opposition of residents, heritage groups". South China Morning Post. 20 July 2007. 
  28. ^ "Celebrating Graham Street before it changes". South China Morning Post. 16 November 2008. 
  29. ^ "Coalition to fight 'old-style shops' plan". The Standard. 23 July 2007. 
Bibliography
  • Shelton, Barrie; Karakiewicz, Justyna; Kvan, Thomas (2011). The Making of Hong Kong: From Vertical to Volumetric. Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-48701-6. 

External links[edit]