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Blog // Travel
November 14, 2008

Creative Districts In Hong Kong?

Someone looking to move to Hong Kong posted an interesting question today on one of the ex-pat forums. They were wondering if there was a district in Hong Kong with an artsy vibe, like the 3rd in Paris or Chelsea in New York. The consensus from the respondents was that Hong Kong can’t offer that. […]

Someone looking to move to Hong Kong posted an interesting question today on one of the ex-pat forums. They were wondering if there was a district in Hong Kong with an artsy vibe, like the 3rd in Paris or Chelsea in New York. The consensus from the respondents was that Hong Kong can’t offer that. My contribution to the discussion was,

“I’m not that familiar with the 3rd, but I don’t think Hong Kong really does the artsy/creative-class/relaxed thing at all. Star Street is sort of cool and worth keeping on the radar, but it is a tiny precinct.

The sort of area I think the OP is looking for has people living close to their work and socialising close to creative activity (design, ateliers, education etc.). Hong Kong doesn’t really work that way. A strip with a few restaurants and the odd gallery or furniture store is not the same thing.”

Interestingly, it does seem that the Hong Kong government is taking the local creativity gulf seriously. Next month’s Business of Design Week programme looks very good and is aimed at fostering the kinds of discussions and networks that will help promote creative industries in this city. It’s a good move.

But creativity, the kind that fuels the creative class that Richard Florida writes about, requires more than just seminars. It needs places where people can mix and interact in a day to day way. It’s no coincidence that cities known for their creativity in a range of fields have neighbourhoods that are identified with the creative classes. An expensive “arts hub” (will West Kowloon ever be anything more than just a Shopping Mall with a few halls attached?) is not the answer. That’s a place to consume “culture” – not a place to create it.

Moreover, concentrated urban entertainment is not the answer either. Just because a district has a concentrated selection of night-spots and eateries does not mean it has the access to studios, design houses, supply stores, bookstores and educational resources that will create critical concentrations of creatives. There’s a difference between building a consumer snare and a thriving neighbourhood.

There are still too many cost-barriers, silos and hard edges around creativity in Hong Kong and the lack of a readily identifiable creative neighbourhood is evidence of that.

Responses
Mike Mahoney 14 years ago

The best art districts, like Chelsea in New York or SoWa in Boston, aren’t planned, they happen. Chelsea is a great example – it sprung up over the nineties as SoHo became to expensive for the bohemian lifestyle. Now there are hundreds of galleries, museums, theaters in the area. No one really planned on it, although some did take advantage of the opportunites afforded.

One thing I’m curious about – is the Chinese government so absent from Hong Kong that the kind of free-thinking that accompanies a booming art district would take root there?

Fernando Gros 14 years ago

Mike, I agree about the unplanned aspect – a key component is the approximation of affordable housing to potential markets. I do believe cities can do something to encourage that, but many of the best examples were not planned.

In terms of China, the situation is the opposite of what we Westerners might assume. Hong Kong is more free-thinking (in principle), but the thriving arts/creativity scenes in China are way ahead on every level. Shanghai is far more creative and LiJiang is far more bohemian, to give two examples.

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