West Kowloon Cultural District (Improving Hong Kong 3 of 3)
There are some good intentions behind the proposals for the new West Kowloon Culturual District. Hong Kong does need more venues, especially a larger venue for ballet and classical concerts and a large auditorium for touring pop, jazz and rock acts (who often bypass Hong Kong all together). Hong Kong also needs to diversify its […]
There are some good intentions behind the proposals for the new West Kowloon Culturual District. Hong Kong does need more venues, especially a larger venue for ballet and classical concerts and a large auditorium for touring pop, jazz and rock acts (who often bypass Hong Kong all together).
Hong Kong also needs to diversify its economy with more support for arts, design and eduaction and is lagging behind as an Asian destination for many cultural events.
Hence the plan to convert 40 hectares of waterfront land into a giant cultural hub. The potential is dizzying and it has inspired a lot of local debate. Not surprisingly, there are some who see no benefit in the focus on arts and want more retail, commerce and tourism (merchandising, maybe a new ocean terminal, lots of hotels, etc) to crowd the space. But, thankfully, they represent a minority.
There are also some who feel the development, will, in and of itself, solve all of Hong Kong’s cultural problems – that it will, somehow, magically lead the city to the centre for Asia’s arts and design industry. That isn’t going to happen.
To do that, Hong Kong needs to rethink the role of design and arts across the whole metropolis. It needs to rethink eduaction, rethink housing, rethink retail, rethink the proximity between where people live, work and socialise and it needs to rethink the place manufacturing and craft in the life of the city.
If Hong Kong wants to become a design and arts hub it needs to become, again, a place where people make things, in every district, not just a place where people speculate on the “value” of things. Arts policy has to focus on the fine texture of neighbourhoods and communities.
What the West Kowloon Cultural District can tackle is a small set of the bigger structural issues. A showpiece museum, a big auditorium and high end auditorium could be put together in a globally attrractive package, something that would be Hong Kong’s own version of the Sydney Opera House.
But, the important thing to remember about the Opera House, apart from the controversy that surrounded its construction (and design by a foreign architect), was that it took a long time for the site to really take off as a cultual venue and for the city to “love it.” In fact, the Opera House “area” many tourists take for granted is actually the product of thirty years of development along the shoreline, together with a learning experience for the City of Sydney in how to use the space – what you have today did not emerge overnight in it’s completeness and was neither the product of a comittee, or of one visionary.
West Kowloon could become a showpiece cultural site for Hong Kong over time, but to fill the venues in a meaningful way over the next 20-30 years, Hong Kong will have to expand its citywide commitment to arts, culture and design from the grassroots up. Only then will it have a sufficiently large pool ot talent and collaborations to make the new site anything more than a circus for visiting acts.