It’s not a secret that Hong Kong, according to common knowledge, is mostly business, finance, technology and a blurred mix of Chinese and Asian traditions. The reality is, that in the last few decades, Hong Kong’s credibility as a cultural hub has grown thanks to astute analysis run on the city by the Hong Kong Tourism Board in 1996.
The survey highlighted that many tourists expressed soft complaints about the lack of cultural and creative opportunities for visitors, leading the City Tourism Board to propose the development of a new cultural hub.
After a design competition won by Foster and Partners – giving the architecture firm carte blanche – for the development of a 40-hectare wedge-shaped waterfront in West Kowloon, the design was scraped in 2005 due to intense criticism. Today, after several stages of reassessment, the first phase of the project is now open with the official works of M+ underway – the new city museum for visual culture – having begun on September 26, 2015. A second phase will officially launch in 2026.
“Not only do the arts and cultural communities derive huge benefits from this project, but the community of Hong Kong will be able to see that arts and culture can be the fundamental driver of economic and social development,” said the newly appointed CEO of the WKCD Mr. Duncan Pescod. Pescod succeeded Michael Lynch – former director of the Sydney Opera House and latter CEO of the WKCD – thanks to his significant contribution to the project as COO of the WKCD. Mrs. Carrie Lam, Chairman of the Board of WKCDA continued, “This appointment means there will be no gap between the outgoing and new CEOs, and ensures that the West Kowloon Cultural District project will continue to progress at full momentum at this important time. Despite some financial challenges faced by the project, I am sure that with Mr. Pescod’s proven credentials, the Authority will deliver the project in a cost effective manner, and expedite the completion of some planned facilities for public enjoyment”.
Yes, financial challenges. When you’re running a $3 billion development project, you’ll always face economic hardships, even if you are the greatest business and financial capital in the world. “West Kowloon is not the easiest project,” said Allan Zeman, a member of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority – “It’s like running an obstacle course because you have so many hurdles to overcome, between interests of the artistic community, government cost constraints and budget overruns”. But the continuous delays and the increasing costs are not the only obstacles that the development of the WKCD is going through. Since the announcement of the appointment of Foster and Partners, the interest for the West Kowloon area has grown and led to a property price boom. From early 2009 prices skyrocketed by 160%, which in a city that has been declared as one of the most expensive in the world, has compromised employment rates. West Kowloon is now a patchwork of scarcely populated living spaces, that by no means adheres to Hong Kong’s bustling streetscape stereotype.
Yet despite all the difficulties, the development of the WKCD is going to have a critical impact on the city, not only from a cultural point of view, but also from a social standpoint. A station for a new high-speed line will connect West Kowloon to the city of Guangzhou, intensifying connections with Southern China. The impact of the WKCD project on the city is immeasurable, and will definitely set Hong Kong, to finally be, the heart of Asia.