16 June 2019
Some locals fear that the Western District will lose its charm due to changes brought about by MTR's West Island rail line.
Some locals fear that the Western District will lose its charm due to changes brought about by MTR's West Island rail line.

Gentrification of Western District: Why locals aren’t all happy

Old buildings, traditional shops and a genteel, laidback environment — these have been some of the common impressions about the Western District of Hong Kong Island over the years. But now all this is set to change with the opening of MTR’s West Island rail line.

Before the new extension line, people who lived in Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town could only opt for buses, vans or trams if they wanted to take public transport. It used to take around 30 minutes to travel from Kennedy Town to Central. But with MTR, the trip is now shortened to about 15 minutes.

But some observers are worried that the gentrification triggered by MTR will bring negative side-effects and that the district won’t be able to preserve its old charm and way of life.

Gentrification is a common term in urban planning. It refers to shifts in urban community lifestyle along with an increasing number of wealthy residents and businesses backed by big companies.

Old buildings like tenement houses (buildings with no lifts) that once sprouted across the community are being demolished, and luxury housing is popping up all over the place instead. Quaint little shops are giving way to chain stores with bright decor.

Some say the gentrification is an upgrading process; bringing in the MTR line could be seen as part of revamping the old district.

But property prices in the district are climbing fast, and so is the cost of living. This is proving burdensome to some old residents. 

Property developers are wasting no time to develop new projects and take advantage of the rising home prices. Developers such as Emperor International and Kowloon Development are said to have launched a total of around 300 units onto the market recently.

Growing number of bars and increasing nightlife is another source of worry for the original residents.

As some expatriates have sought to flee the high rents in Wan Chai, Central and Mid-Levels, many bars and restaurants are being opened in the Western District. Thus, Kennedy Town is now sometimes being called the New SoHo.

The change taking place in the district is generating mixed reactions from the local community. Some people think that bars will attract the wrong kind of people.

Some residents have tried to put pressure on the District Councilor. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong has also lent a helping hand in the fight to keep the number of bars in check.

Bar Pacific and The Quay West lost their licenses after hearings with the Liquor Licensing Board, as the outlets were not welcomed by local residents. Bar Pacific was forced to close down eventually.

To show respect for locals’ desire to keep the place as a mainly residential area, most bars and restaurants in the community have now agreed to halt liquor sales after 11 pm.

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EJ Insight writer

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