When government officials tear down dilapidated blocks to make way for new developments such as shopping malls and apartment buildings, they call it urban renewal.
It’s a creative catchphrase — and a powerful one at that — that has helped reshape and rejuvenate old districts.
So, you’d wonder why the government has not been as innovative in the execution of some of its development plans.
Otherwise, we would not be surrounded by boring architecture and residents in these areas would not be forced to eat, live and play in a “standardized” environment.
But thanks to places like Hung Hom, an old district that has had its fair share of urban renewal, we continue to enjoy diversity in our surroundings.
For instance, students and teachers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University find it ideal for casual strolls, quick lunches — even for running errands. It lacks none of the conveniences of newly developed precincts.
Hung Hom sits on the southeastern tip of the Kowloon peninsula, a small area served by major roads.
The heart of the district is a narrow strip stretching from Whampoa Street to Wuhu Street and further to Station Lane in the north.
The quiet neighborhood is home to cha chaan tengs, roadside eateries, grocery stores, newsstands, Chinese medicine clinics and mom-and-pop shops.
Residents of Tsim Sha Tsui like to visit Hung Hom to relax, away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong’s premier shopping district.
Like most of Hong Kong, Hung Hom has been a work in progress since large tracts of it were dug up from the sea in the 1850s.
Although it has grown dramatically over the years, it has retained its character, with new developments largely confined to areas near the harbor.
You could say Hung Hom straddles two worlds.
Expensive residential high-rises such as Harbourfront Landmark, Royal Peninsula and Harbour Place punctuate the skyline next to old tenement blocks.
One drawback is a network of enclosed tunnels and flyovers that do nothing to promote human interaction with their surroundings, which is a shame because Hung Hom has a lot of unique experiences to offer.
Perhaps that’s the reason commuters tend to overlook it despite being at the center of a transport network that connects the Cross-Harbor Tunnel, the Hung Hom railway station and the East/West Rail Lines.
Meanwhile, in old Hung Hom, time flies at a slower pace.
For anyone seeking to explore the neighborhood, the place to start is Whampoa Street where a footbridge offers a sweeping view of older residential buildings and business establishments.
The street ends at the footbridge which means it’s relatively free of vehicular traffic. Residents and shopkeepers have turned it into a pedestrian walk.
On summer evenings, it’s common to see people walking their dogs and cha chaan teng and barbecue pork restaurants offering al fresco dining.
In nearby Fuk Chi Street, which is closed to vehicular traffic, things are even quieter, encouraging walks under the wide and dense canopies of age-old trees.
Northern Hung Hom, on the other hand, has a certain vibrancy that attracts younger people.
It’s also the closest one can get to all the conveniences — within five minutes’ walk along Station Lane with its shops, wet markets and whatnot.
In the 1960s, Hung Hom was a popular entertainment hub with a large number of cinemas.
Lux Theatre still stands in Bulkeley Street after 40 years, a throwback to an era when cinema tickets were manually torn from a long strip of perforated paper and cinemagoers were asked to mark their seats on the auditorium plan.
The one-chamber theater underwent a facelift in 2012, adding an advanced playback system, but still sell tickets relatively cheap at HK$50 for a 3D Hollywood movie.
This part of the district is also well known for Kwun Yum Temple, which was built in the 1870s and survived Japanese shelling during the war. It’s now a grade one historic building.
During Lunar New Year, worshippers from across Hong Kong flock there to “borrow money” from the goddess’ treasury for good fortune.
In recent years, Hung Hom has seen an influx of students from the mainland, mostly studying in Polytechnic University and nearby schools.
Their growing number has sparked the proliferation of restaurants serving Sichuan, Shanghainese and other mainland cuisines.
In addition, there are sizeable Japanese and South Korean communities in Whampoa Garden, one of the biggest private residential developments in the district.
Read more: Hong Kong Places
Kai Tak: An enduring legacy
North Point: A living history of Hong Kong
Yau Ma Tei theaters and shops: A slice of HK history
Temple Street: Why the magic endures
Gwo Laan: Fruity story of an old Hong Kong trade
Things you probably didn’t know about Chungking Mansions
Coming MTR line changing life on the edge of HK Island
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