Many of the recent consultation papers put forward by the government stress on Hong Kong’s land shortage while ignoring other equally pressing issues, such as how to rescue our shrinking and nearly moribund cultural environment.
The consultation papers, for example, cite government plans to revitalize old industrial buildings, but not a single word is said about the problems of those running art and cultural workshops in old industrial buildings.
Under the current policy, art workshops, studios and galleries are only allowed in industrial buildings that either are newly built or have already been revitalized by the government.
As we can imagine, the scarcity of these revitalized industrial buildings means rents for art workshops will keep skyrocketing.
Sadly, those consultation papers have failed to offer any solution to this fundamental issue.
A recent consultation paper submitted by the Task Force on Land Supply said that between 2010 and 2016, when measures to revitalize industrial buildings were implemented, the government approved 99 applications for wholesale conversions and 14 proposals for rebuilding old industrial buildings.
However, once completed, 70 percent of the indoor space of these buildings will be designated for commercial use.
As such, local art studio operators and artists don’t see their concerns being addressed by the Task Force’s consultation paper.
Aware of the predicament of local artists and cultural workers, the ARTicipants, a cultural concern group to which I belong, made this suggestion: make use of vacant school premises and idle space across our city and convert them into space for art and cultural use.
True, our proposal is far from flawless, and there are a lot of challenges to overcome before it can truly be put into practice.
These challenges include the scarcity of abandoned school buildings that are suitable for conversion, their inaccessibility, and of course, the huge costs of renovating and converting them.
However, I still believe our proposal is worth considering because the administration has already launched a billion-dollar fund as a response to it.
Besides, many of those abandoned schools actually have substantial cultural and historical value, which ought to be discussed for better vision and foresight.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 21
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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