THE SIGNS OF good urban planning are simple: good development. In a modern-day context, that usually means transit-oriented. The erection of a new train station is, especially in a modern Asian metropolis like Hong Kong, certain to catalyse some new mixed-use development in an area, often comprising a mall with a high-rise condominium on top.
But there are always two sides of a railway. Often a new railway line will find itself on the edge of an existing community, the new developments being built on greenfield land on the other side. While supposedly intended to improve quality of life for existing residents as well as attracting new ones, these new transit links sometimes have the unfortunate effect of killing them off as their establishments face competition from the new mixed-use development.
We decided to take a stop at Yuen Long, deep in the New Territories, upon catching a glimpse of what looked like old terrace housing from the MTR as it pulled in. Naturally, we walked into a bustling concourse with all the usual suspects: 7-Eleven, Maxim and the like. But cross one road and the bustling abruptly stops. A yard for selling used cars buffers this quaint community from the station. We could hear the sound of a lion dance underway – but as we approached from our shortcut in this yard, we noticed they were just practicing. So that’s where they do their preparation.
Once they finish – silence. The housing was tight and crammed in, but there was hardly any life evident from the outside, giving it an eerie, abandoned feel. A gate marked the entrance to the estate, from where we could barely hear a sound coming from inside.
So what was our first thought? Go in, why not. The locals didn’t seem to mind. The alleyways could barely fit a bike, let alone any vehicles. There are hardly any shops or institutions – it is almost purely residential, meaning that people live even on the ground floors which barely see the light of day.