A sense of transience feels all the more present in the hyperdensity of Hong Kong’s urban landscape. Older buildings face the constant threat of demolition, providing space for the ‘new’ and the ‘better’. They are accompanied by repurposed bamboo forests, arranged to mirror the city’s vertical drive and covered to conceal the process of change. When completed, the new structures are integrated in an altered image, gradually erasing collective awareness of their antecedents. The freeing up of memory and reestablishment of a new spatial consciousness seems almost a necessity in the ubiquitous reshaping of the city’s self-image.

During the economic and socio-political uncertainties of the Handover, ambitions to preserve historic urban spaces however flourished. The sudden need for ‘identity construction’ became all the more apparent when the property market declined and the threat on Hong Kong’s unique status was imminent (Abbas, 1997, p.70).

Even so, the hermeneutics of the city’s urban text was still confined by the dictum of progress, to satisfy the demands of an ever-evolving market. As Lau (2002) argued, Hong Kong suffered from a state of chronic amnesia and a subsequent one-dimensionality in the interpretation of its post-colonial identity. Under the pretext of preservation, historic buildings have often been reinterpreted to accommodate a prevalent sense of colonial nostalgia with the tourist’s expectation of visual consumption.

This memory trail aims to present a more nuanced interpretation of several places’ historic significance and possible justifications of change. It will emphasize their dichotomy as contested spaces, where political, economic, and social oppositions actualize and determine new functions,  but equally, as embodying a shared consciousness and providing opportunity for encounter. Collective memory forms a rhetoric, structuring the dialectics of urban progress.

Next: PMQ