Land reclamation as defined in the dictionary is the process of creating new land from sea or riverbeds. Since most would associate the word reclaim to recovering something back, it seems odd to use the word reclamation when it’s really more about re-creation. What is really being recovered? The land area wasn’t taken by the sea but it is certainly taken FROM the sea.

Hong Kong now stands on the brink of a monumental tipping point.

For the past 150 years, the government has had free rein to reclaim, sell and plan every inch of land in the territory. But decades of disputable planning, coupled with the public’s increasing attention to quality of life, are propelling the territory into a new era. As we have heard numerous times during our meetings over the course of the past 3 days, there is the beginning stages of movements where people are starting to second guess the “city in the sky” mentality.

At the center of this approaching backlash is the territory’s most prized asset: Victoria Harbor. In the past decade, a chasm has steadily grown between the attitudes of the government and the people towards urban planning. Since the handover in 1997, the public has experienced a “paradigm shift”. The people have departed from this “city in the sky” vision – once a symbol of a prosperous metropolis – and are now questioning whether all those skyscrapers, highways and flyovers circling the harbor are conducive to their vision of a “home.”

As also seen in the campaigns for heritage preservation, such the Blue House and others, some of the public is finally shedding its “die-hard mentality” of feeling helpless over the whims of the government. As it stands, reclamation has led to a number of “irreversible mistakes” that have effectively wiped out the harborfront.

Wan Chai is a good case study of the effects the land reclamation. One hundred years ago, this area was the existing shoreline. To provide perspective, it would be about a 20 minute walk to the waterfront. Today the area is filled with a colorful and bustling district of markets, shops and restaurants. As one follows the path of reclamation toward the waterfront, however, the streets widen into avenues and highways, and plot sizes grow correspondingly larger. The end result is “walls” of harborview commercial developments as one approaches the shoreline and the complete disappearance of “vibrant street life.” This is what groups such as the 15 Concern Group are fighting vehemently for.

Since land reclamation first began in 1851, the harbor has shrunk to half its original size. Meanwhile, over 17,000 ares of land have been added to the waterfront – accounting for about 7 percent of the territory’s total land area. The city’s most prominent landmarks have been built on land that was essentially “free”: Hong Kong International Airport, Two International Finance Centre, Disneyland, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Cyberport.

While many checks and balances have been put in place to mitigate the effects of reclamation, is it too late to save the waterfront?

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