Bowen Path in Hong Kong Island’s Mid-Levels is a recreational path that preceded New York’s Hi-line Park. It provides respite and solemnity for Hong Kong residents, retirees, fitness fanatics, ex-pats, and amahs. Today I made a point to revisit an old favorite.
Much of the character is still there, with views of the world just beyond–Happy Valley Race Course, the Central higher-than-thou buildings of latter-day development, the newbies trying desperately to jam themselves in the tiniest of vest-pocket infills. They compete with the up-front views of 100-year old banyan trees, magnolia, daphne, and faint (real or imagined) scents and memories of yesteryear’s flora. A few of the vestiges of the past survive: the makeshift Buddhist shrine where paper money and incense was burned in honor of the departed; the badminton court; the lover’s hill.
But a disturbing impingement on this idle and fragile environment was undeniable: a score of new building sites and developments with green tarp were shrouding the railing ominously, trying their best to appear benign, and hogging the footpath like obese animals trying to tiptoe quietly.
I could barely decipher the building where I used to live. It was dwarfed by other developments, institutional and commercial alike. The Hopewell Centre, a round monstrosity from the late seventies, struggled to maintain its prowess from forty years ago. It clung by its fingernails and still managed to just top other newer developments in the area.
At first I tried to let go and allow all the messy and complex engineering calisthenics have their day. The construction blight seemed to be very simple: who are we to stand in the way of progress? Everyone needs a better place to live and work. But after seeing a desperate protest against construction of a road connecting to Bowen Path, I renewed my resistance to change.
This might be the last gasp for Hong Kong. Hong Kong may not have control over its fate, but this is, like a waterfront, something that is needed for its community. Its identity, well-being, and sense of place needs to be preserved. It is one of the few accessible and free walks in Hong Kong that can be appreciated by many future generations to come.
Photos, top to bottom, left to right:
1. Map of Path
2. Pastoral view of Path at daytime. About 20 people encountered along a 1 hour walk
3. View of Happy Valley in Distance
4. Complex Drainage System. Bowen Path manifested serious slope stabilization challenges and water from Victoria Peak can be torrential. Only 15% of Hong Kong’s land is build able due to very steep slopes into Victoria Harbour.
5. Reminder that trickles of nature can still survive despite human intervention.
6. The beginning of the end. Initial peace interrupted by massive construction sites along path and in Wanchai Gap
7.a wreath around Happy Valley
8. The steep pedestrian path to Kennedy Road
9. Hopewell Centre, a monstrosity at the time that is now barely a landmark
10.PR campaign explaining slope stabilization Projects
11. Practical sign indicating toilets ahead, but also how far away in time and distance! Now that’s something useful!
12. Grand View Tower, post ex-pat living, with a view to Bowen Path
LATE FLASH: here’s the Saving Grace! See my photos of North Point’s waterfront walk that equates to NYC Hi-Line in quality and functionality!