Monday, August 18, 2008

Reclaiming the streets

I went up to Sham Shui Po to visit Cally and her friends doing their letter writing project the other Sunday. They write letters and draw for people to help reclaim public space for non-commercial use and to give people in the community a chance to communicate and have their stories heard. Their project touches people in a way that is deeper and more personal than many social activist projects.

Cally also suggested I have a look at a community-based exhibition in an abandoned building in Sham Shui Po whilst I was there. The exhibition was organised by, for and in the community. There was lots of information about individual people and families in the neighbourhood but one of the common themes that stood out for me was the way that the government often just negatively impacted on peoples' lives and livelihoods. People who weren't asking for help but who were struggling to look after themselves and their families had the rug pulled from under them by government officers obsessed with 'tidying things up'. From changes to hawking regulations, refusing new licences for dai pai dongs etc the government on the one hand says that people should look after themselves, which to some extent is fair enough, whilst at the same time taking away the means for the poorest to do so. At the same time of course it uses large amounts of public funds to subsidise and 'support' its friends in big business and in particular the large property developers.

One example of this spiteful approach to the poor is the story of a man who had previously lost his job and home. He ended up on the streets but he managed to construct a small plywood box to live in in a backstreet. Government officers came in and destroyed it whilst he was at work, took his few belongings including octopus card etc, left no contact details so that he could reclaim his possessions and offered no assistance in finding alternative housing. A purely negative impact on a struggling person's life. If they can't or won't do anything constructive they should at least leave people the hell alone to get on with their lives.

1 comment:

Ray said...

I do think that the government always doing something wrong with the 'urban reconstruction' project. It pull down the old buildings, and also the community of that area, which, has been develop/ well-developed for many years. The Urban Renewal Authority (URA) always underestimate or even ignore the vitality of old district.

I also pay a visit for that exhibition in Shamshuipo, it's the 2nd activity of the exhibition and the information they collected is so rich. Even I lived there for 20+ year I don't know all about that!