A hilly city, Hong Kong is characterised by “edges” formed by built-up areas at the intersections of hill and flat land. In north Kowloon, a series of highways bridge these edges – Ching Cheung Road, Tai Po Road, and Lung Cheung Road.
I once passed by Tonkin Street and saw in the distance a circular elevated vehicle flyover that gave a strong sense of “infrastructural sublime”. I could not help but be drawn toward it for a closer observation.
The area nearest to the flyover is the Lei Cheng Uk Swimming Pool Rest Garden. From there, when you look up, you would see a set of circular elevated highways, underpinned by over a dozen of concrete pillars some 20 to 30 metres high, almost like pillars of a baroque church. The flyover was completed in 1998 and connects Tai Po Road and Lung Cheung Road. It was only given the formal name of Lung Yuet Road in 2016. While the flyover’s majestic scale inspires almost a sculptural reverence, the slopes underneath it – freely managed by the community – appears to me more like a public art space.
The spaces underneath the flyover are often non-places, cold and indifferent, hardly the cradle for human warmth and civilisation. However, these spaces are also unique in the sense that they accommodate all manners of fringe activities. They are homes to the homeless, where shape-edged rocks serve as an (ineffective) deterrent; operating base of illegal fuel stations, which have nevertheless been robbed themselves; an eclectic art space where odd animal sculptures placed by the government clash with works of graffiti artists; where government planned “created spaces” co-exist with ad hoc street-band parties.
As I write this, there is heated discussion about the preservation of the Ex-Sham Shui Po Service Reservoir. That space draws attention for more than its historical and architectural value, but as a community hangout. People grow trees, build pavilions, giving the space actual social meaning. Perhaps this urban paradise has been preserved because of the existence of the old reservoir, which is not so easily demolished.
The area beneath the Lung Yuet Road Flyover is of a similar nature. When you walk towards the hillside from the Lei Cheng Uk Swimming Pool Rest Garden, you see a curious transition. A well-organised, properly-planned rest garden, managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, ends in a derelict pump station that seems neither tended to nor a part of the garden. Beside the pump station is “Lei Cheng Uk Swimming Pool Rest Garden II”. Then, when you climb the metal stairs (which appear a temporary structure), you arrive at a terrace with some benches, where people occasionally take naps. Walk further, and you leave the garden for an area sprinkled with waterways and narrow stairs and terraces for maintenance. People walk between these stairs and terraces, sit aimlessly, or saunter away to Parker Hill. Evidence of human activity are all over the hillside – mini flower gardens, tall papaya trees, hundreds of plastic bottles of unknown use, and a giant calligraphic drawing that says “Pleasures of Life”.
This area under the flyover is also a transitional space between the suburbs and the city. The Lion Rock Country Park above, the rest garden below – both managed by the government, without “exceptions”. I believe people love to do their morning jogs and tend to their gardens here precisely because of this “non-place” nature – an ambiguous space where there are no park attendants, no economic value, and “nothing matters much”. It is only in such a space that one can create a world of one’s own, and take a breather.