Kennedy Town has always been on the fringe. Named after Arthur Edward Kennedy, the seventh governor of Hong Kong, it is one of the former British colony’s oldest communities. Originally earmarked as a resettlement area for southern Chinese escaping the Tai Ping Rebellion in the mid 1850s, the boundary stone on Sai Ning Street denoted the city’s western limit in 1903. Yet Kennedy Town’s development has been slower and more organic compared to other communities. The hilly terrain of Lung Fu Shan and Mount Davis restricted development southwards, resulting in a comfortable density that continues until this day.
Anna Ng, a group fitness instructor, is a lifelong resident of Kennedy Town and recalls when the tram tracks ran next to Victoria Harbour rather than inland beside the relocated Kennedy Town Swimming Pool. “During typhoons, children were thrilled to see seawater spill above the barrier between Victoria Harbour and the tracks,” Ng recalls. “At the time, the only east-west artery near my home was Belcher’s. I was often late for school during frequent traffic jams.”
For Ng, there is no other district she would consider living in. “I have a lot of happy memories here,” she states. “Every summer weekend, we would swim in the public pool; I still remember the scent of cattle as it was right beside the abattoir. I like to walk along Hee Wong Terrace, a green spot a bit up the hill. And though there are plenty of restaurants like Jaspa’s, I miss the old carts that sold deep-fried stuffed peppers, or the mom and pop shops with rice in huge bags that were delivered right to our home. I’m glad that, my favourite clay-pot rice restaurant, is still around; it is one of the few remaining places that still uses charcoal.”
Due to its relaxed development, Kennedy Town is primarily a residential district. Its mixture of low- and mid-rise buildings attracts a mix of residents, and there are plenty of open spaces such as Belcher Bay Park and New Kennedy Town Praya where they can stroll among trees or by the water. With MTR’s Island Line Extension, the neighbourhood is welcoming more day trippers keen to discover hidden gems. Journalist Reggie Ho moved to Kennedy Town five years ago to take care of his ageing mother. He has since embraced the district as home, and feels that the Island Line Extension changed his life. “It used to take up to 45 minutes to get to Central by bus due to the congestion,” Ho remembers. “The MTR has made it very easy now.”
Ho enjoys the mix of old and new in Kennedy Town. “I love taking my dog up to Ching Lin Terrace because it’s so tranquil sitting in front of,” he sighs. “I love the hole in the wall takeaway place around the corner where they sell four tea eggs for HK$10. I love sitting by the street having a drink at a Davis Street bar. I love the shredded chicken noodle at Yunnan place ; I usually order a side of turnips and greens to dip in the spicy soup.”
With the MTR, contemporary office spaces are taking over some of Kennedy Town’s warehouses. The Loop’s publisher Adele Wong, a transplanted Chinese Canadian, appreciates the district’s residential qualities. “It’s the best balance between convenience and comfortable residential zone,” Wong feels. “I set up my business close to home so that I can walk to work. There are now lots of cool co-working spaces hidden in industrial buildings, like The Hive Kennedy Town where I work out of. You would never know by looking at the buildings that so much activity goes on inside.”
A newcomer to Hong Kong, Anton Kilayko is a communications director with a five-star hotel. He found that Kennedy Town fit the bill of a real neighbourhood where he can escape work, yet be there in minutes if needed. “The commercial activity alludes to a village lifestyle,” Kilayko says. “It is a very pet-friendly neighbourhood; although I miss my dogs in Singapore, I always get the chance to play with some of my neighbours’ friendly dogs.” Kilayko feels that dining options, such asfor tacos and for java, make Kennedy Town a foodie’s haven.
At once contemporary and traditional, Kennedy Town offers a true neighbourhood for anyone who wants to call Hong Kong home, and a slice of urban life for visitors with time to savour the precinct’s pleasures.