Follow the tram tracks out to the west end and a reasonably, if not a whole, new world opens in front of you. The new face of Kennedy Town may soon eclipse Sheung Wan as the hip neighbourhood to head to for both well-heeled Hongkongers and new arrivals alike. The streets are dotted with just as many fancy bakeries as old school Hong Kong hardware stores, and more are on the way; Italian food is dished out as often as Chinese. The working class vibe is definitely vanishing if it’s not gone already.
Named for Hong Kong’s seventh governor, Arthur Kennedy, the neighbourhood is made up partly of reclaimed land, which is now Kennedy Town Praya. At one time this was the suburbs (which some people still believe) and a great deal of Hong Kong heritage remains. At least for now. The tong lau that have been remade as swank low-rise apartments in Sheung Wan and SoHo are being snapped up by developers looking to replace them with high-rises. “The government assesses heritage on a ‘case-by-case’ basis. There is no such thing as conserving an entire district,” Heritage Hong Kong Foundation chair Margaret Brooke told Time Out in 2011.
The imminent opening of the heavily anticipated MTR extension (possibly 2015 now) has done more for Kennedy Town than merely connect it to the “blue line” and thus the rest of the city. “The people in Kennedy Town are honest and simple,” begins Fortuneland Real Estate Agency chair Dr Joseph Lau. “Most people have lived here from generation to generation.” The announcement of the new line, a decade ago, alone sent prices along its new stops — the others being Sai Ying Pun and HKU — up as much as 20 percent initially and could potentially settle at around 30 percent. Though things have stabilised since and the sub-market is as wobbly as the rest of Hong Kong, Kennedy Town has been on the receiving end of the kind of growth that rivals nearby Sheung Wan and Island East decades ago.
The government has put a great deal of effort into bringing the area’s infrastructure into the 21st century as well. The jewel in the crown could be the Kennedy Town swimming pool, one of the LCSD’s best facilities. That’s gone hand in hand with the blossoming nightlife in the district — far more relaxed and free of pretension than Lan Kwai Fong, if increasingly laddish — and dining to go with it. The rumoured leisure redevelopment of the waterfront, something no self-respecting city with any kind of shoreline ignores, has residents frothing at the idea. There’s actually a place for dogs out in Kennedy Town too.
Not Far From Central
At one time a haven for immigrant arrivals and meatpacking plants, Kennedy Town is now a hotbed of those chic bistros and hip coffee shops as well as luxury apartment towers. Cantonese is still the dominant language, but the number of English speaking (among other) expatriate residents in the neighbourhood has doubled, making it a neo-Mid-Levels, just without the steep climb home. Lau points out the views of the water are some of the best in the city, as are some of the schools (including West Island School). All of that adds up to a steadily climbing influx of professionals — local and not. “Many parents hope their children will be a ‘dragon’, to have bright future, and move to Kennedy Town. And over the last few years many foreign workers in Admiralty and Central have chosen to live in Kennedy Town,” says Lau.
The move west was originally prompted by rising prices and rents closer to Central, but as a standalone sub-market now, Kennedy Town’s cache is building. The retail floors of The Belcher’s (technically in Sai Ying Pun but unofficially the western border) may not look like Prince’s Building yet, but it’s getting there. That is some kind of Wellcome they have. Prices at flagship developments such as The Merton, Manhattan Heights and Harbour One have doubled over the past five years, as have rents, which can now flirt with $70,000 per month. Upcoming projects like Cadogan and the Imperial Kennedy by Sun Hung Kai (which the developer priced at $30,000 per square foot) will only raise the district’s upmarket profile. Kennedy Town even has a chic serviced apartment to call its own in the recently opened Skyla.
Nonetheless, for the same eight to 10-minute ride from Central’s business hub prices are still favourable to others nearby. “Kennedy Town is close to Central and Admiralty, the traditional CBD on Hong Kong Island, but the prices are comparatively cheaper than Sheung Wan and Wanchai,” notes Lau. “As more and more luxury buildings are completed, which upgrades the neighborhood … more and more people will choose Kennedy Town as their ideal home,” he finishes.