Sandwiched between Causeway Bay and Quarry Bay, North Point is one of the few places on the island yet to be gentrified entirely. There are no fancy shopping malls to rival those in Central. There’s no swank dining. But what you get is a vibrant street life.
“North Point rarely makes the news unless it’s for the Sunbeam Theatre,” says Svensson Leung, a networking engineer who grew up in the area. On the verge of shutting down, the 40-year-old home for Cantonese opera attracted hoards of its nostalgic fans bidding sad farewells. But once the crowds disperse what remains is a neighbourhood that demonstrates the perfect blend of old traditions and modern Hong Kong’s hurly-burly. “Quite unlike the rarified and boring chain stores around town, all you have here are family-run businesses and eateries that give you an authentic taste of the city,” Leung adds.
Strolling along Chun Yeung Street, you’ll be amazed by the diverse and energetic vibe in one of Hong Kong’s most extraordinary wet markets — with tram lines running straight through it, as well as chattering grannies and raucous hawkers in the middle of bargaining.
The lengthy King’s Road is home to a couple of Chinese-style department stores and jewellery shops. With tenement buildings half a century old as the backdrop, Ming Yuen Street’s mom-and-pop shops take you back to the good old ’40s. Haircuts are available at any number of old school Shanghaiese salons (the kind with a revolving lantern) also offering full-service gentleman’s grooming from head to toe, from beard styling to nostril hair trimming.
The area has an interesting blend of public housing, older walk-ups and modern apartments offering studio flats as small as 370 square feet to spacious 1,000-square foot flats. Mid-range hotels that are experiencing the industry’s healthiest growth add to the skyline of the area. The high efficiency rate and relatively stable prices, hovering at around $8,000 per square foot (compared with Wanchai’s $13,000), remain a big draw for homebuyers and increasingly expatriate residents.
“With most developments in the area are well over 30 years and owned by end-users, prices are less volatile. Buyers in the area account for most transactions — either for upgrade or investment purposes,” explains Eric Wong, associated director of Landscope Christie’s Real Estate. “Plus, almost 60 percent of flats enjoy harbour views.”
Located a little uphill, the North Point Mid-Levels is a different world. Enveloped by soothing green hills, a 1,200-square foot flat at Braemar Hill Mansion demands a hefty entry price tag of $15 million. Though lacking public transport access except for minibuses, this part of Hong Kong Island is best known for its elite school networks with international schools and EMI (English as a medium of instruction) schools nearby.
Leung loves his home for a good reason: food. To him, an array of breakfast choices is readily available down the street. The food haven is famous for its cha chaan teng and local snack stalls, from crispy egg balls to a lunch combo with shredded ham, fried egg, noodles and milk tea costing just about $20. The government-run cooked food centre on Java Road houses several family-run restaurants that provide a unique market ambience plus some exotic tastes: black squid-ink pasta and fried pig’s feet.
If highly accessible “downtown” areas are a required amenity, North Point isn’t going to disappoint. Literally a transportation hub, not only does North Point have an efficient fleet of buses and minibuses, it has a trolley loop and pier with ferries to east Kowloon. And of course, Central is still a convenient MTR journey away.
The only complaint that could be lobbed at the admittedly decaying old town is probably the absence of recreational facilities including community halls and sports grounds. “Even a small place like Causeway Bay has a swimming pool, but we have to go all the way to Wanchai or Chai Wan (in Island East) for a swim,” Leung says.
But recently the humble community started to see a new wave of gentrification, driven by the city’s thirst for residential and office space. “North Point might not have developed as quickly as its neighbours such as Wanchai,” Leung begins. “But it’s worrying that developments are intruding on the unique landscape of the area.”
Brand-new luxury units in Mount East and Lime Habitat — boasting a 24-hour sky lounge and party kitchen — are products of redevelopment on Ming Yuen West Street. Last August, Cheung Kong grabbed an 84,000-square-foot site on Oil Street for $6.3 billion for a hotel, commercial and residential development. A massive waterfront site at Java Road will open for tender bids in late May, providing at least 700 flats. Left vacant since North Point Estate was demolished in 2003, the site is set to test high and market estimates predict the plot will fetch up to HK$10 billion or HK$20,000 per square foot.
Will an irreversible wave of urban development one day flatten this colourful community? Perhaps only time will tell. But one thing is certain for future homebuyers like Leung, who hopes to stay in North Point when he moves out from his family home one day. “Thanks to these luxury developments, I know it’s not going to be easy.”