Bishop Hill

A Case of Community Action and Public Governance

Wo Chai Hill, locally known as Bishop Hill, is a small hill in Shek Kip Mei, Hong Kong. The site is the roof to one of several service reservoirs in the district. A steady stream of people can be seen going up and down the set of steep staircase leading up to the hill. Each passerby will greet each other by first names, sharing quick friendly exchanges.

A rare piece of nature in one of the most densely populated districts of Hong Kong

A rare piece of nature in one of the most densely populated districts of Hong Kong

I visited Bishop Hill with Mr. So, a well respected local who have, for 10 years, been building exercise machines and carrying them piece by piece up the hill. The machines (some seen below) are enjoyed by many. Mr. So, previously a mechanical engineer and a recovered patient from the 2003 SARS epidemic, when given a second chance in life, decided to use his skills to promote a healthy lifestyle. He, like many other district locals, became a regular user and contributor at Bishop Hill.

Locals have been visiting this small hill for decades, overtime turning the reservoir roof into a community-made recreational space. As it stands, this particular reservoir is no longer considered useful. However, it is not a “Service Reservoir Roof that can be used for Recreational and Other Activities” by the Water Supplies Department (WSD). The recreational use of Bishop Hill is therefore illegal, yet the recreational space has continued to exist. The community maintains and improves the space with their own hands and wallets. Their voices are frequently heard in the district’s council meetings - usually in request to preserve their little haven. Bishop Hill is an evolving case in urban design, urban policy, community action and public governance.

Zoned as Open Space under the Ordinance Zoning Plan (OZP) but under the management of the Water Services Department (WSD)

Zoned as Open Space under the Ordinance Zoning Plan (OZP) but under the management of the Water Services Department (WSD)

I doubt many would find Bishop Hill aesthetically pleasing. What you can easily appreciate however, is its friendly, supportive and resilient community. Upon closer inspection, you will also find the odd amateur designs here and there that are charmingly functional. The hill itself is also full of small natural paths and old trees waiting to be explore with a child-like curiosity.

Moving parts are made with greased up bicycle chains

Moving parts are made with greased up bicycle chains

A bowl to cover the clock from the elements is a person favorite

A bowl to cover the clock from the elements is a person favorite

Parts of an old tire is placed on the tree opposite the swing for you to kick yourself higher

Parts of an old tire is placed on the tree opposite the swing for you to kick yourself higher

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Trudging through official records and zoning plans old and new, several clues that points to the current status and future outlook of this small oasis:

One of many letters the community has wrote to the district council over the years seeking preservation and land re-purposing

One of many letters the community has wrote to the district council over the years seeking preservation and land re-purposing

  1. The reservoir is no longer needed and WSD intend to release this land back to Lands Department for re-purposing

  2. The safety of the reservoir roof is undetermined, with apparent cracks and overloading from trees

  3. More tests are needed before re-purposing. For now, the site is fenced off but a large entrance hole has been cut open

  4. Difficult EVA is a big barrier to re-purposing this site for recreational use

  5. The community continues to remain vocal and hopeful, dedicated to the environment of Bishop Hill in face of uncertainties

Religious artifacts from the hillside were collected and placed under this community-built shrine

Religious artifacts from the hillside were collected and placed under this community-built shrine

A staircase with railing built by the community to improve access

A staircase with railing built by the community to improve access

Small, considerate details adds a warm touch to Bishop Hill

Small, considerate details adds a warm touch to Bishop Hill

The community’s proud display of the letters and certificates of appreciate they have received

The community’s proud display of the letters and certificates of appreciate they have received

Mr. So (middle) and several local users present that day. All of them are socially and emotionally attached to the place

Mr. So (middle) and several local users present that day. All of them are socially and emotionally attached to the place

The case of Bishop Hill is thought provoking and doing something for this place and its people would be a worthwhile challenge. While departments are tangled up in a thick web of bureaucracy, restricting access to the space but doing little to give it value, there is a community doing all that they can in the face of uncertainty to make Bishop Hill a place.

Resilient communities, healthy lifestyle, social rapport, active citizens, co-management, urban green spaces, community planning, land re-purposing - it’s all here on Bishop Hill.