Riiight, the most expensive street in the world

Thursday 8 December 2011, 8.17am HKT

HONG KONG has the dubious distinction of having the most expensive street in the world.

Russell Street in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island is the world’s most expensive address in commercial rental prices, outgunning even Fifth Avenue in New York City and Old/New Bond Street in London.

(click all images for full size)

Russell Street in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
(full size: 1280 × 960)

Russell Street is one of the busiest commercial and shopping streets in Hong Kong, and is where our New York City namesake Times Square (時代廣場) office and shopping complex is located (left side in the above photo).

(Photo: Romansel via Wikipedia)

The street was named after James Russell, a British judge in Hong Kong who served as acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Hong Kong (1888-92) and had been Colonial Treasurer prior to his judicial work.

The site itself that the Time Square complex was built on measures 83,700 square metres (900,939 square feet, or 20½ acres) in area and had been a tram depôt for around 80 years before.

Before the Times Square complex opened in 1994, Russell Street was known for its many roving hawker carts and fixed streetstall eateries (大牌檔 dai pai dong, literally ‘big signboard stall’).

Russell Street became the only bazaar market left on the Island side after the closure of Tai Tat Tei in mid-1986.

Tai Tat Tei, sometimes Dai Tat Dei, was a popular nighttime bazaar market located on the harbourfront somewhere between Central and Sheung Wan districts. It thrived from the 1950s to the late 1970s, and had been highly popular with visiting American troops during the Vietnam War for cheap and cheerful food, cheap but well-made goods and Hong Kong-style street entertainment activities. Oh, how I miss it!

(You won’t find THAT written anywhere else, I promise you.)

* * *

Wikipedia’s entry on the most expensive streets is not strictly accurate. It lists Nanjing Road in Shanghai as Asia’s most expensive commercial street. It isn’t.

Notwithstanding Wikipedia’s inane (and sometimes insane) discussion threads on what criteria have been used to judge ‘most expensive,’ the Wikipedia article itself already indicated this:

“… shows which streets have the highest rental costs or property values in each country.”

Let’s try an even more objective criterion: the straight-up rental price — the price that you pay month to month as specified in the lease for renting the premises.

There is a difference in the terms ‘rental price’ vs. ‘rental cost’ vs. ‘property value.’ They’re not flippin’ synonyms — they are terms of art, i.e. a word having a particular meaning in a field (as in law or accounting).

Wikipedia editors, we’ve just sussed you out that you’ve never rented commercial premises before and know next to nothing about commercial property.

Learn commercial leasing, or starve.

Trivia: In property, ‘premises’ is correct for singular and plural. A ‘premise’ is a proposition used in logic.

In places like mainland China (i.e. the People’s Republic of China, our overlords), it may be true that commercial rental prices may be equal to (or even lower than) Hong Kong rental prices for comparable types and sizes of premises.

What is ALSO true is the attendent and recurring costs of renting in mainland China is higher than in Hong Kong. It is the rental prices + rental costs that bump up the final monetary outlay for the renter. (The difference in the relative buying power of money between China and Hong Kong also influences the overall rental outlay.)

And that’s what the Wikipedia article is asserting (in error, mind) as being ‘most expensive.’ That is why the Wikipedia list of most expensive streets is somewhat out-of-kilter for anyone who has ever been to those places — and have commercial affiliates there being asked (by yours truly) as to the relative and comparative rental prices of those places.

(It also shows there is not a single accountant or realtor among the Wikipedia editors doing up that article — but that’s another story.)

Commercial rental costs in mainland China are considerably higher on a relative scale than in Hong Kong, mainly because of the overall inefficiencies of the country and also of the lower standards of property management there. Moreover, it is a fact of life in China that extra legal functions invariably comes into play in virtually any transaction that involve money.

(‘Extra legal functions’ is the standard legal euphemism for ‘greasing palms’ a.k.a. bribery. Quality of life just improved by knowing bribery is also known as ‘ELF.’)

In other words, there is more to pay out on top of the actual rental price in China than in Hong Kong.

Ergo, Nanjing Road in Shanghai becomes listed as the most expensive commercial street in Asia.

* * *

Russell Street is a phenomenally expensive commercial address, but pay attention to the morass of signs and the poor general design and visual impact of the street.

You must surely wonder (as I have) at the kind of person or company willing to pay through the nose for an address at such an abortion of a street.

Compare the Russell Street scene above with the below:

Nanjing Road in Shanghai, China
(Photo: P.B. via Wikipedia)


New Bond Street, London W1, United Kingdom
(Photo: dickbauch via Wikipedia)


Oxford Street, London W1, United Kingdom
(Photo: Ysangkok via Wikipedia)


Chuou-dori in Ginza district, Tokyo, Japan
(Photo: mniz via Wikipedia)


Rua Oscar Freire in São Paulo, Brazil
(Photo: Hector Cavalho via Wikipedia)


And let’s look at the most expensive street in Europe, even according to that out-of-kilter Wikipedia article:

Kärtnerstrasse (‘Carinthian Street’) in central Vienna, Austria
(Photo: Michael Schmid via Wikipedia)


Now let me show you a closeup of what we in Hong Kong managed to pave the road and the walkway of Hong Kong’s (and the world’s) most expensive street.

Closeup of paving brickwork, Russell Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
(click for full size:  2560 × 1920)

Were you paying attention then? If you did, then great minds think alike, and both of us have the same question on our minds:

Did your mother never tell you
not to pave roads with bricks
because it gets clogged up really, really easily
with dirt and grime and shiz?

And did your mother never tell you that
bricks for roads
work themselves loose really quickly?

Which was why the roadbuilders had to use glue to hold all those bricks together.

One of these days, I’ll show you a picture of the world’s most expensive shop space too.

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011.
Images: Russell Street pictures by the author. All other pictures via Wikipedia as specified.

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