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Can he stop the sprawl that's eating Hong Kong’s harbor?

Scolded by his mother for ruining her view, Winston Chu took up the battle to save Victoria Harbor. Fourteen years, 1,300 acres, and a death threat later, he’s succeeding.

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Hong Kong

From the garden of the Chu family’s 30th floor penthouse, Hong Kong’s jumble of skyscrapers rising against the harbor look like pixie sticks propped in the ground. To a visitor, the scale amazes, but to fifth-generation Hong Konger Winston Chu, it appalls.

And for one reason: The “fragrant harbor” – which is what Hong Kong means in Cantonese – is literally disappearing under cement.

Hemmed by dramatic mountains, the city has grown seaward, literally over the water’s edge through reclamation. Victoria Harbor has shrunk, its once-scalloped edges have been straightened into the city-street grid.

“The harbor used to be twice as wide as it is now,” says Mr. Chu. The government has “been reclaiming [it] bit by bit. There’s a Chinese term that translates to a ‘silkworm eating a leaf one bite at a time.’ But now it’s like a tiger. And that tiger is the government.”

The view of the harbor from this patio of potted pansies and terra-cotta tiles used to be unobstructed. Fourteen years ago, Chu’s five-foot-tall mother, Cissy Fok Wing Yue, then 80, pulled him aside, pointed toward the reclamation across the harbor in western Kowloon, and accused her son of being at least partially responsible for her compromised view.

At the time, Chu, a lawyer, served as a senior member of the powerful Town Planning Board. So Ms. Yue assumed that harbor reclamation – and the destruction of her view – was his and his colleagues’ fault. As the mother of 12, she was accustomed to others’ claims on her space. But this 1.3-square-mile patch of new earth was too much.

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