To be truly hospitable, Hong Kong must provide more public seating

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 3:17am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 8:25am

A park, especially one so significant to Hong Kong as Golden Bauhinia Square, should have a place for visitors to sit and take in the scene. Yet on a typical day, there are hundreds of tourists milling around and they are less than eager to spend more than a few minutes. The reason is simple enough: there are no seats on which they can rest. Across our city, from shopping malls to public transport stops, the story is often the same, to the detriment of our image.

It is all about hospitality. A public place without seating for the elderly, young children, the disabled, the shopping-weary, a tired tourist or people merely wanting somewhere that does not involve buying food and drink to chat or admire a view is unfriendly. The message is go away, do not linger, this is not for you. That sense can shape perceptions, sometimes negatively.

Public benches can be found here and there, but they are often uncomfortable and inconveniently placed. That discourages street-sleepers and loiterers, but also ensures that such places are avoided. The result is fewer chance encounters, missed business for shops and hectic pedestrian and commuter traffic. No wonder Hong Kong is often viewed by visitors as being fast-paced.

A campaign by Chinese University students to identify public places that lack seating therefore deserves full support. They want photos of such locations to be posted on Facebook, Instagram or designinghongkong.com using the hashtag #missingseats. It will highlight where public seating is most needed. As importantly, it will help lobby the government, legislators, district councils, shopping mall operators and transport companies to change their way of thinking.

Seating for public use does not come cheaply. It has to be well designed, of a durable material, maintained and replaced when needed. That may seem unnecessary when Hong Kong has gotten by for so long without. But our society is fast-ageing and values visitors, shoppers and the young alike. A place to rest and relax when outdoors is therefore not asking too much.